Nations Cup Position: 2339pts (9th)
Men: 101 (16th)
Women: 2238 (6th)
It’s truly a one-woman show in Poland, and the Polish supporters couldn’t be happier about their superstar. What can Kowalczyk do? Well she can win any race she enters… only if Bjørgen decided to not race on that day. This season, Bjørgen will undoubtedly be entering more races which means more fuel for flame of the rivalry that had increase greatly over the past couple season with she-said-she-said accusations. The Pole will be looking to topple the Norwegian ski queen and prove that she is the fastest female skier in the world, regardless if she wins the World Cup overall or not.
With the retirement of Janusz Krezelok after the 2009-2010 season, Poland lost the “1” in their men’s sprinting 1-2 punch and were left with Maciej Kreczmer. At the age of 29-years old, Kreczmer should be hitting his prime but the sprint specialist will be one of those athletes that will be outside the top 30 more often than not. Last year he managed to qualify only three times out of 10 times.
The retirement of Follis, Majdic and Muranan (Majdic and Follis finished 1st and 2nd in the sprint standings); the talent in the sprint discipline has dropped considerably which should make it even easier for Kowalczyk to make the podium in the sprint races; something she did only twice last season. With the departure of three big sprinters for the world stage, make Bjørgen, Kowalczyk and one other skier a lock for 90% of the sprint races this year.
The men’s distance squad is almost as feeble as their sprint team. Only one athlete managed to score points and that was Mariusz Mihalek who finished in the top 30 twice last campaign for a grand total of seven World Cup points.
Again; Kowalczyk. The only question is whether she’ll runaway with the distance title like last year or not. I’m thinking it’ll be a little closer since Bjørgen will be entering more races as she has not Championships to peak for this year. It’ll be interesting to see if/how Kowalczyk alters her tactics to try to beat Bjørgen this year. She’s always skied full-stop pacing, no real tactics other than an “I’ll break you, before you break me” mentality that has been showcased many times before as she pulls away from the competition after pushing what seems like an un-maintainable pace.
The other women on the Pol distance squad are Paulina Maciuszek who amassed 25pts last year and will probably be Kowalczyk’s partner when it comes to team sprint time.
Do you want the good news or bad news first? Well the good news is that Kowalczyk is 28 years-old and has many more years of successful skiing ahead of her. The bad news is that Poland’s up and coming skiers are nearly non-existent. There is one female by the name of Ewelina Marcisz, who did quite well at WJC and skied to an impressive 5th in the 10km pursuit. She will probably get a few World Cup starts this year, but at the age of 19, she is still a few years away from making a real impact in the big leagues.
Poland will once again be the definition you see when you look-up one person team in the dictionary and that fact won’t be changing anytime soon. Kowalczyk will be the face of Polish cross-country skiing for many years to come. What worries me about this team is the dearth of talent coming from the men’s side, but as long as they Kowalczyk winning races, that fact can be swept under the rug for the time being.