With the 2010 Vancouver Olympics on the horizon, numerous athletes were vying for a chance to represent their country in February. Most of the usual suspects – Northug and Hattestad on the men’s side with Saarinen and Majdic – having risen to the top already. It appears Northug has started off where he left off last season even after a couple injuries in the summer and is tied with Finland’s Matti Heikinnen for top spot in the Overall standings. Even though Hattestad showed his immense power in Kuusamo to get his first victory of the year. He looked strangely human in Davos as he failed to qualify for the semi-finals, but even champions have off days…
The utter domination of Majdic over the other athletes in the sprint will be put under threat this year as the women’s sprint field is far deeper in years past with more and more specialists coming through the junior ranks. Names to lookout for include a couple of Majdic’s teammates, Katja Visnar and Vesna Fabjan who will be serious threats for top 10 positions this year. Every weekend there seems to be a new name that qualifies in the top 30 and that trend will continue this year, especially on the men’s side with previously unheard of Russians, Norwegians, and Swedes posting impressive debut results and with more sprint races this year we should see more and more potential stars rise up and try to grab some of the spotlight.
This season has seen two notable comebacks from Bjørgen to the form that spectators have come to expect in recent years by placing in the top 10 in every World Cup race she has entered thus far. Also, Kristina Smigun (now Smigun-Vaehi) is showing that she won’t be replicating the embarrassment of post-pregnancy Julija Tchepalova as she has already posted a podium place in Davos after coming back from the birth of her first born.
Of course there have already been some surprises after only four World Cup weekends. None bigger than the emergence of Sweden’s Hanna Falk. The Swede has three top 10 placings in her first three World Cup starts, but it’s no co-incidence as she was a stand out junior, hitting the podium in almost every race she entered last year. It looks like the sky is the limit for this soon-to-be superstar. Adding her to Sweden’s sprint team has already paid dividends with a chances in the sprint relay with a 2nd place in Düsseldorf. The other surprise was Norwegian biathlete Ronny André Hafsås taking the first win of the season in Beitostølen. Even though there have been reports of him wanting to represent Norway in cross-country for the Olympics, I think he’ll be a long shot to make the team.
On the North American front, Kris Freeman is showing no signs of weakness as he continues to chase that very elusive podium spot in the 15km classic. In Kuusamo, he missed the podium by 2.1 seconds. This is the third time he has been so close yet so far in World Cup and World Championship races in this technique at this distance. Last year in Liberec, he was 1.3 seconds out and in 2003 in Val di Femme he was out 2.1 seconds. Perhaps, he’ll be able to break the curse by seasons end with the current form he has? The Canadian team came out of the gates rather slow but after a very successful training camp in Davos, they hit their stride in last weekends World Cup. With some of the team flying home for Christmas, hopefully the remainder will continue the moment in Rogla.
There is only one more set of World Cup races before the Christmas break and the Tour de Ski. We’ll have a much more detailed preview in the upcoming days.