Germany knows how to put on a ski race, and the country delivered this weekend, hosting both the first two stages of arguably skiing’s biggest circus, the Tour de Ski, as well as an entertaining arena-based biathlon relay.
The Tour kicked off in Oberhof, where Kikkan Randall of the United States and Petter Northug of Norway won the opening prologues. While Northug plans to make it the first victory on his way to the overall title, Randall’s position is less certain; in the pursuit the next day, Polish multi-time Tour champion Justyna Kowalcyk put a big gap on the field, and Randall and the rest of the women will be battling for a podium position. Currently, Therese Johaug of Norway and Anne Kylloenen of Finland sit in second and third. The men’s race is closer; although Northug was likewise unable to stay in the leader’s bib, he’s still right in the mix. Russians Maxim Vyleghzanin and Alexander Legkov put their stamp on the pursuit and currently lead the standings with Northug in third, just 17 seconds out.
While Randall’s prologue win was notable for the U.S. and she now leads the three American women in the top 30 of the standings, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for all the North Americans. Jessie Diggins crashed in the prologue and then Kris Freeman had a much more devastating accident in the pursuit, where he collected an ugly contusion. He says he’ll continue racing, but it’s unclear how things will go. Noah Hoffman had a bad prologue and Andy Newell had a rough pursuit; Canada’s Devon Kershaw just feels terrible. For Canada the bright spot is Alex Harvey, who wasn’t even sure he’d complete the Tour but now sits in fifth, just six seconds behind Northug. Ivan Babikov is also having a good showing.
Meanwhile, biathletes competed in their own Germany circus on Saturday, showing up to a soccer stadium in Gelsenkirchen packed with 50,000 fans (truly, only the Germans could think of this). Ten two-person, man-woman teams competed in several events, and were accompanied by sideshows like a celebrity shooting competition and Magdalena Neuner doing a trapeze descent from the roof. While the Tour is leaving Germany for Switzerland, the Oberhof volunteers have to stay on top of their game because the IBU Cup has arrived there and biathlon racing will begin on Thursday.
Most domestic skiers were resting up or training for U.S. Nationals, which kicks off in Soldier Hollow, Utah, this week, and if they raced at all they likely competed in small, local races as tune-ups. American junior biathletes, however, had a full schedule with three races in Mount Itasca, Minnesota, for the World Youth and Junior Championships team trials. Sean Doherty (Vermont Collegiate Biathlon) and Anna Kubek (Mount Itasca) swept all three races and headline the roster for the Championships, which will take place in late January in Obertilliach, Austria.
Finally, the Christmas break meant that FasterSkier was able to put up more non-race-related reporting than we usually can in the winter. Some major pieces included a walkthrough of Canmore’s Bill Warren Training Center, a discussion of the economic impact of climate change with newly-compiled dollars and jobs data, the challenges of hosting bigger, FIS-scored races at traditional U.S. venues, and a survey of elite skiers’ favorite places to ski.
In case you missed it this weekend, here’s a roundup of our race coverage:
Tour de Ski (Oberhof, Germany)