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Summer News 2001/2002
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December 4 - Delayed Report on World Cup
December 9 - Cogne World Cup Races
December 12 - Brusson World Cup
December 17 - Duathlon Debut on CC
December 19 - Asiago Sprint
December 22 - Ramsau Mass Starts
December 31 - Report on Christmas Sprints
World Cup Standings after 10 Races
January 11 - Val di Fiemme Pre-Worlds
January 14 - Davos Swiss Cup and Nove Mesto WC
World Junior Championship Special
February 7-10 - OPA U23 Championships
XC Files SLC Couch Special
February 26 - Olympic Doping Scandals
March 4 - Lahti World Cups and Bits
March 6 - Stockholm Sprints
March 10 - Duathlon World Cup Debut
March 11 - Falun Relays and FIS Marathon Cup
March 17 - Oslo World Cups and Russian Protests

   Autumn News 2002

2001 Race Calendar
2001 Race Results

Australian Team
2001/2002 Teams
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2001 National Rankings

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Mt Hotham

Snow Reports
Paddy Pallin

Summer 2001/2002 Updates
March 17 - Oslo World Cups

Holmenkollen Sprints, Oslo Norway, March 13
The final sprint races of the season and Skari and Svartedal from Norway took their tallies in classic sprints to three-from-three. A new format was used that involved 24 skiers progressing to the finals, with six skiers then in each of the quarter-finals. The first two in each heat and the next two fastest skiers progressed to the semi-finals. From there it is a bit uncertain, either they took the first two from each semi plus the next fastest individual, or possible they just lumped more into the finals because of obstuctions.

Skari dominated again, winning the qualifying and final just as she did in Stockholm and Asiago. Second place went to Andersson from Sweden, who has also been much more succesful in classic sprints, and third place to Henkel from Germany. Of note Wendy Wagner from the USA produced a personal best to qualify in 10th place, and ended up in 17th place after the finals.

Alsgaard recorded the fastest qualifying time in the men's sprint, but had to settle for 4th place in the final. Svartedal, who has qualified 3rd , 12th and 2nd in the classic sprints this season, showed he knows what to do to win when it becomes head to head. Second place went to Brink of Sweden, his first World Cup podium, and Kurtilla from Finland took third.

Despite the public success of classic sprints in Scandinavia, the future of classic sprinting is under a bit of a cloud. The Val di Fiemme 2003 World Championship sprint was to be classic but is already advertised as freestyle, though an official decision is not meant to be have been made before the FIS Congress in Slovenia at the end of May. Salt Lake City previously declined the classic sprint, and Turin (2006 Winter Olympic Venue) will likely follow suit. With Norway's dominance of classic sprinting, Sweden's recent success, and Norwegian Odd Martensen (Skari's father) heading up the FIS cross country committee, it will be interesting to see how the matter is dealt with in Slovenia.

Women Sprint Classic Final (qualifying rank in brackets)
1  Bente Skari, NOR (1)
2  Lina Andersson, SWE (4)
3  Manuela Henkel, GER (8)
4  Kati Sundquist, FIN (11)
5  Anita Moen, NOR (3)
6  Petra Majdic, SLO (2)
Men Sprint Classic Final (qualifying rank in brackets)
1  Jens Arne Svartedal, NOR (2)
2  Joergen Brink, SWE (9)
3  Keijo Kurtilla, FIN (6)
4  Thomas Alsgaard, NOR (1)
5  Thobias Fredriksson, SWE (18)

Final Overall Sprint Cup Standings
With Moen from Norway finishing 5th, and Neumannova from Czech finishing 18th in this last sprint, Skari has won the 2001-2002 Sprint Cup. Skari now also has an unbeatable lead in the overall World Cup with just one race remaining, the Norwegian Birkebeiner next weekend.

Iversen from Norway could only have been knocked off his perch at the top of the men's Sprint Cup by Zorzi, and the Italian failed to make the final in either of the two recent classic sprints. Svartedal's three wins from three starts catapulted him past Zorzi into second position in the final sprint standings.

Women Sprint Cup
1  329 Skari, NOR
2  307 Moen, NOR
3  293 Neumannova, CZE
Men Sprint Cup
1  328 Iversen, NOR
2  300 Svartedal, NOR
3  264 Zorzi, ITA

Holmenkollen 30 and 50km World Cups, Oslo Norway, March 16
Belmondo from Italy has been in incredible form since the Olympics, her only loss in a distance event (including relays) being to Smigun of Estonia by 0.6 of a second in Lahti. So it was no surprise that the 33 year old was firing again in the 30km freestyle, probably her most successful event alongside pursuits. Belmondo had a bit of a battle with Smigun, but went on to win the Holmenkoll 30km for the second time, the last time was in 1998 and also freestyle. Smigun finished well to hold off a challenge from Paruzzi from Italy and take second place, and Phillipot from France pulled out fourth place for her best result of the season.

Elofsson went into this 50km event as the favourite, and starting 30 seconds behind Alsgaard was aiming to catch the Norwegian early on. However Alsgaard had other plans, opening hard to take the early lead and catching team-mate Skjeldal at about 12km. Skjeldal jumped on the back and the two skied together for the rest of the race, pulling away from the rest of the field and claiming first and second place. Remi Andersen from Norway (he scores a first name because there are lots of Andersens about) looked settled in third place with 10km to go, but then dropped a minute on the leaders in the next 5km and dropped down to 12th place. This left Piller Cottrer from Italy and Sodergren from Sweden in a battle for third, with Piller Cottrer getting on top towards the end. To report on Elofsson, the Swede blew up big time, dropping to 33rd place in the middle of the race, but finished strongly to pull himself back up to 9th place. The USA had a good day with Swenson and Wadsworth getting good World Cup points in 14th and 16th place.

Women 30km Freestyle
1  1:14:35  Stephania Belmondo, ITA
2   + 21.8  Kristina Smigun, EST
3   + 28.6  Gabriela Paruzzi, ITA
Men 50km Freestyle
1  2:01:59.8  Thomas Alsgaard, NOR
2     + 27.6  Kristian Skjeldal, NOR
3   + 2:18.7  Pietro Piller Cottrer, ITA
14  + 4:14.0  Carl Swenson, USA
16  + 4:44.9  Justin Wadsworth, USA

Russian Protests
Lazutina and Danilova have had a press conference in Moscow protesting their positive doping tests and saying they'll pursue the return of their olympic medals in the courts. The basis of their case is that the substance in question Darbepoetin was not specifically on the banned list. Some might say this is tantamount to an admission of Darbepoetin use and should result in the stripping of the two Russians' other Olympic medals. In any case international doping laws allow for athletes to be caught and banned for drugs which produce the same effects as EPO, even though they are not specifically named. Pretty sure anyway.

To another Russian issue, and some clarification on the non-start of the Russian men's number one team in the Falun World Cup Relay. Contrary to speculation that a member of the team had failed the pre-race haemoglobin test, it was reported that members of the team refused to compete as a protest against the selection of the team. The Russian number 2 team competed, finishing 7th.

This was followed up with the news that prominent members of the Russan team would withdraw from the World Cup events in Oslo. While some of the top Russians such as Villisov, Bolchakov, Kriannin, Savialova, and Burukina competed in the sprint and distance events in Oslo, a significant number were absent, including Ivanov, Denisov, Egorova, Tchepalova, and Gavriljuk. No further details as to the nature of the Russian protest have been forthcoming.

