The FIS Nordic World Ski Championships at Sapporo, the first to be held in Asia (as a separate event outside of the Olympic Games that were held in the same city in 1972), are now two thirds of the way to being completed. After a spectacular beginning at the Sapporo Dome watched by 30’000 spectators, the competitions have continued at the more traditional venues: the Shirahatayama Cross-Country Skiing stadium and the Okurayama Ski Jumping hill. After 12 of the 18 events, Norway leads the medals table with ten medals, ahead of Finland with five and Germany with six. Overall, 12 nations have won medals, eight of them gold.
On the opening day, Norway dominated the individual sprint competitions staged at the Sapporo Dome. While 20-year-old Astrid Jacobsen overtook Petra Majdic (SLO) on the home stretch to win the ladies race, Jens Arne Svartedal grabbed the gold in the men’s competition. Majdic’s silver medal was Slovenia’s first Cross-Country medal ever in the FIS World Ski Championships. Japan’s Madoka Natsumi succeeded in reaching the final for the first time in her career, finishing in a highly creditable 5th place.
In the men’s team sprint Cristian Zorzi edged Vassili Rotchev (RUS) in a photo finish to claim the gold with teammate Renato Pasini for Italy. In the ladies’ event, World Cup leader Virpi Kuitunen and Riitta Liisa Roponen of Finland took the honors; for Kuitunen it was her second medal in Sapporo following a bronze in the individual sprint race.
On Saturday, Axel Teichmann (GER) beat compatriot Tobias Angerer on the finishing straight to win the men’s pursuit race. Teichmann already won gold in Val di Fiemme four years ago. In the ladies’ pursuit, 34-year-old Olga Savialova (RUS) also triumphed after a four-year-pause since she won gold in the 30km-race at the 2003 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships.
Defending 2005 champion, 34-year-old Katerina Neumannova (CZE) repeated her victory in the ladies’ individual start race over 10km in the free technique on Tuesday. After the gold in Torino and her first title in Oberstdorf, the second World Championship gold will make a nice addition to her trophy case as she plans to retire after this season. Her gold was the Czech Republic’s third medal in Sapporo.
In the men’s 15km race, Lars Berger (NOR), better known as a first-class biathlete, took a surprise victory after benefiting from an early start number during stark snowfall in the middle of the race. An even bigger surprise was the silver medalist, 19-year-old Leanid Karneyenka of Belarus who considered the Junior World Ski Championships in Tarvisio (ITA) as his main season goal. An incredible performance, especially in the final kilometers, ensured a well-deserved bronze medal to Tobias Angerer.