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.
VAL DI FIEMME, Italy – After so much buildup, so many strategic moves throughout the men’s 4 x 10-kilometer relay at the 2013 Nordic World Ski Championships on Friday, everything almost literally came to a grinding halt in the fourth and final leg.
The worker bees hard done their jobs for the first 30 kilometers of the race, making the last 10 into something like a Sunday stroll on a 10-degree Celsius (50-degree Fahrenheit) afternoon.
As expected, Petter Northug was among those controlling the pace early in the anchor leg. Norway’s relay closer for the last four World Championships, he wasn’t about to use his reserves too early. The frontrunners of the six-man group, Italian David Hofer and Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov weren’t keen on going hard, either.
Just to show how slow they were going, Northug started single sticking, basically walking up the second climb.
“It went slower than when you take your mother on Easter,” he later told NRK, according to a translation. “There were a lot of tactics, and I get what I want.”
As the pack approached the high point of the 3.3 k course, all six men stood up. Hofer did so first to let German Axel Teichmann and Ustiugov pass by, and Switzerland’s Remo Fischer, Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson and Northug casually tucked behind him. Several thousand spectators watching the antics on the stadium big screens booed with dissatisfaction. Come on guys, this is a race.
But in a World Championship relay, that’s how it often goes.
“You need to race a little bit tactical, come from behind, save power for the last round because then you know it will be attacks,” Northug explained.
He quietly hovered near the back within a second or two of the lead until he decided it was time to go. Everyone knew some kind of surge would come, they just didn’t know when.
While the front guys played mind games, American Tad Elliott made up 59 seconds after starting in ninth. He caught the group on the second lap and led Northug up the second climb.
By the next hill, however, Elliott’s effort caught up with him and the 25-year-old Colorado native started to slip behind. Meanwhile, Finland’s Matti Heikkinen continued to make up ground on the leaders after starting nearly a minute and a half back in 11th. Heikkinen reached the group on the third lap and surged to the front early, but failed to hold on halfway through. He fell to the back of the group in seventh while Northug took the lead. Hofer and Ustiugov skied behind him, followed by Halfvarsson, Fischer and Teichmann.
With about 1 ½ k remaining, Northug led the downhill into a relatively boring part of the course. Before then, nothing really happened on the straightaway before the second-last descent. Northug caught his competitors off guard and attacked on the flat, where Halfvarsson in second responded quickest.
In his first World Championships, the 23-year-old Swedish anchor knew this was his moment and managed to get ahead of Northug on the fast downhill, taking the inside corner on the sharp bottom curve.
While Halfvarsson and Northug battled back up to the top, Ustiugov and Hofer put their heads down trying to hang on. The Swede led the final downhill, looking back to see how close Northug was. Really close.
The two sped over the last bump before the stadium and began the much-anticipated sprint showdown. Northug free skated alongside Halfvarsson to take the lead and just before finish, he let everyone know who the winner was. With Halfvarsson a few meters behind, Northug put his hands out and shrugged. No big deal.
Now a nine-time world champion, Northug claimed the seventh-consecutive world champs relay victory for Norway, in which he and Tord Asle Gjerdalen, Eldar Rønning and Sjur Røthe combined for a winning time of 1:41.37.2.
Sweden (Daniel Richardsson, Johan Olsson, Marcus Hellner and Halfvarsson) came up 1.2 seconds short for its sixth silver medal of the week. Russia (Evgeniy Belov, Maxim Vylegzhanin, Alexander Legkov and Ustiugov) edged Italy (Dietmar Nöckler, Giorgio Di Centa, Roland Clara and Hofer) by 0.2 seconds for third, 2.4 seconds behind Norway.
“Two hundred and fifty meters before the line I knew it was gold,” Northug told reporters. “So that feels amazing.”
“It’s awful fun to win the relay, and a dream to fight against Sweden at the end,” he told NRK. “I know what that rests on my shoulders. It is almost a scandal to be number two.”
His teammates set him up according to plan. Their scramble leg, Gjerdalen again filled in for Martin Johnsrud Sundby, who’s been out sick since Wednesday’s 15 k (Gjerdalen started in his place and earned bronze). Easily recognized as Norway’s Aviator-wearing guy, Gjerdalen wore his trademark sunglasses while putting the team in second at the first exchange, just 0.3 seconds behind Germany’s Hannes Dotzler.
(The Germans ended up seventh behind Finland in fifth and Switzerland after Teichmann crashed twice on the last lap. “Throughout my career, I’ve never had so much bad luck,” the 33-year-old Teichmann told Südkurier.)
On the second classic leg, Rønning kept the Norwegians close and tagged to Røthe in fifth, 3.4 seconds behind Switzerland’s Dario Cologna, who skied a commanding second leg. Italy, Russia and Germany were also in the mix, along with Sweden’s Olsson, who tagged to Hellner four seconds back in sixth.
“It was tough,” Olsson told reporters. “In my case, maybe the glide wasn’t 100 percent today compared to some of the other competitors on my leg. It’s tough on the mind, too, when you don’t have the maximum skis under your feet.”
