Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset, the veteran of the Norwegian national team with two decades worth of World Cup experience, has seen nations rise and fall, ebb and flow, on the international cross-country circuit. FasterSkier asked Hjelmeset to rate the North American chances at the 2011 World Championships in Oslo.
FasterSkier: Do you consider the Americans as serious contenders in the World Championships?
Hjelmeset: Yes, absolutely. A lot has happened over there, especially maybe in the sprint. Andy Newell can race well on a good day, and if he has a very good day he might even be in contention for a medal.
FS: What about the distance races?
H: Well, at the moment I don’t think Kris Freeman is skiing as well as he’d like to or expected. But if he was in fighting shape, he could be good in the pursuit and the 15K classic.
H: The Americans aren’t known for long distance racing. Seems like they like the action and the suspense of the sprint formats. But they have amazing skiing there and all kinds of opportunities. There is really no reason they shouldn’t race at least as fast as anybody else.
FS: What are your thoughts about the American women?
H: Kikkan Randall has showed teeth and been on the podium several times this season. She’s by far the biggest favorite for the sprint, and absolutely a force to be taken seriously.
FS: Do you think Randall can win the sprint in Holmenkollen?
H: That depends. It’s a really fast course, and the final stretch to the finish might just be too fast for her. She appears to sometimes have problems staying with her skis at high speeds. But everything is open.
FS: What about the Canadians?
H: The Canadians are also right up there fighting for the hardware. Devon Kershaw went in and did an incredible Tour de Ski. That was extremely exciting. Alex Harvey is also right there. There are so many interesting racers now, and to me, that’s just amazingly exciting for the sport.
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.