March 11 - Falun Relays and FIS Marathon Cup

Falun World Cup Relays, March 10
The absence of Russian skiers Lazutina, Danilova, Baranova (from doping bans) and Tchepalova (reasons unknown) has changed the face of the women's World Cup relay dramatically. Gone are the days of two Russian teams topping the podium, for a while a least. Add to this the absence of Skari from the Norwegian relay team due to a cold and the Falun race was wide open. Moen from Norway managed to break away on the opening classic leg, leaving Scott from Canada to head a pack of Russia, Finland and Italy into the first change. Bjoergen headed off on the second leg with a lead of 14 seconds for Norway, but the chasing bunch were having none of that. Joined by Bauer of Germany who was having a bolter, Salonen from Finland and Paruzzi from Italy were able to bridge the gap to Norway and have all 4 teams within about 3 seconds at the second change. Gavriljuk was unable to follow leaving Russia in 5th place, with Canada falling back to 6th. On the third leg Pedersen managed to open up a gap again for Norway, about 11 seconds ahead of Finland and Italy, with Kuenzel from Germany dropping back to Russia about 22 seconds behind Norway. To the final leg, Belmondo quickly bridged the gap up to Skofterud from Norway and set about securing the victory for Italy. Then Sachenbacher from Germany closed on Skofterud, much the same way she did on Moen in the Olympic relay about three weeks ago. But this time it was Norway's day for revenge, and Skofterud outsprinted Sachenbacher to take second place. Russia 4th, Finland 5th, Canada 6th just ahead of Sweden. 

Women 4 by 5km Relay
1  ITA
2  NOR  +8.3
3  GER  +9.7
4  RUS  +41.8
5  FIN  +51.0
6  CAN  +1:49.8

Lots of fun in the men's relay as the FIS Live Result service blew a shoe in the middle of transmission. But anyway, two Norwegian teams broke away in the first leg, leaving a chasing group containing Italy, two Swedish teams, Germany and the USA. Estil went into the change 10 seconds up on Svartedal from Norway #2, with Sweden #2 next 18 seconds back together with Italy, and then Kris Freeman from the USA another 10 seconds back together with Filbrich from Germany and Sweden #1. Aukland gained early ground for Norway #1 (hereafter known as N1), but Elofsson was skiing the second leg for Sweden and motoring through the pack. Schluetter from Germany got a ride with Elofsson all the way up to Jevne in N2, but Italy and Sweden#2 couldn't hang on and lost lots of time towards the end of the leg. Elofsson kept on cranking and lead Aukland into the second change, 10 seconds ahead of Schluetter and Jevne (no doubt to plenty of cheers from the Swedish crowd). USA now back in 7th place together with Estonia.

Sodergren for Sweden and Skjeldal for N1 stayed together and may have been watching each other a bit because Hofstad for N2 and Angerer for Germany slowly closed the gap. It was down to 4 seconds at 6.6km then all was set for an exciting last leg when all four teams came through together for the final change. Italy and Sweden #2 dropped back to over a minute behind, and Wadsworth put in a great effort to stay with Mae for Estonia and keep the USA in 7th place. Now the players up the front were Alsgaard for N1, Bjonviken for N2, Sommerfeldt for Germany, and Frederick Ostberg taking a huge step up into the big time for Sweden (Prior to Falun this year Ostberg had only been skiing Sprint World Cups for Sweden, and just came off a fine 4th place in the Vasaloppet a week ago.). No doubt plenty of mind games were going on as these four teams shuffled places around, Zorzi was gaining time for Italy in 5th place but was too far back, and Swenson for the USA also gained time on the leaders. Then Alsgaard put down the foot with a couple of km to go, and initially only Sommerfeldt was able to go with him. But it is a long downhill into the stadium in Falun, and Ostberg and Bjonviken worked their way back. Alsgaard kept the front position as a four way sprint beckoned, and managed to hold off the rest by the slimmest of margins and collect the victory for Norway. Ostberg squeaked in ahead of Bjonviken by next to nothing to take second, the first three teams all within 1 second and Sommerfeldt in 4th 1.7 seconds from first. Damn, wish I'd been there to see that. Italy 5th, somewhere along this last leg Sweden 2 must have got lost as they registered a DNF, and Swenson took USA to 6th place.

A fairly significant absence from this relay was the Russian number 1 team, who failed to start. Russia number 2 started, which with the lack of any other explanation suggests that perhaps someone in Russia 1 failed the pre-race haemoglobin test a la the Russian women in Salt Lake City. Just speculation of course.

Men 4 by 10km Relay
1  NOR
2  SWE  +0.6
3 NOR2  +0.8
4  GER  +1.7
5  ITA  +1:15.8
6  USA  +2:09.6

FIS Marathon Cup
The 2002 FIS Marathon Cup concluded this weekend with the Engadin Ski Marathon in Switzerland. As usual a huge pack contested this 42km relatively flat event all the way to the end. The Man, Juan Jesus Guitierrez from Spain won the Engadin ahead of Hetland from Norway and a star packed field, including Olympic 30km medalists Hoffmann and Botvinov from Austria, Schlickenrieder from Germany, and of course all the usual Marathon Cup suspects. The first woman home was Bridgett Albrecht from Switzerland, ahead of team-mate Natasha Leonardi-Cortesi. In the overall Marathon Cup the winners were Pozzi from Italy and Ordina from Sweden. Camille Melvey from Australia ended up in 15th place overall.

Overall Standings - Women
1  344  Antonina Ordina, SWE
2  230  Elin Nilsson, NOR
3  124  Natalia Alekseeva, RUS
15  62  Camille Melvey, AUS
Overall Standings - Men
1  250  Maurizio Pozzi, ITA
2  234  Roberto De Zolt, ITA
3  231  Gianantonio Zanetel, ITA

For the full breakdown of the points table, go to

March 10 - Duathlon World Cup Debut

Falun World Cup, March 9
The Duathlon concept has been documented in earlier updates (see Dec 17, Ramsau Continental Cup). One problem that has been identified is the necessity to ski both classic and skate in the same boots (Carl Swenson demonstrated the of changing boots in Ramsau.). It is different also for various binding systems, for example Salomon having different classic and skate bindings. Anyway, on to the World Cup action, this time brought to you via the FIS Live Result thingummy.

Women 5-5km Duathlon
Bente Skari from Norway has dominated classic races this season, and now with Danilova and Lazutina from Russia out of the scene it was no surprise that Skari quickly went to the front to try and establish a lead. However ,unlike normal interval start pursuits, it is harder to get a large time break in a mass start 5km event. Though Skari managed to get a 15-20 second or so break on the main contenders, ominously Belmondo from Italy managed to stay in contact and come through to the ski-change only 0.8 seconds behind. Gavriljuk from Russia lead the chasing pack of 8 skiers in, including team-mate Savialova, Paruzzi and Valbusa from Italy, Smigun from Estonia, Pedersen and Moen from Norway, and Shevchenko from Ukraine. While not knowing any details of who skied in classic or skating boots (guessing most probably used skating), or who changed or didn't change poles, none of the main contenders lost or gained any significant time in the change.

Belmondo soon skied away by herself on the skating leg, and was never threatened on her way to win by 31 seconds. Skari held onto second place for a while, and then was overtaken by Gavriljuk. Smigun, Pedersen, Paruzzi and Valbusa started to close, and then Pedersen was dropped as the chasing group closed on Skari. Skari dropped back to 6th, and it was left to Smigun and the two Italians to sprint for third place, with Paruzzi taking the honours.

