Racing has kicked off in Muonio, Finland, with classic sprints on Friday and an 8.2/15 k classic race on Saturday. While skiers from the home country took many spots on the podium, Alexei Poltoranin of Kazakhstan prevailed in the men’s sprint, beating Ristomatti Hakola by a ski length.
With just 16 skiers advancing to heats, and four skiers per heat because of the narrow width of trails, action was fast on Friday afternoon. According to Poltoranin, the races are tests for the Kazakh team.
“My Estonian coach, Mati Alaver, who I have been working with for two years and my sparring partner, 2002 and 2006 Olympic Champion Andrus Veerpalu, who I have been training with since the summer until the last starts and who also happens to be my serviceman and test pilot, are also in Muonio,” he said in an interview with Astana Times on Friday.
He also shed some light on the fighter’s mentality that took him to the top later that day.
“In times of hardships I think if I slow down and lose one to three seconds, then have I worked for nothing since my childhood?” he said. “This is why we are training, to fight for every second, for every place.”
Finally, he had some requests for Kazakhs at home: watch skiing on television, and do it themselves.
“I recommend everyone to start skiing, because it is a healthy lifestyle,” he said. “Your body muscles are working, including the heart, and most importantly it is not as traumatic as jogging.”
Mona-Liisa Nousiainen bested Krista Pärmäkoski in the women’s final after also winning the prologue.
“In the final, Krista pulled a pretty good pace,” Nousiainen told Kestävyys Urheilu.
Nousiainen is planning in the first World Cups of the season, to be held in Kuusamo, Finland. After also winning a sprint in Vuokatti earlier this month, she certainly seems to be a compelling choice for sprints. But with few top women from other countries competing in Muonio, she was wary of assigning her wins so far too much importance.
“Sure, these messages indicate that the training sessions have gone well,” she said, according to a translation. “But the main contests are of course still ahead.”
Alena Prochazkova of Slovakia was third in the A-Final.
Come Saturday, Poltoranin slipped to the third spot of the podium as Sami Jauhojärvi was the man of the day. The Finn opened up a 43.5 second gap to teammate Hakola over the course of 15 k of classic skiing, with Poltoranin another 1.8 seconds behind in third.
“I hope my mother believes the broadcast,” Jauhojärvi said at the end of an interview with Kestävyys Urheilu. “And my son Oiva at home. Dad won!”
The field was also filled with a few former NCAA skiers. University of Utah alum and sometime Norwegian World Cup skier Snorri Einarsson placed seventh, +1:38.3 behind Jauhojärvi. Former University of Alaska Anchorage skier Vahur Teppan of Estonia placed 38th (+4:38).
In the women’s 8.2 k, Pärmäkoski again finished a close second, this time behind Kerttu Niskanen. Niskanen clocked a time just 2.3 seconds faster.
Working through falling snow and powdery trails, Niskanen called the course less than ideal.
“The snow was falling and the trails were in messy condition,” she said, according to a translation. “It was a mess that somehow came forward.”
She revealed in an interview with the Iltalehti newspaper that she is focusing on a World Cup overall placing, and intends to race the Ski Tour Canada.
“It doesn’t make sense to race all the races for the period, but most I can ski,” she said. “The Tour de Ski and the Canadian tour, theirs is a big role. If they do not go well, you will have to forget the overall World Cup competition.”
Riita-Liisa Roponen, a formidable force on the FIS Marathon Cup in the last few years, placed third +24.5.
“Time, well well – it seems I can still stride with the young girls,” 37-year-old Roponen quipped to the Kaleva newspaper.
Aino-Kaisa Saarinen, a Finnish longtime star who recently announced that she was pregnant, finished ninth (+1:22.3). She explained after the race that she plans to continue racing until she begins to be afraid of crashing, at which point she’ll stay away from the start line.
Utah alum Maria Gräfnings placed tenth, four seconds behind her. College of Saint Scholastica’s Anita Kirvesniemi placed 43rd (+3:58.9).
Racing continues Sunday with skate distance competitions.
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.