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 — On Wednesday afternoon, the Royal Palace Sprint in Stockholm, Sweden will bring to a close what cold be termed the “Year of the City-Sprint” on the World Cup circuit.
With no World Championships or Olympics the International Ski Federation (FIS) took advantage of the resulting schedule flexibility, and added an additional two city-sprints to the usual stops in Dusseldorf, Drammen and Stockholm.
With Milan, Italy and Moscow, Russia on the calendar, sprinters faced a variety of courses and interesting locales.
It is hard to rank the venues—who can say that racing along the Rhine in Germany is better than on the front lawn of the Castello Sforzesco in Milan or vice versa?
But there is no doubt that the Stockholm sprint more than holds it own. Running right along the doorstep of the Royal Palace in Sweden’s capital, the course overlooks the Riddarfjärden bay, dropping down nearly to the water’s edge before climbing back up the finish.
Royal guards continue their stoic watch, and boats navigate the icy waters as the top sprinters in the world do battle on 5,000 cubic meters of snow trucked five kilometers from a nearby alpine area.
According to the Chief of Race Göran Nilsson, not just any snow will do.
“Not only snow, but white, good snow,” Nilsson told FasterSkier in an interview on Tuesday evening in Stockholm.
The two key components of pulling of a successful race, says Nilsson is the snow and the volunteers.
In his fourth year working on the event—one as a technical delegate and now three as either the Chief of Competition or Assistant Chief of Competition—Nilsson has set a high bar.
“When you have done it seven times, each year you take one more step up and one more step up. And this year we will be the best in the world,” Nilsson said.
The snow to make it happen started arriving on Sunday at 9:00, and the last load was delivered Tuesday at noon. Racers could preview all of the course but for the final hill to the finish in the afternoon.
Two small Pisten Bulleys are on-hand to prepare the tracks, one of which is piloted by none other than Thomas Wassberg—the great bearded Swedish cross-country champion.
Wassberg hails from the north of Sweden, but made his fifth trip down for the Stockholm sprints this year.
“People look up to him, and he comes with his hair and his beard and rrrrrrr,” Nilsson said, pantomiming a hulking figure.
“He is one of the best skiers in Sweden and he is still working on the floor,” Nilsson continued, referring to the fact that Wassberg is still very much involved with the sport on a day-to-day basis. “He is a very nice man, a very good sportsman and coach and leader and machine driver,” Nilsson said.
The great Swede is one of over 100 volunteers working on the event. The majority hail from one of seven Stockholm clubs.
With most having multiple Royal Palace Sprints under their belts, Nilsson said his focus is not on the technical details, which the volunteers have down pat, but on providing the best overall experience.
This is the core of his goal of being the best in the world.
“I tell them that every person coming here, athletes, coaches, spectators, media, all of them are our guests, and we have to give them what they want when they come,” Nilsson explained.
He wants everyone to leave thinking “it is a professional event, I will come back here, thank you very much.”
He also points to a level of attention to detail that may be overlooked elsewhere, saying “you will find all signs perfect, not handwritten, they will all be straight. The tracks and all around will be perfect.”
This year there is an added incentive to perform beyond a commitment to excellence.
Nilsson said that FIS has not put Stockholm on the World Cup calendar for next year, and with 2014 featuring pre-World Championships (the big event will be in Falun in 2015), there would not be another race in the city until at least then.
At this point he has “no idea” as to why FIS may take away the event next season though he believes the best way to keep the race is to “do the very best.”
The current draft schedule for the 2013 season does not have a substitute event listed.
Nilsson is hoping for as many as 15,000 spectators on Wednesday.
“Skiing is very popular in Sweden,” Nilsson said, “and we are proud about it to have his majesty the King in our ski family.
Carl the 16th Gustav is a big supporter of the sport. He will travel to Falun for the rest of the World Cup Finals, and his son recently completed the Vasaloppet.
The weather is predicted to be sunny and warm, making for ideal spectating, and Nilsson foresees no problems, predicting that temperatures will drop low enough for the tracks to set up hard.
And despite long hours and complicated logistics, Nilsson, who served as the chair of the Swedish Ski Federation for a decade, beginning in 1995 at the Thunder Bay World Championships, loves the event.
“People around here they wonder what kind of person is working on this,” he said of many of the city-dwellers. “But you must be a little bit here,” he pause pointing to his temple and swirling his finger in a “crazy” gesture before continuing, “if you work this type of event.”
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Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.