The third leg for the Norwegian relay team is still open for grabs, but the pool of qualified grabbers is shrinking by the minute. Both Tord Asle Gjerdalen and championship rookie Sjur Røhte delivered solid bids for the third leg on Friday.
Biathlete Emil Hegle Svendsen was long expected to round out the cross-country team for the 4x10K realy, but after the 30K pursuit at the 2011 World Championships in Holmenkollen, he will be cut loose to focus on racing with a rifle on his back. Svendsen admits that he would have liked to fill the spot.
“I still think I ski faster than any of the alternatives, and I really would have liked to ski there. But this will be good too,” Svendsen said to Norwegian television station NRK after he got the call from national team coach Morten Aa Djupvik Sunday afternoon.
Djupvik said to NRK that after the 30K performances from Sjur Røhte and Tord Asle Gjerdalen Sunday, he feels he feels more comfortable starting one of the cross-country skiers than the biathlete.
“We don’t have any recent cross-country specific results from Svendsen to compare him to the team skiers,” Djupvik said, emphasizing that Svendsen by all means is a very strong skier.
“We feel more comfortable choosing one of those two skiers, now that we have solid results from them,” Djupvik concluded.
While there are several strong skiers in the squad, Djupvk has narrowed it down to Røhte or Gjerdalen. He won’t make a final decision until after the men’s 15K classic on Tuesday.
“We feel that Tord Asle and Sjur are the strongest alternatives, but we’re not sure who will race. It will be a difficult decision. After the 15K we’ll have to sit down and consider all the aspects. It can go both ways,” Djupvik said.
There is a lot at stake for the Norwegian men with the relay. The Norwegians have proud traditions for fielding strong relay teams, and with the World Championships at home, the pressure is on.
“If the guys can win the gold as a team, that is just one shade bigger than an individual medal. The gold is the biggest honor, and we’ll be fighting for it,” Djupvik said.
Barring sickness, injuries and major catastrophes, Svendsen will be racing all the events at the 2011 Biathlon World Championships in Khanty-Mansyisk (RUS), which begin on March 3.
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.