OSLO, NORWAY – “I’ll gladly do a Bradbury if I manage to win the gold medal at the Holmenkollen Worlds,” said Emil Joensson (SWE), referring to the Australian speedskater who won Olympic gold when all of his competitors crashed. Joensson is not at all satisfied with the Holmenkollen sprint course.
The racers are concerned about a climb inside the stadium where they ski behind the biathlon range. At this point, the course is only seven meters wide, compared to nine meters for the rest of the course.
“You can’t really ski two abreast through this bottleneck, which will cause accidents, or someone has to give,” reigning World Champion Ola Vigen Hattestad (NOR) said to Norwegian newspaper vg.no.
Chief of Course Hermod Bjoerkestoel says the whole issue is the result of a misunderstanding. Hattestad does not buy it.
“All you need is half an hour and an excavator, and the problem would be solved,” Hattestad argued.
Last Thursday, the International Ski Federation (FIS) conducted their final inspection of the courses, and FIS Cross-Country Race Director Jürg Capol said the sprint course is within the specifications, although he did admit the critical curve is on tight side.
World Championship favorite Petter Northug Jr is also unhappy with the course’s climb. He also complains about the “camel hump” obstacle the skiers have to maneuver on the last descent into the stadium.
Sweden’s top sprint racer Emil Joensson agrees with Northug and the Norwegian skiers. The World Championships sprint race could be determined by crashes, wrestling and the subsequent protests. But isn’t this par for the course in sprint racing?
“Yes, you could argue that. But the Holmenkollen course is actually unreasonably peculiar, and that’s something that will be evident in a variety of mass start events there,” Joensson said.
As a result of the course configuration, the final stretch to the finish is very short and also very fast, as the racers will enter it from a descent.
“The course construction makes this incredibly risky and left up to chance. You really need to be where you want to be in that last curve, or you’ve already lost the race,” Joensson said.
But then again, you wonder if you really want to be leading into the stadium, risking that someone else glides past you, cuts you off, and literally parks your effort. At the pre-Worlds event last February, the Norwegian medal hope Oeystein Pettersen fell after he was involved in an incident with Joensson, among others. Pettersen requested Joensson be disqualified.
“But the video replay of the incident showed that it was in fact Pettersen who caused the crash by colliding into Emil [Joensson]. But for the Worlds, you can surely count on Kamikaze skiers vying for that lead position coming into the critical curve,” said Swedish sprint coach Arild Monsen.
“And if Emil falls, what does it matter if the other dude gets disqualified? There is no rerun of the race,” Monsen added.
Need a lot of luck
Just like they did before the 2010 Olympics, the Swedish sprint team has analyzed the course down to the last inch.
“I know that you’ll need a good amount of luck to win the sprint race here. With this kind of final stretch, anything can happen. It could easily be something like that short track speed skating event at the Olympics where the Australian won because everyone else crashed,” Emil Joensson said.
It was Bradbury who won the gold medal at the 2002 Olympics when the leaders in the final heat crashed, allowing him to glide peacefully into a gold medal despite being the slowest racer in the heat.
The 2015 World Championships in Falun, Sweden, will be Joensson’s first home-turf championship. He said he hopes the courses there will be fairer than the Holmenkollen course appears to be. Joensson played an important role in securing the championships for Falun at the FIS Congress in Turkey this summer, when the organization voted to award the 2015 event to Sweden.
From Langd.se, October 8, 2010 By Kjell Erik Kristiansen, translation by Inge Scheve
Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.