1  Stephania Belmondo, ITA
2  Nina Gavriljuk, RUS +31.4 seconds behind
3  Gabriella Paruzzi, ITA +39.4

Men 10-10km Duathlon
While a big (biig) pack formed early on in the 10km classic leg, Per Elofsson from Sweden was never far from the front. After 3.3km there was still 84 skiers within 32 seconds. At 4.8km the pace of the leaders started to induce small gaps back in the pack, and then at 6.6km a group of five skiers broke off the front - Elofssson, fellow Swedes Sodergren and Fredriksson, Norwegian Alsgaard and Bauer from the Czech republic. 1.5km later Elofsson went off solo, with the other skiers spreading out and Fredriksson dropping places. Into the ski-change at 10km and Elofsson held a slender 5.9 second gap over Alsgaard, with Bauer at 9.0, Sodergren at 13.2, and Estil from Norway jumping up to 5th at the head of a group about 17-19 seconds off the pace. Also of note, USA skiers Kris Freeman, Wadsworth and Johnstone held places 20-22 about 43 seconds back.

Again no significant happenings in the change-over (from the time splits anyway), and Elofsson carried his break into the skate leg. Bauer joined Alsgaard in what seemed to be the hunt for the minor medals, and Skjeldal from Norway quickly became group a solo chaser in 4th place ahead of a pack containing Mae and Veerpalu from Estonia, Sodergren, Fredriksson, and Estil. At 13.3km Bauer and Alsgaard were still within 9 seconds of Elofsson, Skjeldal gained a few seconds to be at 17 seconds, and the main chasing pack dropped back to 33 seconds. Notable movers further back, Wadsworth moved up to 14th leading the dangerous duo of Vittoz from France and Sommerfeldt from Germany. Jumping a split ahead to 16.6km , Alsgaard closed the gap to 5 seconds, Bauer had blown up, and Skjeldal was up to 3rd and 14 seconds behind. The main chase pack now contained 8 skiers, including Frederick Ostberg from Sweden and Schluetter from Germany, with Vittoz and Sommerfeldt not quite in contact. Up to 18.3km and action aplenty as Alsgaard took the lead from Elofsson and Skjeldal was only 2 seconds behind. Bauer still well clear of anyone in 4th then Vittoz and Sommerfeldt up near the front of the 11 strong pack. Now back to the medal positions (with the help of some other news sites) ,Elofsson was starting to tire and when the two Norwegians started to sprint he had nothing to give. It went down the line and Alsgaard grabbed the win by half a stride, Elofsson third and Bauer 4th. The bunch sprint and Estil demonstrated the kind of finish that won him a silver medal in the pursuit at the Olympics, taking 5th ahead of Schluetter and Sommerfeldt. Something must have happened to Vittoz because he ended up in 15th and 15 seconds from 14th. Wadsworth was the best from the USA in 21st place.

1  Thomas Alsgaard, NOR
2  Kristian Skjeldal, NOR +0.6 seconds behind
3  Per Elofsson, SWE, +3.5

Elofsson said after the race that he was still feeling the effects of his race in Lahti the weekend before. The World Cup leader used skating boots for both legs, and complained it was uncomfortable skiing on the classic leg (he still managed to ski away). He also said he didn't understand what was so more exciting about the ski-changing idea compared to normal pursuits? One answer being probably the initial mass-start unless there is some sort of problems or controversy in the change-over, but also there is no time gap between the two events.

March 6 - Stockholm Sprints

Stockholm Sprint World Cup, March 5
About 20,000 spectators crowded around the "King's Castle" in downtown Stockholm to watch the second-last Sprint World Cup of the season, and were rewarded with 5 Swedes making the semi-finals. However the Swedes were outdone by their neighbor and rival Norway, who crammed 5 men and 3 women into the final 8 and walked away with 4 medals.

The men's final was an all Norway/Sweden affair, with Norwegians Svartedal and Iversen repeating their quinella from the last classic sprint in Asiago in December. Lind took third place ahead of national group starter Danielsson (Because the World Cup was in Sweden they are allowed an extra 15 starters.). The fastest qualifer Pahlolahti from Finland was knocked out in the first round, and Olympic gold and bronze medalists Hetland and Zorzi failed to make the cut.

Men 1.5km Sprint Classic Final (qualifying rank in brackets)
1  Jens Arne Svartedal, NOR (12)
2  Trond Iversen, NOR (4)
3  Bjorn Lind, SWE (2)
4  Matthias Danielsson, SWE (3) 

Also keeping the same quinella from Asiago, Skari from Norway won the women's sprint ahead of Majdic from Slovenia, with Moen taking 3rd and Norway's fourth medal. Something funny must have happened in the first semi final as Skari, Moen, and Andersson from Sweden all progressed to the final, presumably someone was obstucted but it can't have been too bad as no-one was disqualified. What else to note, Scott from Canada qualified 8th but was knocked out in the first quarter final, and World Junior Champion Malvalehto from Finland qualifed 12th.

Women 1.5km Sprint Classic Final (qualifying rank in brackets)
1  Bente Skari, NOR (1)
2  Petra Madic, SLO (2)
3  Anita Moen, NOR (5)
4  Lina Andersson, SWE (4)
5  Marit Roaldseth, NOR (14)

High Haemoglobin
Swedish sprint specialist Peter Larsson was not allowed to start the Stockholm Sprint because his pre-race haemoglobin test was over the acceptable limit. "I understand that this creates speculation," said Larsson. "Therefore I have already left a urine test so they can look at everything." Larsson also had problems in Salt Lake City, being allowed to start in the sprint only after a second test put him just under the 17.5 limit. Four other skiers - three Russians and a Swede - also scored a DNS next to their names in Stockholm, though no reasons have come forth for their non-start. It is not uncommon for skiers to withdraw from longer races due to illness on the race morning, however it happens less often in sprints.

On a short aside, it is important to note that high haemoglobin values do not constitute a positive doping test. Despite the positive doping tests of Salt Lake City also coinciding with high haemoglobin values in the case of Muhlegg and Lazutina, reporters and the public should be careful about calling everyone cheats without further information. Even Australia's Ben Derrick (okay, sometimes he's a bit of a dope) who normally has Hb levels around 15-16 has recorded tests above the 17.5 limit after training at altitude. Alright, call for more tests, blood profiling and urine, but don't splash mud over everyone.

More Dope on the Austrians
XC Ski World reports the following:

Olympics officials have rejected Austria's explanation for the use of blood-transfusion equipment by the nation's cross-country skiers at Salt Lake City. The Austrian ski federation said its athletes used the material for ultraviolet radiation treatment of their blood. They described the method as being "exclusively for disease prevention" and not doping.

But Patrick Schamasch, International Olympic Committee medical director, said: "First, it doesn't sound credible. Second, any kind of blood manipulation is part of the doping definition. The Austrian position is not relevant for me."

World Anti-Doping Agency chairman Dick Pound said "it sounds so far-fetched that it has no credibility. It's clear there are teams that are putting medical experts into a mode of helping their athletes cheat. That is clearly unacceptable."

Blood doping, in which athletes draw blood and then inject it to increase oxygen capacity and boost endurance, is banned by the International Olympic Committee.

