One year ago, the US and Canadian Olympic teams were in Whistler, British Columbia getting ready for the 2010 Olympic Games. This year, there are obviously no Olympics, but with medals on the line at the only marginally less prestigious World Championships, North American athletes are gearing up for the highlight of the season.
Both team have arrived in Norway, and many of the skiers are looking to a series of FIS races in Beitostolen to shake out the travel legs, and get back into race mode after an almost universal training block.
A higher level test awaits one week later in Drammen as the World Cup picks up after a week off, and then it is on to Oslo.
The Canadian team is currently training in Lillehamar. According to head coach Justin Wadsworth, a group of five athletes will head Beitostolen to race Saturday’s 5/10km classic. Ivan Babikov, Devon Kershaw, Len Valjas, and Brooke Gosling will make the trip, before rejoining the team in Lillehamar, where they will remain until Drammen.
Kershaw for one is not expecting anything at all in Beitostolen. “That day’s gonna be a disaster—don’t even look at the results,” he told FasterSkier. Kershaw is just down from a high altitude training camp at the Mt. Engadin lodge, and is finally feeling good after rough spell following the Tour de Ski.
“I felt pretty tired for a while after the Tour and not that good—worryingly not good—finally this last week training’s took a big turn for the positive,” Kershaw said. With a stage victory and three other podium appearances in the Tour, a strong Kershaw is a force to be reckoned with, and he has one goal for the next three weeks.
“We know what we want to do—our team wants to win a medal—we don’t care who it is,” he said.
And with two skiers placing in the top 10 at the Tour (Kershaw 7th, Alex Harvey 10th), Chandra Crawford skate sprinting, and the always-dangerous Ivan Babikov, that goal could be within reach.
But Kershaw does not appear to be feeling too much pressure. “Of course World Championships are important, but at the same time I feel like if this season were to end right now, it’s still the best season of my life,” he said.
Wadsworth told FasterSkier that the Canadians did not want to spend too much time in Oslo right now. “We’ll be there long enough as it is,” he said, and even though some of the athletes have never skied the courses, a preview at this point is not an option.
Because of all the setup, Wadsworth said the courses are not being groomed – signage needs to be setup, television cable laid, and a host of other tasks completed. Closing the courses is “standard procedure” according to Wadsworth.
US in Beito and Sjusjoen
The US Team already has a large group in Beitostolen – Morgan Arritola, Liz Stephen, Ida Sargent, Jessie Diggins, Sadie Bjornsen, Andy Newell, Tad Elliott, Simi Hamilton, and Torin Koos, from the World Championship team, as well as Skyler Davis, over from the Scandinavian Cup races in Estonia.
All nine are currently scheduled to race this weekend, though US Head Coach Chris Grover told FasterSkier that frigid temperatures are expected by Sunday, and that may impact start decisions.
“We’re certainly not going to cook anybody’s lungs right now,” Grover said.
The rest of the World Champs team is in Sjusjoen, and will train through the weekend. Kris Freeman, Noah Hoffman, Holly Brooks and Kikkan Randall will meet the larger group in Drammen on Wednesday, and all 12 team members will race there, including Lars Flora, who has been training in Europe for several weeks.
The US skiers spent a few days in Oslo prior to heading north, taking advantage of excellent conditions to ski on the World Championship courses before they were shut down.
Stacked Field in Beitostolen
The US and Canada will be joining a number of the top Norwegian skiers at the Beitostolen races. All told, 155 men and 65 women are scheduled to start Friday’s classic sprint, including Anders Gloeersen, Oystein Pettersen, Maiken Caspersen Falla and Celine Brun-Lie among others.
The Australian and British teams are also competing, with Andrew Musgrave, coming off a strong U23 Championships headlining for the Brits.
Racing continues on Saturday with a 5/10km classic – the event the Canadians will show up for – before the weekend concludes with a 15/30km freestyle on Sunday.
Both Grover and Wadsworth referred to the event as a mini-tour, but every race is being run as an individual start, and given the fact that Canada is only racing the middle event, athletes do not have to race all three days.
Currently there are over 850 racers scheduled to start on Saturday, and nearly that many again on Sunday.
– Nat Herz contributed reporting
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.