Amazing atmosphere and a large and wildly cheering throng of 350'000 spectators characterized the opening weekend of the Viessmann FIS World Cup Cross-Country in DÃ¼sseldorf (GER) last Saturday and Sunday. Setting the stage for the early season opener for the fifth time, the promenade on the Rhine River in the DÃ¼sseldorf Old Town offered excellent sporting performances in fine snow conditions along with other entertainment.
Norway had a strong season start as it took five of the six podium places in Saturday's individual sprint races. In the men's A-final, the four Norwegians were challenged only by Germany's reigning overall World Cup champion Tobias Angerer and his 21-year-old team mate Josef Wenzl. Eldar Roenning (NOR) took his first World Cup victory in the free technique, ahead of his good friend Oystein Pettersen who had delivered an impressive performance in the quarterfinal by winning the heat despite breaking his pole at the start. On the ladies' side, defending World Cup champion Marit Bjoergen of Norway took her 27th World Cup victory and the fourth in DÃ¼sseldorf on Saturday. Russia's young Natalia Matveeva finished second, being the only non-Norwegian on the podium on Saturday.
This weekend's individual sprint races were also the first time using the new rules. After the field is cut to 30 following the qualifying round, there are five six-skier heats from which the top two advance along with two so-called Lucky Losers with the fastest heat time. From the two semi-final heats, again the best two in each heat along with the fastest two Lucky Losers advance into the A-Final (medal round) while the others race in the B-Final for positions 7-12.
The Scandinavians were also strong in the season's first team sprint along the Rhine River on Sunday. Sweden's Olympic sprint champions Bjoern Lind and Peter Larsson, the four-time DÃ¼sseldorf winner who was eliminated early on Saturday following a crash and a broken pole, took revenge edging the young Norwegian team consisting of Eldar Roenning and Oystein Pettersen by just 2.6 seconds. On the ladies' side, Marit Bjoergen and Ella Gjoemle (NOR) prevailed in a supreme fashion ahead of Sweden's Britta Norgren and Lina Andersson. The Norwegian team Bjoergen/Gjoemle has won every time it has started together in a team sprint race, with the exception of the Olympic Games in Pragelato 2006.
Photo: Arnd Hemmersbach/Nordic Focus