The IOC began an investigation on Thursday after cleaners found blood transfusion bags, tubes and needles in a house used by 10 Austrian athletes in Utah, near the Nordic ski venue and said it may use DNA testing to determine who was using the equipment.

March 4 - Lahti World Cups and Bits

Lahti World Cups, March 2-3
The 2001-2002 World Cup resumes and to Sweden's delight (but also frustration that he didn't do it at the olympics) Per Elofsson returned to form to take his 3rd victory of the season in the 15km freestyle in Lahti. In the women's 10km Kristina Smigun of Estonia won a nail-biter ahead of Italy's Stephania Belmondo.

After trailing at the first split to Piller Cottrer from Italy, Elofsson slowly edged away from the rest of the field. Alsgaard from Norway was still a danger, closing to about 7 seconds with 5km to go, but Elofsson stormed home to win 17.1 seconds clear of the Norwegian. Piller Cottrer blew up in the last 5km and dropped to 8th, while 22 year old Tore Ruud Hofstad from Norway finished well to score his first World cup podium finish. (Hofstad was also third in two of the events in the recent U23 competition in Val di Fiemme, and won silver in the 30km at the 1999 World Junior Championships ). Some more good news for Sweden with Anders Sodergren tying for 4th place with Bauer of the Czech Republic. And Justin Wadsworth of the USA pulled out his best World Cup result outside of the USA with an impressive 11th place, only 24 seconds off the podium.

Sabina Valbusa lead at the first split in the 10km but then her team-mate Belmondo took up the front running and a battle with Smigun. Belmondo lead by 1.8s after one lap, then Smigun by 0.8s at 6.7km, and then Belmondo again by 2.2s with 1.7km to go. Coming down the finishing straight the race was still up for grabs and Smigun won the slim margin of 0.6 of a second. Gavriljuk from Russia came home strong to steal 3rd place from Czech Neumannova, with Olympic 30km champion Paruzzi from Italy taking 5th. (Paruzzi's gold coming after Lazutina was disqualified for doping .)

Men 15km Freestyle
1 Elofsson, SWE
2 Alsgaard, NOR
3 Hofstad, NOR

Women 10km Freestyle
1 Smigun, EST
2 Belmondo, ITA
3 Gavriljuk, RUS

The distance events in Lahti were followed up with sprint relays the next day. Italy were the country on fire, with Di Centa and Zorzi winning the men's event, and Paruzzi and Valbusa winning the women's. Unfortunately no blow by blow commentary, however it was close with only 3.4 seconds separating the first five men's teams, and 0.7seconds between the first three women's teams.

Men 1.5km Sprint Relay
1 Italy (Di Centa/Zorzi)
2 Germany (Sommerfeldt/Angerer)
3 Czech (Koukal/Bauer)

Women 1.5km Sprint Relay
1 Italy (Paruzzi/Valbusa)
2 Russia (Savialova/Gavriljuk)
3 France/Italy (Phillipot/Belmondo)

Vasaloppet, March 3
To the surprise of many Daniel Thunell of Sweden won the 2002 Vasaloppet, the world's biggest ski race. Ranked 833rd in the world on the current FIS list, Thunell showed once again that the Vasaloppet is a special event and it is the Swedes that focus their whole season on it that excell. Jorgen Aukland from Norway (yes, brother of Anders who has been winning World Cups and Fredrik who competed in Australia last season) finished 2nd, and Oskar Svard of Sweden third. The first woman was Svetlana Nagejkina who now skis for Belarus, ahead of Sofia Lind and Antonina Ordina (1st 1994 Kangaroo Hoppet) from Sweden.

Camille Melvey from Australia finished 61st woman in the Vasaloppet and out of the FIS Marathon Cup points, but still holds onto 12th place in the overall standings. Maurizio Pozzi from Italy and Ordina lead the FIS Marathon Cup with just one race remaining, the Engadin Ski-Marathon in Switzerland on March 10. For the full points lists in PDF format: Men - Women

Doping Shorts
The latest in the doping saga is that suspicious equipment has been found in Utah in a house used by the Austrian cross country team, see XC Skiworld report from February 28. Coincidentally Austrian silver and bronze medal winners Hoffmann and Botvinov were absent from the Austrian team at the latest world cup events in Lahti.

Getting the news a little mixed up, Singapore radio initially reported that it was the Australian cross country team who were under suspicion, a little difficult of course with no Australian cross country skiers taking part in the competitions.

It was disappointing to hear that Russian skiers Lazutina and Danilova, kicked out of the Olympic games for doping, were received as heros when they flew into Moscow. Can anyone imagine the same with disqualified Australian athletes returning home?

Norwegian FIS Council member Odd Seim-Haugen has joined the calls for Muhlegg, Lazutina, and Danilova to be stripped of all medals from the Salt Lake City Olympics. Seim-Haugen says that because the skiers were expelled from the games the door is open to take away their other medals as well.

February 26 - Olympic Doping Scandals

If anyone thought that cross country skiing had moved on from the doping scandals of Lahti 2001 and started to clean itself up then they were horribly wrong. The disqualification of Johann Muhlegg, Larissa Lazutina, and Olga Danilova for testing postive to Darbepoetin (or NESP) in out of competition doping tests in the final days of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games (as reported in the SLC Couch Special) shows that the sport still has a major problem and a long way to go. The fact that all these skiers managed to get through earlier testing in the games shows that testing methods are still inadequate, though it is reassuring that they did actually get caught and that some people are treating the problem seriously.

There has been plenty of interesting discussion in Sweden in the last couple of days, and following are some snippets translated and summarised from various newspapers:

From "Expressen", Feb 25:
* Johann Muhlegg fell in a trap. "We tricked him just like we tricked Ben Johnson," said doping-hunter Mats Garle, a member of the anti-doping agency WADA and head of the doping-laboratory in Huddinge, Sweden. "Before the Olympics there was a lot of discussion in the mass media that NESP couldn't be detected.... We simply didn't tell anyone that we had resolved the problem."

* Muhlegg thought he was safe with the new product NESP in his body. "This sends out a warning to all sportspeople," said Arne Lundqvist, who is on the IOC's medical committee. "This product came out in October, and only a few months later people have been caught. This shows that we are not always a step behind the cheaters."

* Per Elofsson is shocked and disgusted. "What Muhlegg has done is terrible. The only good thing with this scandal is the doping tests we are using are good and people can get caught." [Not however from all the tests]

From "Svenska Dagbladet", Feb 26:
* Norwegian IOC member Gerhard Heiberg says that more tests are still being analysed: "We believe, unfortunately, that more people are going to be caught."

* Nowegian Olympic Team chief Bjorge Stensbol threatens to quit from elite sport. The reason - the system lets doping cheats Muhlegg, Lazutina and Danilova keep their earlier medals. "This is a scandal that the IOC doesn't have the mandate to take away all the medals from the cheaters.

* Swedish IOC executive member Gunilla Linberg says that she will argue at the next meeting for the doped sportspeople to lose all their medals. " It is wrong that the cheaters get to keep their earlier medals. Even if there is no earlier evidence for doping they are still morally guilty."

Russia is going to protest against the disqualification of Lazutina. "We know that she is innocent and are ready to go to court over it," said the Russian head of delegation Viktor Mamatov to Reuters. "We'll take it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Geneva in the next few days." Mamatov sees the diqualification of Lazutina as part of a campaign against Russia.

