RacingWorld CupA Fairy Tale Championship?

Avatar Topher SabotFebruary 20, 2013

FasterSkier’s coverage of the 2013 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, is brought to you by the generous support of Fischer Sports.

Sometimes dreams do come true, and for those who fall asleep at night with visions of World Championship medals dancing through their heads, there will be 62 such pieces of hardware available over the next week and a half.

And who can say if the first or the fifteenth time standing on the podium at the bi-annual Championships is more fulfilling? Actually, Marit Bjørgen could tell you in a few days.

But what of the dreams of a team and a nation? For Norway, a single medal would be disaster. For the United States it would be a triumph. On the eve of the 2013 World Championships, we take a look at what would make a true fairy tale ending for the biggest players.

Norway

The Norwegian ski world revolves around two people — the aforementioned Bjørgen, and her male partner in medal-winning prowess, Petter Northug. Success or failure at the Championships will come down to these individuals.

The Fairy Tale

Bjørgen, bedecked in red, overcomes the wolf that is Justyna Kowalczyk, and repeats her performance from Oslo two years ago — four golds and a silver. Northug, for his part, as the huntsman, slays the Russian bears and also returns with a pile of medals.

Will it Happen?

It is highly unlikely that the Norwegians will recapture the magic of Oslo. In the two races that Bjørgen and and Northug did not start, their teammates racked up a silver and two bronzes, as well as another gold and bronze over the duration.

Both Bjørgen and Northug have not been quite at the top of their respective games of late. Bjørgen had a setback with a false alarm regarding her heart, while Northug has not dominated an event in some time.

But he is the ultimate big race skier, and despite missing some time, Bjørgen has won all but one World Cup start this season (she was second in that other one).

Therese Johaug is skiing fast, and the women should dominate the relay. It may not be a perfect “happily ever after,” but the women should be their usual force, and Northug will do his part, and the country of Norway can drift happily off to sleep as the book is closed.

Poland

More accurately this should be labeled “Justyna Kowalczyk.” Her rivalry with Bjørgen is well-documented, and the big question is whether or not she can avenge 2011. The de facto owner of the Tour de Ski title at this point, Kowalczyk finished one place behind Bjørgen in all three individual distance races in Oslo, including a heartbreaker in the 10km classic where Bjørgen made up nine seconds in the last few kilometers to take the win.

The Fairy Tale

Kowalczyk is visited by her fairy godmother — or is that just Elena Vaelbe out for a stroll in her princess gown? — and is the belle of the ball, dominating Bjørgen and heading home with no less than three gold medals.

Will it Happen?

It takes little imagination to picture Kowalczyk leaving Italy with her version of Prince Charming — solid gold. Despite the blip in Sochi, where she struggled in the sprint and dropped out of the pursuit, she appears in top form.

The Fiemme courses, with steep climbs, should suit her well, and the line-up, with a classic sprint, and a classic 30k, plays to her strengths. The 10k freestyle may not be her cup of tea, but anyone who watched her this past weekend in Davos, gapping the field, including Bjørgen, in the sprint, knows no evil step-mother will hold her back.

Switzerland

While the Swiss are not the proverbial one-trick pony like Poland, with a variety of talented skiers, the show still boils down to Cologna, and not Gianluca, but the Dario variety.

If Kowalczyk was disappointed in Oslo, imagine how Super Dario felt? Recognized as one of the best on the circuit, with credentials including three each of World Cup overall titles and Tour de Ski victories, his best result at the 2011 Worlds was 9th in the sprint. He never did better than 20th in the distance races.

The Fairy Tale

Cologna goes from the Beast in 2011 to the handsome prince he more readily resembles, winning multiples medals in the distance races. His teammates rise to the occasion, and the men’s relay team cracks the top-5.

Will it Happen?

The Swiss admittedly struggled with ski preparation in Oslo, and have made changes. Cologna has been his usual consistently strong self. It should be noted, however, that historically he has earned his big titles — the overall World Cup and the Tour de Ski — without winning large numbers of races.

But he is on a mission, and should make it to The End with a smile on his face.

Russia

By most measures, the Russians had success in 2011, with Maxim Vylegzhanin winning two silvers and Ilia Chernousov gaining a bronze. On the sprint side the team captured another bronze in the team event.

But silver and bronze is not gold, and Alexander Legkov’s epic collapse in the relay on Norwegian snow, left a bad taste for the motherland.

