Nations Cup: 7660 (2nd)

Men: 4067 (3rd)

Women: 3593 (2nd)

THE DEPARTED

Mats Larsson decided to retire after a fairly decorated career. He raced sparingly with only 67 World Cup starts, but managed to win medal on every stage. A 4x10km relay bronze from Torino, a sprint relay silver from Sapporo and three individual World Cup medals. At the age of 31-years old, Larsson was an athlete still very much in his prime and managed to make two World Cup sprint finals in six starts during his final year.

On the women’s side it was Lina Andersson who called it quits after an illustrious career. She had medals from the Olympics, World Champs and eight individual World Cup medals. Last year she did have a very good 5th place in Otepaa, but her consistently good results were something we didn’t see. However, after 12-years on the circuit, Andersson was on the down swing of her career with her best days behind her and with the new generation of sprinters arriving it was the right time to step aside.

MEN’S SPRINT

What’s their not to like about the Swedish sprint team? They have the best and most consistent sprinter in the world, Mr. Emil Jönsson. Here’s he sprint results from last year (8th, 1st, 1st, 1st, 4th, 1st, 1st, 1st). It’s not perfect but it’s pretty damn close. However, some ski fans will contest he still has not done it at the Olympics or World Champs as he was bested by Hellner and Northug and finished 3rd.

In 3rd place in the Sprint Cup is the towering Jesper Modin. I don’t want to take anything away from Modin because 3rd place in the Sprint Cup is a great feat, but when you look at his results, there is a familiar pattern; 6th places and he racked up five of them last season. This meant that he would make it into the final, but finish last in the heat. Something the giant Swede will look to improve on this season, something an increased aerobic capacity should remedy. Also, he’ll be looking to finish on the podium at least once this season, something he didn’t do last season.

Add another superstar into the mix by the name of Marcus Hellner (15th ranked); you might have heard of him before, and a healthy Robin Bryntesson and the sprinting core should be strong yet again. Youngster Calle Halfvarsson has a year of World Cup racing under his belt and should move up from his 29th ranking from last year; as does Teodor Peterson (42nd).

What surprised me was how well Rickardsson did in the sprints last season. He finished 23rd in the Sprint Cup last year and included a 5th in the Otepaa sprints.

WOMEN’S SPRINT

By winning the sprint relay gold at the World Champs, Kalla skied one of the most impressive final legs this blogger has ever seen. But away from the big show, it was sophomore skier Hanna Falk (10th) who led the Swedish sprinters. There was also Kalla (12th), Brodin (15th) who is a future superstar and Ingemarsdotter (16th) who was only one of two athletes to finish in the top 10 of the final three sprint races of the year. Who is the other skier? Bjørgen of course.

This sprint team that Sweden will put on snow this season is possibly the strongest team they’ve every fielded. Add in Haag (38th) and that’s five athletes that can fight for the medal on any given day. The biggest problem for the coaches is deciding which two athletes they select to ski the team sprint, not a bad problem to have at all.

MEN’S DISTANCE

After being mocked by Northug and finishing runners up in the 4x10km at the World Champs, the fire to beat Norway in a team event must be at an all-time high. They have the tools, now they must execute. Rickardsson (2nd), Hellner (7th), Södergren (27th) and Olsson (33rd) are the foursome that are the core of the men’s distance. Rickardsson had a career year, same can be said of Hellner with his triumph’s at the World Champs. Södergren had an average year for him while Olsson took a step backwards after a great 2009-2010 season.

While the core is strong, the talent dips heavily outside those four. Next on the pecking for the first part of the season is 38-year old veteran Mattais Fredricksson who earned a start at the season opener in Sjosjøen with a strong result in Bruksvallarna. Jens Eriksson (68th) is the other distance athlete that will be World Cup action this year.

WOMEN’S DISTANCE

Like the men, the women were defeated in the team relay by the rivals Norway. With Kalla (6th) and Haag (8th) the two main distance skiers, I believe that the relay team is one that its sum is greater than its parts. The other half of the relay team last year was Ingemarsdotter who skied the lead-off leg and did extremely well for a primarily sprint specialist while Johansson Norgren skied the third leg and did well too. Johansson Norgren has always been touted as a talented skier but has always struggled with consistency. In fact, she won’t be making the trip to Sjosjøen this weekend. In her place will be

Maria Rydvist (22nd) was the surprise athlete of the year on the World Cup. She came out of nowhere and skied her way onto the national team, but her form faltered was replaced on the relay team by Johansson Norgren.

Marathon skier Jenny Hansson will join the Swedish team for the first weekend of racing, but I don’t expect that she’ll be with the team for long after that.

THE FUTURE

Saying the Swedish juniors are looking bleak would be a little strong, but the quality of skiers at World Juniors was lagging behind Russia and Norway by a large gap. The only bright spot was Jennie Öberg who won bronze in the sprint at U23’s. She should have a few World Cup starts this season, but as we know the step from U23’s to World Cup is pretty substantial.

THE VERDICT

All facets of the Swedish team at the top seem to be going full-bore right now. Their feeder system is dwindling, but that shouldn’t matter for the next couple years with their current crop of super-talented athletes.