But perhaps these are the most interesting bits, reported in Expressen by Christofer Brask:

Already in January there were strong suspicions against Johann Muhlegg. So says Swede Proffessor Bengt Saltin, who provided details on the war against cheating within cross country skiing. "I have been following this for a long time. I have followed the development of Muhlegg's blood values, week by week."

"In January we had a meeting where we picked out the skiers who were suspicious. We decided who we should examine more closely," said Saltin, who took his place on the FIS medical committee about a year ago. Saltin told how Muhlegg had had extreme high haemoglobin (Hb) the entire season. High Hb doesn't prove that a skier is doping, but it is one of several warning signals.

"We have looked at two different things. Partly high Hb, but we have also looked at the blood profile. Together these two factors are very interesting."

If Muhlegg was under suspicion already in January, why couldn't he be caught before the Olympics? "With hind-sight one could think that an out of competition test should have been done," said Saltin. "But I am not at all involved in the testing so I cannot answer."

It was an out of competition test that caught Muhlegg on Thursday in Soldier Hollow. By then Muhlegg had already had 5 doping tests from just before and during the Olympics. The test which caught Muhlegg was however the first urine test. [Note: this seems pretty strange news - don't the medal winners normally get urine tested automatically? Have the testing procedures changed?] Muhegg's test this time contained traces of NESP, a more effective and longer lasting version of the blood-doping agent EPO.

"NESP is easier to detect than EPO. It has a more distinct shape(?) and stays in the body longer," said Saltin.

At the same time the Olympics is a long competition. It is hard to get the effect of the drug to stay for the full two weeks. "This means that one has to do something during the games, in order to retain the high level that one has manipulated oneself to," said Saltin.

And more from Brask:

The hunt for cheats goes further. The doping police's list of suspicious skiers contains more names than Muhlegg, Lazutina, and Danilova.

WADA, the international anti-doping agency made up a list in January of the skiers who should be tested more often that others. "Let me say this," said Bengt Saltin. "There has been more names than just these on the list."

Per Elofsson had been wondering why he hadn't been tested more often recently, after WADA announced that they would be doing a lot of unannounced tests in January. " The reason that he hasn't been tested is simple,"said Saltin. "There hasn't been the slightest indication of suspicion against him."

Finally (for now), this from Sune Sylven, the head sports editor for Svenska Dagbladet:

The remarkable and direct wrong is that Muhlegg, Lazutina, and Danilova get to keep the medals they won before they were caught. Who believes that they weren't cheating during the earlier weeks of the Olympics in Salt Lake City? The IOC is hiding themselves behind the formal rules: they skiers made it through the tests from the first races and therefore can't be disqualified from those races.

Against this is the IOC's decision to kick the guilty trio out of the Olympics. Through this they should also be able to lose their other medals and the result lists should be re-written. How does it feel for example for Beckie Scott, who received the bronze medal in the Pursuit after Danilova and Lazutina? Certainly Scott should receive the gold, and Neummanova from Czech should get silver and Bauer from should get bronze. [Plus more on all the others who should move up the medal lists]

Clearly the three will be banned for at least two years, a sentence which was also given out after the Finnish scandal in Lahti. The question is, is this enough?

It seems that some skiers see doping like a waxing problem. One can have slippery skis; one can also be caught for doping. One has to take chances.

But anyway, as the whole shebang (loosely translated) with injections and pills can hardly be achieved by the athletes alone, it could be more appropriate to extend the penalties to the responsible national federations. Why not ban Russia and Spain completely from the next World Championships in Val di Fiemme? The penalty would possible effect innocent sportspeople as well, but does cross country skiing have a better solution?

February 7-10 - OPA U23 Championships, Val di Fiemme, Italy

Congratulations should be given to the OPA nations and Val di Fiemme for initiating and organising a great competition. The idea was/is to provide a stepping stone between the junior ranks and the tough environment of World Cup competition. Although some of the skiers here in Val di Fiemme have experienced World Cup (at varying degrees of success), many were prominent junior skiers from the past few years who have not bridged the gap to the World Cup for their respective countries.

February 10, Mass Starts
Korosteleva from Russia wasn't even registered on FIS point lists this season, though presumably this oversight was rectified prior to these competitions. Posting the 4th fastest skate time in the pursuit 3 days ago, Korosteleva left the rest of pack behind on the first lap of the 15km to ski a solitary race for the gold medal. Saarinin also went of the front of the pack to ski (successfully) for silver, and though most of the rest stayed together in clumps well into the last lap, breaks were made on the last hills and there were few sprints in the top 10.

A much different race for the men's 30km. A pack of six containing three Italians and three Scandinavians established themselves early on, and a very tactical competition ensued. Place swapped around and different skiers drove the train, but all six well still together on the last lap. Jauhojarvi went for it up the top of the course, spreading out the pack, but when they come back down for the last hill it was Ostberg with a small break. The Swede stayed clear, and it came down to a sprint between Jauhojarvi, Hofstad, and Frasnelli for other medals. Though Frasnelli was the fastest sprinter in the sprint yesterday, he dipped out this time.

Women 15km Freestyle Mass Start

1  38:16.7 Natalia Korosteleva, RUS
2  38:36.7 Aino Kaisa Saarinen, FIN
3  38:49.5 Kine Beate Bjoernaas, NOR
32 42:43.9 Katherine Calder, AUS - FIS Points 132.86
39 skiers in start
Men 30km Freestyle Mass Start
1  1:10:43.6 Fredrik Ostberg, SWE
2  1:10:47.1 Sami Jauhojarvi, FIN
3  1:10:48.2 Tore Ruud Hofstad, NOR
51 1:26:28.7 Andrew Wynd, AUS - FIS Points 265.90
63 (?possibly more) skiers in start

February 9, Sprints
Narum and Frasnelli cranked the sprint qualifying time trial and went on to win in the finals, but lots happened inbetween. Most of the top seeded women made it through to the semi finals, with the exception of Malvalehto from Finland and Vina from France;Vina fell soon after the start, while Malvalehto (gold medal winner from this year's World Junior Championship in Schonach) was knocked out in the straight by 12th ranked Mischol from Swizerland and Genuin from Italy. 10th ranked Fessel of Germany (silver medal from Schonach), was also a casualty. In the men's quarter finals World Junior gold and silver medalists Bredl from Germany and Eder from Austria were out-classed, while Swiss World Cup skier Eigenmann tripped himself up and 3rd ranked Rigoni from Italy was outsprinted by 14th ranked Emanualsen from Norway.

The surprises of the semi-finals were Finnish World Championship finalist Saarinen being knocked out, and Mischol pulling out a flying finish to qualify through to the final. Swedish World Cup sprinter Ostberg also lost his way, and USA double World Junior semi-finalist Andy Newell showed again he is a two race man. (Newell also attempted to impress the crowd by skiing the B-final with only his race bib on his torso.)

In the final Narum lead into the straight with Mischol on her tail and Korosteleva on her shoulder. While the Norwegian went on to win, Mischol seemed to break the rules by changing lanes in front of Korosteleva. This in turn caused Korosteleva to move into Sidko's lane, and sprinting side by side with Mischol the Russian face planted into the snow about 20 metres shy of the line. Hence the results below. In the men's final at least one of the Norwegians fell, in fact it may have been two as Frasnelli broke away with Klessen in second. But Emanuelsen worked to get back up for second, leaving Klessen to lunge for third, well actually he didn't lunge but was third by a whisker anyway.