The Fairy Tale

Legkov plays Jack to Northug’s Giant, and succeeds in toppling the Norwegian beanstalk. The usual crew is on top form as well, both on the distance and sprint side. The Russians win the men’s relay, and a heap of other medals. The men have the depth and talent to replicate Norway’s performance of two years ago.

The women could add to the magic with a medal in the sprint, but no more.

Will it Happen

It certainly could, though likely not to such a degree. But Legkov dethroned Cologna in the 2013 Tour de Ski, and the sprint squad is stacked as always. The gold may not rain down, but should sprinkle.

Canada

Oh Canada. They are so good, but it never seems easy.

Harvey injured his shoulder in a training crash, and missed some race time, and Kershaw has had a rough season, just recently beginning to show signs of his 2012 form.

Ivan Babikov dropped out of the distance race in Davos just a few days ago as he recovers from a cold.

Lenny Valjas is arguably the best skier on the team right now, which is no slight to anyone given his results, but being in the running for medals will not satisfy this bunch.

The Fairy Tale

More than anyone else, the Canadian men’s team seems to nail peaks for the biggest events. The 2010 Olympics, the 2011 World Championships — the swan is made even more beautiful given just how ugly the preceding duckling is.

Slow starts to the season, and grim results before the big races conspire to create stunning turn arounds.

So it would be no fantasy to the see the squad glide off with top results and a medal or two.

The crowning feather would be the 4×10 relay. With Valjas reaching heights that former fourth man George Gray only aspired to, the team has the theoretical chops — though who can forget the controversy surrounding Harvey’s decision to skip the event in 2011. If he takes a pass again, the team goes from contender to not even pretender.

If Han Christian Anderson were penning the results, the Canadian men would medal in the relay and take an individual honor or two while Perianne Jones and Dasha Gaiazova team up for podium in the “anything can happen” event that is the team sprint.

Will it Happen?

There are just too many questions. Kershaw is clearly still capable of being one of the best, but he hasn’t shown it yet this season. Harvey and Valjas are true talents, but the former has had issues closing out mass start events, and the formats do not favor the a later — with the notable exception of the classic sprint.

Babikov is solid as always, but his lack of sprinting chops means his best hope is the relay or the 15k.

And with Chandra Crawford retiring for the season, the women will be hard-pressed to challenge for the podium. Gaiazova and Jones are more than capable in the team sprint, but chances would be better if it were classic.

There is too much talent here for this tale to end in darkness. Valjas has the best hope in the sprint, but the Sochi Olympics may be the big one for this group.

U.S.A.

What a difference two years can make. In 2011 Kikkan Randall entered the Championships as the favorite in the skate sprint. A crash in the quarterfinals ended her day, and while her teammates skied very well throughout, they were still gaining experience and fitness.

Fast forward, and the U.S. women are sitting in fourth in the season-long Nations Cup standings, with a deep, versatile and talented group.

The Fairy Tale

The U.S. has made a mark, not just on the result sheet, but with their relaxed, fun-loving attitude away from the race course. The specter, or perhaps witch, of more than a decade of U.S. mediocrity, that was on it’s way out four years ago when Randall won her World Championship silver, will be kicked head first into the oven fired by medals in both the 4x5km and team sprints, driven forward by a striped stocking-clad foot.

Her charred bones will likely have traces of glitter and the United States will officially move from also-ran to true powerhouse.

On the men’s side, Andy Newell becomes Prince Charming in the truest sense, and is the biggest story when he finally breaks through to the podium on the biggest stage in the sprint.

Will it Happen?

It certainly could. The women have a relay podium this season, though beating Norway is not going to happen, and Sweden, with Charlotte Kalla anchoring, will be tough to overcome. That leaves little room for error, but the talent is there.

In the team sprint, you could pair the earlier mentioned Vaelbe with Kikkan Randall in this skate event and a medal would be a possibility. The hardest thing will be deciding who else gets to race. Both Jessie Diggins and Sadie Bjornsen have been on the World Cup podium with Randall, and Ida Sargent has settled in as a legitimate World Cup sprinter.

Holly Brooks has the speed/distance combo, and don’t forget that Liz Stephen has had success in this event as well. Good money is on Diggins, and amedal for the U.S.

Newell is more than a long shot, but he is second in the Sprint Cup, and has seemed oh so close of late.

Everyone Else

There are plenty more teams that could listed here, including Sweden, host Italy, the Germans and Great Britain with Andrew Musgrave. Regardless of whether the above stories come to life, there will certainly be true-to-life tales of fallen heroes and great victories.

 

 

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Topher Sabot

Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.

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