This past weekend was the first time the World Cup has taken place in small Swedish city of Ulricehamm. Even though Ulricehamm has a population of 10,000, early news reports were estimating 50,000 spectators for the weekend. With spectator numbers in that range, you knew that it was going to be a great atmosphere around the track. The big news coming into the weekend was the return of Marit Bjoergen on the women’s side.
It appeared that the time away from the World Cup and training for Bjoergen had paid off as she took the victory with a 10.8 second lead over Parmakoski with Kalla in third. There was a total of five Norwegians in the top 10 so it was great to see Sweden have at least one athlete on the podium. Amidst the log-jam of Norwegian ladies there was Falk who proudly represented Sweden too in eight place. Traditionally known as a sprint specialist, this was the first time the Swede had cracked the top 10 in a World Cup distance event. Have finished third last weekend in the Toblach sprint, it seems like she is rounding into form quite nicely for the World Champs in Lahti.
The 4x5km relay turned out to be a thrilling race. In typical fashion, the Norwegian women finished atop the podium while Germany impressively beat out Sweden and the USA team for silver. The finishing sprint for the silver medal was one of the best finishes to a women’s relay in quite a long time. It was great to see Germany on the podium again, the last time the German women saw the podium was in Sochi during the Olympics in which the team earned a bronze medal. The team today was much younger and Boehler who was on that Olympic relay team. It was a great team effort from the German’s as they had youngsters in Hennig (20yo) and Carl (21yo) in the team.
The men’s 15km freestyle saw Alex Harvey pick up where he left off last weekend by winning his second race in as many attempts. The Canadian beat out Sundby by six seconds while Hellner made the home crowd proud by nabbing the final podium spot over Cologna by four one-hundredths of a second. While Harvey sat in 5th at the first time-check at 2.9km, he was able to increase his speed and had the top split through 7.9km and held the position all the way to the finish. With the likes of Hellner and Cologna start two and four positions behind Harvey respectively, they had the advantage of hearing splits from their coaches but still could not topple the Canadian.
To round out the top six I have to doff my cap to both Stock of Norway and Musgrave of Britain. Stock was included into the Norwegian team for this weekend and what a way to make the coaches and team selectors take notice. A 5th place in a field fully stocked with the world’s best athletes will set him up great for the rest of the season. Prior to this weekend, Stock only had three World Cup starts to his resume and they were the 50km Holmenkollen classic in which he had finished 28th, 25th, ad 49th. As for Musgrave, it’s been great to see his evolution into a top flight cross-country skier over the years and today was his best placing ever in a distance event. He did have the fastest time for the 25km pursuit event the Tour de Ski two years ago, but since it was a pursuit, he technically finished in 10th (moving from 21st place).
The men’s 4×7.5km relay saw Norway grabbed the podium, however all the news (at least on my Twitter feed) was about Canada’s historic bronze medal. It was the first time a Canadian men’s relay team had stood on a World Cup podium. Like the women’s race, it was extremely exciting, and with nine teams still in it on the final hand-off, you know that the finish was not going to be disappointing. On the finishing straight, Norway’s Krogh robbed Sweden’s Halfvarsson of the win on home snow while Canada’s Valjas took bronze for Canada.
With the bronze medal, it makes it three races in a row in which a Canadian male (re: Harvey) has been on the podium. It’s exciting times with Lahti now on the horizon and only one month away, Canadian ski fans are thirsting for more successes like we’ve seen in the past couple weeks.
The World Cup moves to a staple location in Falun for sprints on Saturday and mass start races on Sunday.