By Colin Abbott
FasterSkier’s coverage of the 2015 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Falun, Sweden, is brought to you by the generous support of L.L. Bean, now featuring a complete line of Kikkan Randall training wear.
FALUN, Sweden — The buzz is building at the 2015 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships with the completion of the first races in Falun. Wednesday saw the individual-start distance qualification races take place with 45 women and 69 men and women skiing 5 kilometers and 10 k, respectively.
These initial races did not crown world champions, but they have another purpose that is just as important to the athletes racing. These races offer the opportunity for skiers that have not in the past year made the minimum International Ski Federation (FIS) point standard for men (90 points) and women (120 points). The top-10 men and women in these races qualify for the remaining distance races at World Championships (the skiathlon, individual start and mass start).
Athletes selected with these races are part of a nations quota of starts. Most countries with a regular presence on the World Cup have athletes with low FIS points and select teams long before the start of the World Championships. This leads to lesser-known ski nations concentrating on these races as an opportunity for athletes to qualify and participate in World Championships.
After the races on Wednesday, FasterSkier caught up with skiers hailing from countries where many citizens will never see snow. Trinidad and Tobago, Iran, Australia, and Brazil offered us a glimpse into the role of skiing in their nations.
The Australian ski program has grown into a World Championships team that includes 11 athletes and six support staff. Central to their success as a nation is a development program termed the “Victorian squad” — an inclusive, tiered learn-to-ski program focused on teaching children how to ski and supporting athletes who want to race. Those young racers have athletes such as Callum Watson and PK Kovacs to look up to now which, according to 22-year-old skier Mark Pollock, is key to motivating and developing high-performance skiers.
At a certain point, the lack of snow makes it difficult to progress as an athlete in Australia. Their best skiers are seeking out options to continue skiing in other places. Last summer, Pollock trained with the Bridger Ski Foundation in Bozeman, Mont., while his teammate Jessica Yeaton trained with Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage, Alaska. These training initiatives taken by Australian athletes have allowed them to improve their depth and competitiveness internationally, with Yeaton qualifying for the nation’s full-fledged World Championships team outright.
Brazil was represented by three national team members on Wednesday: one woman, Mirlene Picin, and two men. Leandro Lutz, 33, and Fabrizio Bourguignon, 38, have both been skiing for a number of years. Like Yeaton and Pollock, Lutz decided that in order to optimize his training, an on-snow location was necessary for part of the year. Lutz chose to spend the first half of this winter in Denver, Colo., to train on snow in order to prep for three months of racing in Europe. And like Australia, Brazil is experiencing a growth in the popularity in skiing. According to Lutz, there are seven Brazilian junior racers currently in Europe — three racing the IBU Youth/Junior World Championships in Belarus and the remainder racing FIS junior races in Scandinavia.
Racing the sprint on Thursday is another Brazilian, Leandro Rubella. Two years ago, Rubella started a social project in Sao Paulo to help children from impoverished families escape violence and poverty and establish the skills needed to live a good life. This project took the unlikely form of a learn-to-rollerski program. A key message of this initiative is that “anything is possible.” The hope is that a citizen from a country with no snow can make it to the Nordic World Championships, a child born into poor circumstances will see that it is possible to overcome the most difficult challenges.
The birth of a similar program may soon occur in another tropical country, Trinidad and Tobago. Mark Rajack, 33, toed the start line Wednesday afternoon in Falun to compete for the Caribbean island nation in his first international race. Even though Rajack, who has lived in Ottawa, Ontario, since a young age, has only been skiing for two years, he sees the potential for skiing to bring positive changes to his native country.
Rajack sees benefits similar to those envisioned by Rubella in Brazil. In addition to teaching important life skills, Rajack sees a rollerski program as a way to teach citizens a skill that would allow immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago to easily integrate with societies in the Northern Hemisphere, should they choose to leave their country. This vision originated with the positive experience Rajack has had with the ski community in Ottawa.
Seyed Sattar Seyd posted one of the best Iranian cross-country skiing results ever on Wednesday after finishing eighth in the men’s qualifying race. Seyed, 27, is an experienced racer, having competed in both the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics.
Iran now has a FIS-homologated race site at Knoor, approximately 60 k outside its capital of Tehran. Much of the training done by Iranian athletes happens within the borders of Iran and it appears that the current government will assist in keeping it that way. The addition of a biathlon range is planned for the Knoor facility in the near future and the Iranian contingent here in Falun sees a bright future for the sport.
Below are the top-10 competitors that qualified for the remaining distance races at 2015 World Championships. Those who did not qualify have the opportunity to race Thursday’s 1.4-kilometer classic sprint qualifier.
Women’s 5 k freestyle
1. CHI Chunxue 1998 CHN 13:33.8
2. KARISIK Tanja 1991 BIH +49.3
3. WRIGHT Casey 1994 AUS +1:07.5
4. TRNKA Anna 1994 AUS +1:07.8
5. MUIZHNIECE Anda 1991 LAT +1:09.7
6. PASHKOVSKA Inga 1992 LAT +1:37.3
7. PAPP Ildiko 1982 HUN +1:39.1
8. KIROSKA Rosana 1991 MKD +1:44.9
9. KLAUZA Laima 1969 LAT +1:47.0
10. GALSTYAN Katya 1993 ARM +1:49.2
Men’s 10 k freestyle
1. BELOMAZHEV Stanimir 1988 BUL 23:56.8
2. PLAKALOVIC Mladen 1991 BIH +16.6
3. KONYA Adam 1992 HUN +31.4
4. HULGAARD Lasse 1991 DAN +47.6
5. SLOTINS Roberts 1991 LAT +54.5
6. SMRKOVIC Rejhan 1991 SRB +57.8
7. PAIPALS Janis 1983 LAT +1:05.1
8. SEYD Seyed Sattar 1987 IRA +1:11.4
9. HADZIFEJZOVIC Dzevad 1991 SRB +1:23.3
10. ANGELIS Apostolos 1993 GRE +1:30.9
About the Author: Colin Abbott hails from the Yukon Territory where he learned to ski and race from a young age. Years later his life mostly revolves around skiing. At the moment, Colin is racing for the Yukon Elite Squad and the Carleton Ravens university team. He sits on the board of directors for Cross Country Canada and is involved in the education and womens committees there. He has also started writing ski-related articles for XCOttawa and FasterSkier and for the next week is supporting the Trinidad and Tobago team at FIS Nordic World Ski Championships.