Germany was the place to be this weekend. Despite deteriorating conditions, careful planning (and many shovels) made the weekend’s races possible as the Tour de Ski kicked off in Oberhof and biathlon’s World Team Challenge took place in Gelsenkirchen.
The Tour de Ski started Saturday, with a 3 k and 4.5 k prologue held on a dirty, slushy 1.5 k loop that race organizers scrambled to put together due to warm weather. The prologue, which was originally intended to be on a 2.1 k course, was changed to the freestyle technique, resulting in only two classic races in the seven race Tour.
Norwegian Marit Bjørgen handily won the 3 k, outpacing teammate Astrid Jacobsen and rising Polish skier Sylwia Jaskoiec. However, talk of the opening day of the tour was not dominated by Bjørgen’s win. Instead it was the absence of Justyna Kowalczyk that made headlines. Protesting the changes to race format and accusing the FIS of targeting certain athletes, Kowalczyk decided to sit out the tour.
North American women made the headlines as well, with Jessie Diggins finishing career best fifth and Sophie Caldwell finishing in ninth.
On the men’s side, the prologue was dominated by Canada with Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw going 1-2 in the 4.5 k. After a season of less-than-satisfactory results, both Harvey and Kershaw saw their their hard work finally pay off. They were followed by Norwegian Chris Jespersen in third.
Sunday’s freestyle sprints proved to be just as exciting, especially for the Swedes who won both the men’s and women’s races. On the women’s side it was Hanna Erikson who out sprinted Germany’s Denise Hermann and Norwegian Ingvild Oestberg.
Caldwell, in her first tour, shined in the qualifier, placing fifth. Unable to move past the quarterfinals she ended the day in 22nd. Teammate Diggins finished in 18th. Liz Stephen, who traditionally has excelled in distance races, proved she could sprint as well, finished just outside qualification in 32nd. Canada’s Daria Gaiazova and Perianne Jones finished 27th and 28th.
On the men’s side, Calle Halfvarsson bested Italian Federico Pellegrino and Norwegian Martin Sundby.
Andy Newell was the first North American and finished 10th after advancing to the semifinals. Harvey, after winning the qualification round, ended in 11th. Kershaw followed him in 18th.
After two completing two stages of the Tour, Marit Bjørgen and Alex Harvey sit atop the overall standings.
3 1/2 hours away in Gelsenkirchen the biathlon World Team Challenge was held in a soccer stadium packed with 40,000 fans. The series of races took place on a web of trails within the stadium with teams, consisting of one male and female, going head-to-head. The German team won the challenge, much to the excitement of the home crowd. They were followed by Ukraine and Slovenia.
In nordic combined action, Todd Lodwick successfully earned his sixth bid to the Winter Olympic by winning at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Park City, Ut.
Cross Country World Cup Tour de Ski Oberhof, Germany
Biathlon World Team Challenge Gelsenkirchen, Germany Report
Nordic Combined U.S. Olympic Team Trials Park City, Utah Recap