Nations Cup Ranking: 8th (2264 pts)
Men: 17th (109 pts)
Women: 6th (2155 pts)
2010/2011 World Cup Team
What you may have missed last season:
Well, if you tuned into elite-level cross-country skiing at just about any point last year, one thing you did not miss was Justyna Kowalczyk steamrolling her way to three Olympic medals, a victory in the Tour de Ski, and the World Cup overall title. Over the course of the season, Kowalczyk contested every single individual race on the World Cup except for two, for a total of 33 starts. Along the way, she racked up more than $350,000 and 2,064 World Cup points—700 more than Norway’s Marit Bjoergen, her nearest challenger.
What else? Well, last year’s next-famous Pole was Kornelia Marek, who might now be better-described as infamous. Marek was the only cross-country skier busted for doping at the 2010 Olympics—she tested positive for the blood-boosting drug EPO, then blamed it on intramuscular injections that she received from a physiotherapist named Witalij Trypolski. While Marek acknowledged getting the injections, she apparently didn’t bother to ask whether they just might have included illegal drugs. The International Ski Federation didn’t care, and slapped her with a two-year ban.
What You Should Know For This Season
While the Poles do have a small supporting cast, the most obvious question is whether Kowalczyk can sustain her torrid racing and training schedule. A conversation with a slightly flabbergasted reporter last February indicated that she doesn’t take her foot off the gas pedal, even in the middle of winter.
A few things should help. First, a €125,000 sponsorship deal with a Polish bank will mean that Kowalczyk will not go hungry. (Even if you skip the rest of this preview, don’t miss her acting skills in this ad.) Second, she has her own six-member support crew separate from the rest of the national team: head coach Alexander Wierietielny, assistant coaches Rafał Węgrzyn and Mateusz Nuciak, servicemen Are Mets and Peep Koidu, and doctor Robert Smigielski. Third, Kowalczyk has some knowledge of her own to fall back on, thanks to a masters degree from the Physical Education Academy in Katowice, where she wrote a thesis called “An Analysis of Training Loads.”
However, Kowalczyk has also been doing something during the off-season that anyone with knowledge of cross-country skiing would classify as unwise: provoking the Norwegian superstar Marit Bjoergen. Since last year’s Olympics, Kowalczyk has been complaining that Bjoergen’s asthma medicine gives her an unfair advantage—recently, she told a Polish newspaper that she prepares for racing “on the trails, not at the pharmacy.” The comments certainly seem to stoke the fires of the Scandinavian press, but it’s not clear that they bother Bjoergen—after all, she did win three gold medals at the Games. Look for some awkward congratulatory hugs at the finish line this winter.
Who You Should Watch
Sylwia Jaskowiec had four top-30 results in individual races last winter, and while she has been on the cusp of regularly scoring World Cup points, her racing has been inconsistent. A rollerski accident in August took a few months out of her preparations for the season, so it will be interesting to see whether she can make a jump this year.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.