All 2012 FIS World Cup Finals coverage is brought to you through the generous support of Fischer Sports USA, proud sponsors of Kikkan Randall, 2012 overall Sprint Cup Champion.
STOCKHOLM, Sweden – A sunny day at the Royal Palace, and athletes, fans and coaches all seemed to take equal pleasure in a great day of skiing.
As is often the case, there are odds and ends that don’t make it into the race reports, but are worth putting down.
Lenny Valjas, third place in the men’s sprint for Canada, said he didn’t expect a medal in either of the last two city-sprints, though that is exactly what he accomplished.
While we are sure that winning (or being on the podium) anywhere feels pretty darn good, Valjas said “It is a good feeling to win in Scandinavia” where the tradition and culture is so steeped with cross-country skiing.
Valjas, who seems to be rounding into top form right now said that he is “really happy” with his shape right now, and from that perspective is a bit sad to see the season winding down.
On the other hand, halfway through a fifth month of racing, Valjas, like many others, is looking ahead to some rest.
“I am raced out now. I am ready for Maui—get over to Hawaii for a couple of weeks,” Valjas said referring to a Canadian National Team trip to that state, a trip secured when Valjas scored the tenth Canadian podium on the season.
The towering Vlajas has focused mainly on sprints this year, but is looking forward to a few days of distance racing as World Cup Finals continues.
“I’ll ski as hard as I can and well see what happens,” Valjas said. “I’m not expecting too much, but it would be nice to finish the mini-tour in top-20.”
Canadian Head Coach Justin Wadsworth likes Valjas’ chances.
“It will be fun to see how he goes at the next few distance races,” Wadsworth said. “I think he’s got the stoke going now. Pretty neat.”
Valjas almost didn’t even make the heats on Wednesday, squeaking through in 30th.
When asked if double poling the qualifier was a mistake for Valjas, Wadsworth said “Maybe…he was probably leaning more toward striding, but he went for it.”
Taking an alls-well-that-ends-well attitude Wadsworth continued “you know he got in there and it was good for him to try—it is a risk you’ve got to take sometime. Pretty fun to go from 30th to 3rd.”
Speaking of double pole, World Cup Champion Dario Cologna made the same choice, as did roughly half the field, in qualification, but stuck with the skate skis in the heats—something only a few skiers did.
Cologna was knocked out in the quarterfinals and placed 13th.
“I won in Otepaa [double poling], so I tried double poling in qualification which was not so difficult because there were only 50 skiers,” Cologna told FasterSkier. “I tried it again and it was not too bad, a little bit slow in the end. I don’t know if I would be that much faster on classic skis.”
He added that it was key to be leading into the final hill if the double pole strategy were to succeed.
“I was too far behind,” Cologna said. “I should have tried more in the flat parts to go away, but it’s okay, now I can relax and focus for the next race.”
After qualification, Dasha Gaiazova who placed 23rd gushed about the venue and conditions.
“The course is great, I am glad it is really icy still and fast,” Gaiazova said. “Last week we trained and raced in pretty much slush in Oslo and this is better than we could have hoped for.”
That changes dramatically for the heats, where hard and fast was nowhere to be found.
Fortunately the rest of the venue remained the same.
“It is amazing here, my favorite venue,” Gaiazova said.
Like Valjas, Chandra Crawford is looking forward to the end of the season, but is also ready to rip for the next few weeks.
“Now that I am done with the last World Cup sprint of the year, I’m going to do every single race I can, go full-throttle to the end of SuperTour Finals,” Crawford said. “So I gotta do four races this week, three in Quebec next week [at Canadian Nationals]. Then I will make it to three in Vermont. It’s a really cool time of year—just give ‘er.”
Kikkan Randall will also be continuing her season after the World Cup Finals, though she will remain in Europe, “racing a bunch and just soaking it in.”
In an interview with an announcer Randall described the US Team as “a band of gypsies” when asked if they had a home base in Europe.
The only man to reach the finals double poling, Ola Vigen Hattestad, was on the verge of ending his season early. Battling illness, Hattestad waited until the completion of the sprint before deciding whether or not to continue with the World Cup Finals.
After feeling good, he plans on contesting the rest of the races.
His teammate, and sprint winner Eirik Brandsdal is ready for some longer events after a season of focusing on sprints.
“I have been looking forward to doing some distance races for a long time now,” Brandsdal told FasterSkier.
And with the sprint season completed with three victories, Brandsadal said he can “just relax and enjoy the last competitions.”
Natalia Matveeva, the Russian who spent the first part of the season challenging Kikkan Randall for the Sprint Cup lead, did not start in Stockholm.
Matveeva was listed as a DNS and therefore was a late scratch.
Petter Northug, Lukas Bauer and Johan Olsson all declined their start spots earlier due to health issues, while Sami Jauhojärvi skipped World Cup finals for personal reasons.
Matt Voisin contributed reporting.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.