Welcome to FasterSkier’s World Cup Preview, where we check in with the top-10 teams from last year’s FIS Cross Country World Cup tour before the season starts. The World Cup begins with a classic sprint in Ruka, Finland on Nov. 24th.
Overall in Nations Cup Last Year: 3rd
Women’s Ranking 2017/2018: 5th
Men’s Ranking 2017/2018: 2nd
Russians to Watch:
For several years the attention grabbing fact about Russia was the morass of allegations and findings regarding rampant doping.
The bureaucratic seesaw teetering and tottering prior to the 2018 PyeongChang Games boiled down to will they or won’t they. As in, will Russian athletes be able to compete?
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) did ban some athletes, including 26-year-old multiple World Champion Sergey Ustiugov for his links to Sochi doping. Ustiugov skied through the January 28, Seefeld, Austria World Cup races. By then he had collected six podiums.
The Russian Federation was banned outright from the Games; it’s athletes competed under the IOC flag as Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR).
The taint on competing Russian cross-country athletes last season was palpable. Clean or not, there was a sense of guilt by association. They must be a tough lot. Whatever psychic baggage the Russians carried as part of a shunned team, their collective results at the Olympics didn’t skip a beat. The same goes for the World Cup, where the group landed third overall in the Nation’s Cup.
A cadre of young Russian skiers propelled themselves into medal position. There was 22-year-old Denis Spitsov who missed a bronze in the Olympic 30 k skiathlon by less than three seconds. He placed third in the Holmenkollen 50 k skate.
Remove a Ustiugov from the picture and insert a 21-year-old Alexander Bolshunov.
Bolshunov skied like a decade-long-veteran on the World Cup, earning three silvers and a bronze in his first Olympics. His versatility was on display in PyeongChang. He silvered in the team sprint and won bronze in the classic sprint. He proved his mix of slow and fast twitch muscle fiber — paired with a massive engine — could propel him in the 50 k classic too. He won silver in an off-the-front dual with Finland’s Iivo Niskanen.
The Russian men won silver in the PyeongChang 4 x 10 k relay.
By season’s end, Bolshunov was fifth overall in the World Cup standings. Added into Russia’s overall mix, Alexey Chervotkin was 11th overall, Usitugov 12th, Andrey Larkov 18th, Spitsov 20th, Maxim Vylegzhanin 27th, and Gleb Retivykh 30th.
Count them up, that’s seven men in the top-30 of the World Cup overall. Deep is deep.
The Russian women had three athletes in the top-30 overall. Natalia Nepryaeva was ranked 13th, Anastasia Sedova 16th, and Yulia Belorukova 29th.
Nepryaeva, at twenty three years old, had three top-five finishes on the World Cup including a second place in Lahti’s 10 k classic. She placed fourth in the Olympic classic sprint and eighth in the 15 k skiathlon. Also at twenty-three-years-old, Belorukova podiumed on several occasions in World Cup sprints, and won bronze in the Olympic classic sprint.
In the Games 4 x 5 k relay, Nepryaeva, Belorukova, Sedova, and Anna Nechaevskaya, were third for Russia.
Beginning a new Olympic quadrennial, many years removed from Sochi but its dark-sided impacts still relatively fresh, Russia has new faces on the scene. The Russian Ski Federation appears that it can plug and play as it moves athletes into its winning pipeline.
WADA recently reinstated RUSADA as an anti-doping agency in good standing under it’s watchdog umbrella. The political maneuvering involving Russia and WADA is most likely not over. However, In 2018/2019, Russia has young, but World Cup experienced skiers.