BiathlonGeneralNewsOlympicsRacingFrom Marcialonga Champ to Olympic Team Sprint, Boner Sets the Pace for Switzerland

Avatar Chelsea LittleFebruary 22, 2014
Seraina Boner of Switzerand leading the chase pack into the stadium with 5 k left to go in today's Olympic 30 k competition.
Seraina Boner of Switzerand leading the chase pack into the stadium with 5 k left to go in today’s Olympic 30 k competition.

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – If you talked to Switzerland’s Seraina Boner a few months ago, she said that her main focus for this season of racing was the Vasaloppet, Sweden’s 90-kilometer sufferfest which is the last big-name marathon that Boner has yet to win.

How things change. With just eight days to go until the Vasaloppet, she was 1,500 miles away in Russia, racing a 30 k in the Olympics.

“This is maybe not the best preparation but we will see,” Boner said after placing ninth today, by far the best Olympic result of her career. “This is probably my last Olympics, though, and I can always do the Vasaloppet next year.”

When your specialty is racing over such long distances – Boner is the best female marathon skier in the world – sometimes you get a little bit of perspective.

An opportunity opened up for Boner when Switzerland was unable to fill its Olympic quota along the strict lines laid out by its Olympic Committee. Athletes need one top-15 or two top-25s on the World Cup to be allowed to represent Switzerland, and no female distance skiers had met that mark.

Boner raced the 10 k freestyle in Davos in December, mostly because she lives there and wanted to compete in front of a home crowd. She finished an unimpressive 29th.

In Szklarska Poreba, Poland, in January, Boner tried again and finished 11th in the 10 k classic in a weakened field that did not include the Norwegians, Finns or Swedes. It was enough to meet the requirement, but she was still almost two minutes behind the winner, Justyna Kowalczyk. There were doubts within Switzerland about how well their marathon star could do competing in normal-length races.

Boner is not a member of the national team, instead racing on the Team Coop marathon team in Scandinavia. But Swiss coach Guri Hetland said that it was a “no brainer” to include Boner, who sometimes trains with her athletes, on their Olympic roster.

“She is the best distance skier we have,” Hetland said. “We all know that the level in long-distance skiing is also really good and is improving.”

And at the Olympics, things have been going better. Immediately after arriving, Boner got the call to replace Laurien Van Der Graaf in the team sprint. The format couldn’t be more different from the long distances Boner is used to covering, but she held her own. Not only did she and teammate Bettina Gruber – a bona fide sprinter – qualify for the final, but they finished seventh.

“I was able to be skiing right in with them, with these girls who are the sprinters,” Boner said. “We still came in seventh place, which is really cool.”

Switzerland had finished 17th and last in the team sprint four years ago in Vancouver, and had not entered a team in the event’s first appearance in Torino.

But more than that, it was exciting because it gave Boner some confidence in her form heading into today’s 30 k, the race she had flown to Russia to compete in.

“She showed in the team sprint that her shape is really good, and we all know that 30 k should be a better distance for her,” Hetland said.

Still, Boner was not used to racing against the likes of Marit Bjørgen and Therese Johaug.

“I wasn’t sure where I would be in this field,” Boner said. “I made a lot of different plans to maybe use. But it turned out that I was in that pack fighting for, I think, fourth place. So I found more motivation near the end because of this.”

When Bjørgen, Johaug, and Kristin Størmer Steira broke away from the main field, Boner stuck tight in the chase pack and even led it for sections of the race. She ultimately couldn’t find the same finishing speed as some of her competitors, but still placed 9th, about halfway deep in the pack.

It was the best result by a Swiss woman at the Olympics since 1998, when Brigitte Albrecht Loretan finished seventh in the 30 k skate in Nagano.

Boner said that the course here, with its notoriously long and brutal climbs, might have contributed to her much-improved result.

“I like long climbs, it is a little bit more like what the long distance races are like,” she said. “I like minutes, not 30 seconds here or there. So I guess this was good for me.”

Hetland didn’t care too much about why it was a good race – she was just happy to see a Swiss suit up front, something that has been rare in women’s distance racing in the last few years.

“I’m really impressed that she is making such a good race and result,” Hetland said. “It’s great for female skiing in Switzerland to see that it’s possible.”

As for Boner? Now that the race is over, there’s other fish to fry, namely that pesky Vasaloppet.

“I fly home and then straight to Sweden,” she laughed.

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Chelsea Little

Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.

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