After taking his second-straight silver to Northug, who won Wednesday’s 15 k individual skate, Olsson told NRK: “He loses maybe one in a hundred sprints. It’s amazing how he does it again and again. No matter how the race is, he always wins.”
On the third leg, Legkov lifted Russia to first by the last exchange, 0.6 seconds ahead of Hellner. Røthe came through after the Swede in third, 2 seconds behind Legkov.
“The idea was that Petter should never have been in the lead on the last stage,” Hellner told NRK.
While he didn’t lead from the start, he was close enough to capture it.
“I did everything I could, but I had nothing to answer. I had no strength left,” Halfvarsson told NRK.
“I tried to get a few meters up in the last uphill, but he is too strong,” he explained to reporters. “I had no chance. I’m happy with the silver because this is my first medal, but when it’s so close to gold, it’s not so fun.”
Northug suggested Sweden should’ve chosen someone else and said his team was surprised to see Halfvarsson listed as its anchor.
“But we say thank you,” Northug told SVT. “All glory to him, he beat several strong sprinters, but he still has a ways to go.”
For Røthe, who also started his first World Championships relay, the gold was everything he’d hoped for.
“It’s great to be world champion,” he told NRK. “It was a fun duel with Sweden.”
“A big job for the whole team, but the last guys, they’re just walking, slow, slow, slow and doing a massive sprint,” Gjerdalen told reporters. “That’s entertainment, that’s excitement and a lot of adrenaline. The whole stadium was just quiet. It’s cool!”
At the finish, the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, congratulated Northug.
“Nice that you stopped by,” Northug reportedly said.
“We did not talk so much,” he explained to NRK. “He said it was a close fight, and seemed very pleased that Sweden had taken the silver.”
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Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.
March 1, 2013 at 4:37 pm
I’m relatively new to following the international scene but man, Northug comes across as an ass in that write up. I realize that he is the best but that doesn’t mean he has to be so cocky. Maybe a lot has been lost in translation here (although Lionel Messi in futbol never seems to have this problem with translation?)
March 1, 2013 at 4:39 pm
What happened to the Canadians?
March 1, 2013 at 5:08 pm
Freeman dropped the ball and lost a minute on his leg,or the US would have been in the mix at the end. As it was the US finished about one minute behind at the end of the relay.
March 1, 2013 at 5:35 pm
Mr. Rested and Ready sure has not shown that he was rested and ready!
March 1, 2013 at 9:21 pm
Look—there is no question whether Freeman give his all—-he does, has, and always does—no doubt about it—and I’m sure he gets tired of talking about the insulin/diabetes thing—it is a fact of life—-you can not not name him to the relay team—you just have to hope and keep your fingers crossed that he gets 30-40 minutes of pure physiology from his body—if he does he is a top 4 to10er and he makes that team way better.
I’d put him on my team.
March 2, 2013 at 4:06 am
Yep, Northug’s an asshat. I think his 16 year old brain hasn’t caught up with his 27 year old body yet. Personally I think his antics and B.S does more harm to the sport than good. In most other “Professional” Sports, you get fined or warned for that kind of shit. But FIS is so starved for T.V coverage and sponsor dollars that they’ll let it slide.
March 2, 2013 at 12:20 pm
Unfortunately you are correct is kinda a douche, and his constant antic are getting old. But to say that charcthers like him would be punished in most other sports is simply not true . There are plenty of athletes that have a big mouth and showboat and as long as they don`T break the rules of the sport or the rules of the land they are not punished.
And being and asshat shud be illegal. The competitors shud use his behavior as motivation and find away to beat him. That would be the best way of shutting him up.
March 2, 2013 at 12:20 pm
=_= its suppose to be being and asshat shud not be illegal 🙂
March 2, 2013 at 2:30 pm
Haha the NFL hands out fines for showboating and TD celebrations like it’s candy.
March 2, 2013 at 7:01 pm
Books could be written about the best running order for relay races. One thing is for sure, if it works, it looks good, sounds good,and is good.
I have noticed that certain areas produce better-than-expected relay racers (this is based on a purely analytical approach to previous race times and comparing skiers) and naturally, areas that have more relay races than others top the list. So that was always one consideration for me when I was coaching. I wanted someone who got excited about relays. For example, I used to say I could take a guy like Bob Gray out of sick bay and he would turn in a great relay leg. Didn’t matter where he ranked on the team.
Another very significant consideration in running orders is–who are the friends in this group? You find two skiers who are very good friends and you are wise to run them consecutively because they don’t want to let their friend down. This friendship angle carries down to the whole team, actually. Altho’ I have never witnessed this, if you put an unpopular skier on a team with three others, it might (I emphasize MIGHT) not work as well as with some other 4th, apparently inferior skier—according to past results.
Then, there is another psychological impact. A long time ago the Swedes came out and sent a fellow named Jernberg off the front. This was a total surprise to the other teams because Sixten usually ran last. He blasted off and came in with such a big margin that the Swedes were never seriously threatened. (They probably had a bunch of skiers who loved skiing off the front of the pack.)
As I said, if it works, everyone associated with the team looks good. By the way, I think the US had their best possible running order for the 4×5 the other day.