Women 1.1km Sprint Freestyle (Qualifying Time Trial)
1  2:42.67 Ingrid Narum, NOR
2  2:43.36 Alena Sidko, RUS
3  2:43.39 Aino Kaisa Saarinen, FIN
36 3:02.17 Esther Bottomley, AUS - FIS Points 128.09
37 3:02.58 Katie Calder, AUS - FIS Points 130.11
42 in start
1 Ingrid Narum, NOR
2 Sereina Mischol, SUI
3 Alena Sidko, RUS
4 Natalia Korosteleva, RUS
Men 1.1km Sprint Freestyle (Qualifying Time Trial)
1  2:23.01 Loris Frasnelli, ITA
2  2:26.22 John Kristian Dahl, NOR
3  2:26.55 Mirco Rigoni, ITA
62 2:56.55 Andrew Wynd, AUS - FIS Points 218.45
63 in start
1 Loris Frasnelli, ITA
2 Espen Emanuelsen, NOR
3 Dirk Klessen, GER
4 John Kristian Dahl, NOR

February 7, One Day Pursuits
Saarinen from Finland won the classic leg of the pursuit by 18 seconds, extended her lead in the first few km of the skate, but then blew up and worked her way down to 8th. A loose pack formed with Bjoernaas from Norway and Handler from Sweden at the front, with Handler too fast in the finish straight taking 1st place. In the men's pursuit Bjerke from Norway and Larsson from Sweden were well clear after the classic, and the Norwegian lead for most of the way with Larsson hanging on behind. Then on the downhill into the stadium Larsson pulled along side, gliding out a few metres in front, and held on to win by just 0.4 of a second.

Women 5/5km One-Day Pursuit
1  28:31.8 Mariana Handler, SWE
2  28:33.0 Kine Beate Bjoernaas, NOR
3  28:36.8 Sereina Mischol, SUI
44 32:46.8 Katherine Calder, AUS - FIS Points 132.86
46 33:25.6 Rhiannon Palmer, AUS - FIS Points 146.46
47 34:34.0 Esther Bottomley, AUS - FIS Points 170.43
49 in start
Men 7.5/7.5km One-Day Pursuit
1  39:20.4 Mats Larsson, SWE
2  39:20.8 Espen Harald Bjerke, NOR
3  39:55.4 Tore Ruud Hofstad, NOR
75 54:09.8 Andrew Wynd, AUS - FIS Points 265.90
78 in start

Bjerke leads Larsson up last hill in OPA U23 Pursuit
Val di Fiemme, Italy, February 2002

January 14 - Davos Swiss Cup and Nove Mesto World Cup

Davos Swiss Cup, Switzerland January 13
Beat Koch was receiving splits on Andreas Zihlmann the entire race but was unable to find the second he needed to knock off the younger Swiss Zihlmann in the men's 10km. Andrea Huber dropped from the World Cup team too strong in the women's 5km. More details of the race in Davos in the 4th edition of A Warped Perspective by Andrew Mock.

Men 10km Freestyle (Open)
1  26:09.7 Andreas Zihlmann, SUI
2  26:10.6 Beat Koch, SUI
3  26:17.2 Tino Mettler, SUI
49 29:05.5 Andrew Mock, AUS - FIS Points 111.03
77 30:56.8 Andrew Circosta, AUS - FIS Points 154.72
87 in start
Women 5km Freestyle (Open)
1  14:04.6 Andrea Huber, SUI
2  14:27.4 Andrea Senteler, SUI
3  14:33.2 Flurina Bachmann, SUI
20 16:12.6 Rhiannon Palmer, AUS - FIS Points 146.67
30 16:40.1 Esther Bottomley, AUS - FIS Points 166.21
43 17:24.3 Sally Cunningham, AUS - FIS Points 197.61
47 in start

Nove Mesto World Cups, Czech Republic, January 12-13
The last World Cup races before the olympics. Notable absence of Elofsson and all the Swedes in the distance events, however more significant absences in the sprint relays with no Norwegians or Swedes. More important events at home perhaps?

Women 5km Freestyle
1  13:45.2 Julia Tchepalova, RUS
2  14:04.8 Katerina Neumannova, CZE
3  14:06.8 Stephania Belmondo, ITA

Tempting to say that Tchepalova is finding form just before the Olympics, but rarely out of the top 10 and a 1st and a 2nd place from before Christmas is not exactly lost in the woods. Neumannova however is having a great season and with this second place took back the lead in the overall World Cup from Bente Skari. Belmondo continues to be competitive in all the distance skating events and now has 4 podium finishes.

Men 10km Freestyle
1  26:12.9 Fabio Maj, ITA
2  26:14.8 Jaek Mae, EST
3  26:17.0 Kristen Skjeldal, NOR

Well there's a turn-up for the books. Relatively unsighted this season (okay an 8th place in the Val di Fiemme pursuit is not too bad), Fabio Maj turned it on in Nove Mesto to win the 10km freestyle by 1.9 seconds from not-quite namesake Jaek Mae. A personal best result for Mae, who has been having the season of his career with now six top 6 results to his credit. Maj, Mae and Skjeldal were up there all through the race just out of reach of the likes of Muhlegg, Vittoz, and Repo, who had to settle for places 5-7. The surprise packet was young Norwegian Tor Rune Hofstad, who posted all the early splits and ended up in 4th place only 12.8 seconds off the pace. Probably too late to earn himself a Winter Olympic berth, but impressive all the same. With four sprinters and four "relative" classic specialists in their team of 10 men, Norway could do with an extra skater in the 30km mass start.

Women Sprint Relay (2 by 4 by 1.5km)
1 25:06.0 Russia - Medvedeva/Tchepalova
2    +6.3 Italy - Paruzzi/Valbusa
3   +23.1 Finland - Servio/Lassila
4   +33.7 Germany - Kuenzel/ Reschwamm-Schultz
5   +40.7 Russia II - ??/Moskalenko 

By the time the Eurosport delayed coverage kicked in on the fourth leg, Russia, Italy and Finland had already broken away from the rest of the field. Tchepalova was pushing the pace for Russia and stretching the friendship with Valbusa and Lassila, while Paruzzi was looking strong on the other leg. At the second last change Tchepalova made a break of 2.3 seconds over Lassila, with Valbusa 5 seconds down, but then Paruzzi bridged the gap for Italy, dropping Servio in the process. That was Finland's race run (okay they still placed comfortably third) and it was down to a two horse Russia/Italy event. Valbusa lead out from the final change, but when they hit the hill Tchepalova put the pedal down and it was all over bar the shouting. And who is Medvedeva anyway?

Men Sprint Relay (2 by 6 by 1.5km)
1  0.0  Italy II - Maj/Schweinbacher
2  +0.9s Italy - Di Centa/Zorzi
3  +1.0 Finland III - ?? possibly Jauhojarvi/Pietilae
4  +5.0 Austria - Mayer/Hoffman
5  +7.1 Finland - ??/Palolahti

A big pack here took a long time to break up - at the fourth exchange there were still 15 teams within 7.5 seconds. Including three Finnish teams equally indistinguishable from each other. Okay they had numbers but who saw a start list. At the 8th change it was down to 9 teams, with two Italian teams leading Germany, Czech, Austria, Finland by three, and Russia. Maj and Schweinbacher for Italy II were both doing most of the pace making on their respective legs. Finally into the last change the pack started to break up, with Italy I and II off the front with Finland of uncertain number. Austria with Mayer and Hoffmann tried but couldn't quite get back on. Schweinbacher lead the trio round the final lap, Zorzi on his heels waiting to pounce and the Finn in third. Somehow Schweinbacher managed to hold them both off in the finish straight, and then a photo finish gave Italy spots one and two.

