Nations Cup: 6199 (3rd)
Men: 4422 (2nd)
Women: 1777 (7th)
Extremely worrying fact: Out of the 27 women who scored World Cup points last season, non of them managed to earn a World Cup medal. The good news is the men’s distance team hasn’t looked stronger.
Last year was disappointing for the Russia sprinters who included Petukhov (4th ranked), Morilov (14th), Kriukov (19th), Devjatiarov (37th) and Panzhinskiy (51st) are the main men for Russia. With the exception of Petukhov, the other skiers took steps backwards. Kruikov slipped 13 places and Morilov slipped down from 8th the year before. Add in Panzhinskiy who is the current Olympic sprint silver medallist finished in the top 20 only once last campaign! If you remove Petukov, the Russian men earned a single sprint medal all season (3rd place by Kriukov in Otepaa) and that is something that they will have to improve on this season if they want to keep their current Nations Cup position.
The one bright spot for the Russians was that Morilov and Panzhinskiy managed to find their Olympic gold medal form and earn a bronze in the sprint relay at the World Championship.
Like their male counterparts, the female sprinters had a fairly poor season. The leader of the Russian women, Natalia Korosteleva tumbled down the Sprint Cup rankings form 8th in 2009-2010 to a very poor 34th last season. In fact, it was relatively unknown athlete Anastasia Dotsenko who was the best Russian female who finished 32nd in the sprint rankings.
How poor was last season for the women? Well if you take all their athletes that scored at least one sprint point last season not including the Rybinsk sprints (there was 11 athletes qualifying outside Rybinsk for those counting at home), not a single skier qualified for the finals. That’s simply unacceptable for a ski nation as big as Russia.
This is where Russia really shines. Between Legkov (4th ranked), Vylegzhanin (6th), Chernousov (8th), and Sedov (13th); Russia arguably has the strongest distance core in the world. In addition, youngsters Belov (25th) and Volzhentsev (39th) have very promising futures ahead of them. It’s hard to highlight a single athlete since all of them had great years. Coming into the Drammen weekend, Legkov had failed to finish worse than 8th in nine races. However, this impressive feat will be masked by his shocking self-destruction during the 4x10km relay at the World Champs where he single-handedly took Russia out of medal contention and skied the 13th fastest time of his leg; 1:53 slower than the fastest time.
I expect a lot of Russian men to be in the medals for the distances races this year. With Sedov and Belov another year older, they should be making a serious impact on the scene and challenging for top 10 spots in the Distance Cup.
The return of Irina Khazova from pregnancy couldn’t have come at a better time because this team is in desperate need of a quality athlete. Last year Tchekaleva (15th ranked) was the one bright spot for Russia and was the best Russian. There was also Ivanova (32nd), Novikova (35th), Mikhailova (37th), Dotsenko (38th). The problem is that while they have the numbers, the quality just isn’t there right now.
Like the other powerhouse nations of the ski world, there is always promising talent coming through the junior ranks. Both the men’s and the women’s team came 2nd in the relays at World Juniors. Some names that had strong World Juniors include Elena Soboleva (5th, 6th, 7th), Konstantin Kuleev (5th and 2nd), Sergey Ustiugov (14th, 1st, 8th) and Gleb Retivykh (3rd in sprint).
The men look amazing for the next few years, especially their distance team and the sprint team will be looking to improve on a sub-par 2010-2011 season. The women will be welcoming back Khazova with open arms but the vast majority of the rest, they will struggle to make the top 10 for the next couple seasons.