January 11 - Val di Fiemme Pre-Worlds

Okay these reports are a few days late, but even coaches, wax technicians and web updaters have to catch up on sleep at times.

Val Di Fiemme World Cups, Italy, January 5-8
These races only possible due to tons and tons of artificial snow and a lot of hard work. Bare ground all around but 5km of the Val di Fiemme race track and the entire stadium was in excellent condition. Hopefully however there is more snow when the 2003 World Championships take place in Val di Fiemme in 13 months time.

Men Sprint
1 Trond Iverson, NOR (Qualified 2nd)
2 Keijo Kurtilla, FIN (13)
3 Thobias Fredriksson, SWE (5)
4 Jan Jakob Verdenius, NOR (11)
Men Qualifying Time Trial
1  3:04.90 Bjorn Lind, SWE
57 3:18.17 Paul Murray, AUS - FIS Points 57.41
61 3:32.36 Ben Derrick, AUS - FIS Points 118.81

A controversial day of sprinting. Starting with errors and disputes over the times in the women's time trial, it was a hard day for the TD and the race jury. In the men's sprint trouble started in the quarter finals when Mayer from Austria stepped on Thobias Fredriksson's skis. Thobias went on to finish third in the heat, and gave Mayer several earfulls and a shoulder in the finish area (see picture right). Incredibly, somehow the jury decided to allow Fredriksson to start as an extra in the semi-final, making it 5 instead of 4. Mayer was disqualified and removed from the entire result list. In other quarter finals Sprint Cup leader Zorzi from Italy was eliminated in a photo finish, and several Swedes and Finns lunged short of the finish line effectively destroying their chances to progress to the next round. Bjorn Lind from Sweden tried a new tactic and went off the front in his final, only to tire in the finish straight and finish last (he was also one of the premature lungers).

A series of spectacular lunges in the semi finals and finals saw sometimes three different skiers being announced the winner before the final decisions were reached. In the main final Kurtilla lead into the straight only to be outlunged by Iversen in other photo finish, Fredriksson taking third place.

Women Sprint
1 Katerina Neumannova, CZE (Qualified 1st)
2 Hilde Pedersen, NOR (3)
3 Sabina Valbusa, ITA (6)
4 Ljubov Egorova, NOR (8)

Initial time trial result lists had Skofterud from Norway and Gavriljuk from Russia about 5 seconds clear of the rest of the field. But something buggered up in the time keeping as these were adjusted to Gavriljuk in 13th place and Skofterud in 18th. To confuse matters more they then tacked Skofterud onto the last quarter final because of ongoing uncertainty about her time. The TD later said it was this solution or call the entire race null and void. Tough luck for the heat that scored the extra skier. Not as many close finishes in the women's finals, and Neummanova was uncontested in the straight in the main event.

Women 5km/5km One-day Pursuit
1  25:26.1 Larissa Lazutina, RUS
2  25:42.1 Olga Danilova, RUS
3  25:46.2 Bente Skari, NOR

No surprises as Skari scored the fastest time in the 5km classic first leg of the pursuit, with Danilova and Lazutina 6 and 7 seconds behind. These three soon got together and left the rest of the field behind in the skating 5km. Lazutina threatened to break away for a while then did so, running away a clear winner and leaving the other two for the minor medals. Neumannova made ground on Danilova and Skari but not quite enough to catch them before the finish straight. Belmondo skied the fastest skate leg to move up from 18th to 8th.

Men 10km/10km One-day Pursuit
1  46:45.8 Per Elofsson, SWE
2  47:17.2 Thomas Alsgaard, NOR
3  47:17.8 Anders Aukland, NOR

When Elofsson posted the fastest time in the classic there were little odds for anyone challenging him for the overall win. He skied a solo race to win comfortably. Behind however, the pack massed. Veerpalu and Mae from Estonia, Aukland and Alsgaard from Norway, and Mathias Fredriksson from Sweden made up the top 6 at the end of the classic and remained so at the end of the skate. There was a big pack sprint and when the smoke cleared Alsgaard had 2nd place and Aukland 3rd. The big mover was Vincent Vittoz from France who made it up from 17th into the sprint pack and ended up 7th.

Women 15km Mass Start Classic
1  40:37.4 Bente Skari, NOR
2  40:37.6 Olga Danilova, RUS
3  40:38.0 Larissa Lazutina, RUS

The same three on the podium again, can no-one else challenge in classic events? Lazutina was the driver in the pack of three, with Skari most often on her heels and Danilova yo-yoing off the back with really fast skis. Now and then Lazutina would make a small break on the hills, Skari would peg it back, and Danilova would catch up again on the downs. The biggest break for Lazutina came with a km or so to go, but unfortunately there is is big downhill approaching the stadium and this final time both Skari and Danilova glided past. Sprint between these two with Skari coming out on top.

Men 30km Mass Start Classic 
1  1:15:01.4 Anders Aukland, NOR
2  1:15:02.3 Vitaly Denisov, RUS
3  1:15:03.0 Mathias Fredriksson, SWE

A bigger pack in the men's 30km classic, with several Norwegians, a couple of Russians, the usual suspect Estonians (meaning the same guys who are usually up there, not meaning that they are suspect), Muhlegg from Spain and Fredriksson the lone Swede. Anyone else there? Can't remember, that's why you should write reports straight after the race. Another big pack sprint, pretty sure it was down to 6 guys left. Aukland made a tiny break into the last downhill and it was enough to get him through. Denisov was the fastest in the sprint, and Fredriksson made the lunge of the day after double poling outside the set tracks to deny the Estonians a podium finish.

Furtwangen Continental Cup, Germany, January 4-5
Furtwangen is in the Black Forest region in south western Germany, very close to Schonach where the World Junior Championships will take place from January 21-28. More details of what happened here may appear in the 4th edition of A Warped Perspective by Andrew Mock.

Men 1050m Sprint Freestyle - Qualification (Open)
1  2:34.46 Zoltan Tagsherer, HUN
2  2:34.60 Manual Touagliari ITA
3  2:35.35 Matei Jaksa, SLO
4  2:35.65 Toni Lang, GER (first junior)
69 2:48.94 Andrew Mock, AUS (34th junior) - 154.12 FIS Points
88 3:02.91 Andrew Circosta, AUS - 226.47 FIS Points
89 in start
Women 1050m Sprint Freestyle - Qualification (Open)
1  2:58.09 Nicole Fessel, GER (first junior)
2  2:59.31 Stephanie Bohler GER
3  3:00.04 Yvonne Zeibig, GER
38 3:12.00 Esther Bottomley, AUS (17th junior) - 132.15 FIS Points
65 3:27.14 Rhiannon Palmer, AUS - 200.16 FIS Points
69 3:38.80 Sally Cunningham, AUS - 252.53 FIS Points
70 in start
Men 10km Classic (Open)
1  27:56.5 Axel Teichmann, GER
2  28:06.2 Valerio Checci, ITA
3  28:23.3 Rene Reisshauer, GER
Junior Men 10km Classic
1  28:33.5 Benjamin Seifert, GER
2  28:37.1 Roland Clara, ITA
3  29:08.9 Nejc Brodar, SLO
45 32:34.2 Andrew Mock, AUS - FIS Points not yet available
48 in start
Women 5km Classic (Open)
1  15:47.3 Andrea Huber, SUI
2  16:07.7 Andrea Senteler, SUI
3  16:23.2 Nicole Fessler, SUI
Junior Women 5km Classic
1  16:23.2 Nicole Fessler, GER
2  16:28.4 Emilie Vina, FRA
3  16:37.7 Nicole Kunz, SUI
25 18:41.9 Rhiannon Palmer, AUS - FIS Points not yet available
29 in start

World Cup Standings

Men - After 10 events (from 20) - to end of December
1 - 449 - Per Elofsson, SWE
2 - 275 - Christian Zorzi, ITA
3 - 250 - Tor Arne Hetland, NOR
4 - 247 - Anders Aukland, NOR
5 - 230 - Erling Jevne, NOR
6 - 216 - Thomas Alsgaard, NOR
7 - 213 - Johann Muhlegg, SPA
8 - 210 - Frode Estil, NOR
9 - 187 - Jaak Mae, EST
10 - 176 - Kristen Skjeldal, NOR

Women - After 10 Events (from 20) - to end of December
1 - 430 - Katarina Neumannova, CZE
2 - 426 - Bente Skari, NOR
3 - 404 - Kristina Smigun, EST
4 - 362 - Julia Tchepelova, RUS
5 - 302 - Olga Danilova, RUS
6 - 274 - Stefania Belmondo, ITA
7 - 257 - Anita Moen, NOR
8 - 254 - Hilde Pedersen, NOR
9 - 216 - Evi Sachenbacher, GER
10 - 206 - Larissa Lazutina, RUS

December 31 - Report on Christmas World Cups

Garmisch-Partenkirchen World Cup December 27

Men Sprint
1 Christian Zorzi, ITA (Qualified 2nd)
2 Tor Arne Hetland, NOR (16)
3 Peter Larsson, SWE (5)
4 Trond Einar Elden, NOR (3)

Zorzi, he da man. A superhuman effort by Zorzi up the hill on the second 750m lap saw him squeeze in front of Hetland, and somehow the Italian managed to hang on in the finish straight by absolutely bugger-all. Special mention has to go to Sweden, who managed to get four skiers into the top 9 in the qualifying, including Bjorn Lind in 1st place a full 4.65 seconds clear of the rest of the field, and then have three of those (including Lind) knocked out in the first round. Sweden certainly doing something right in producing fast time trialers, now they have to teach them some race tactics for the finals. And though they probably would have liked to get up onto the podium in front of the home crowd, Schlickenrieder and Angerer from Germany finished 6th and 7th, which qualifies them for the German team in Salt Lake City.

Women Sprint
1 Evi Sachenbacher, GER (1)
2 Sabina Valbusa, ITA (2)
3 Maj Helen Sorkmo, NOR (3)
4 Gabriella Paruzzi (4)

In sensational fashion on home snow, 21 year old Evi Sachenbacher became the first German woman to win a World Cup since the late 1980's. Qualifying the fastest, Sachenbacher had no problems in the quarter or semi finals, but had to come from behind in the main event. Shut out on the first lap, Sachenbacher went from 4th to 1st on the only uphill, and taking a handy lead down into the stadium was never going to be caught by Valbusa. The win also catapulted Sachenbacher into the lead in the Sprint World Cup.

Salzburg World Cup December 29

A sensational location for a sprint event, smack in the middle of old town Salzburg.Despite rain throughout most of the event, crowds packed around the course, aided in seeing the whole event by three giant TV screens. No doubt it would have cost a stack of money to hold the event there, however it would be fantastic to see it become a regular event on the World Cup calendar. Flat course, the only two hills being the two bridges enabling the spectators and competitors to walk into the middle of the circuit. At first it sounds dead easy, but there was zero rest and FIS points were generally higher than in the Cogne sprint.

Men Sprint
1 Harvard Bjerkeli, NOR (Qualified 9th)
2 Trond Einar Elden, NOR (3)
3 Tor Arne Hetland, NOR (5)
4 Morton Brors, NOR (7)

Despite the all Norwegian final this was a spectacular event with plenty of action all the way through the final series. Zorzi from Italy and Lind from Sweden again posted the fastest two qualifying times, then both managed to bow out in the first round. Zorzi was out-lunged by Iversen (photo finish which delayed the semi-final), while Lind just didn't have the sprint pack tactics happening. Ostberg from Sweden was unlucky to fall to in his quarter-final just as he was pulling onto the shoulder of Elden in the finish straight, but not as unlucky as Schweinbacher from Italy whom Ostberg fell onto. Marc Mayer (son of Walter Mayer - Vasaloppet winner, coach of Austrian 1999 gold-medal relay team, and runner-up in 1992 Kangaroo Hoppet) came from nowhere to lunge his way into the semi final and keep the Austrian crowd banging on the drums and waving their flags.

In the semi finals Sweden demonstrated again poor tactics when Peter Larsson failed to lunge for the line, allowing Elden (or Brors, these Norwegians sprinters look the same - big) to sneak his foot across in front. And so to the all-Norwegian final, no-one went out hard, all four were there lunging for the line with Bjerkeli winning out, the other three seperated by about a boot, Hetland lunging from behind Bjerkeli to take third.

Women Sprint
1 Anita Moen, NOR (3)
2 Katerina Neumannova, CZE (1)
3 Maj Helen Sorkmo, NOR (2)
4 Manuela Henkel, GER (5)

The surprise of the women's sprint came from Germany, who qualified a whopping 6 skiers into the final 16 and then 3 into the semi finals. But then the experience of the old girls kicked in, with no-one younger than 27 in the final. Pienimaki played a lone hand from Finland to win the B-final ahead of Sachenbacher, who scored just enough points to keep her at the top of the Sprint World Cup ahead of Neumannova. Neumannova led out in the final, but was unable to hold off the final sprint of Moen, who incidentally was the oldest woman in the race at 34. And they said that young female sprinters were the way of the future.

The World Cup resumes in Val di Fiemme, Italy, on January 5.

December 22 - Ramsau Mass Starts

Ramsau World Cup December 22

Men 30km Freestyle Mass Start
1  1:19:24.4 Per Elofsson, SWE
2      + 0.5 Ole Einar Bjorndalen, NOR
3     + 11.4 Christian Hoffmann, AUT
4     + 16.4 Kristian Skjeldal, NOR
11    + 49.5 Carl Swenson, USA

A pretty exciting race, with a huge pack for 15-20km. Now and then various skiers made an effort to break away up the front, including Vittoz from France, and a Japanese skier who had very fast skis, but most of the time it was Per Elofsson who seemed to either be the one chasing them down or leading the pack. Despite doing all this work, Elofsson was the one who finally broke away by himself, and only Bjorndalen and Hoffmann were able to the bridge the gap to join him. Skjeldal tried hard but couldn't get across. Then Hoffmann was spat, leaving the other two to sprint it out. Elofsson elected to follow Bjorndalen into the final straight, and (unlike Alsgaard who tried a similar manouver in the 1999 World Championships)

A top ski from Carl Swenson, who acheived a personal best result in 11th place, also one of the top USA results in the last decade. Justin Wadsworth finished 8th in Salt Lake City last January, however this was certainly the best result in Europe in a long time.

Women 15km Freestyle Mass Start (sorry, lost the times)
1  Kristina Smigun, EST
2  Larissa Lazutina, RUS
3  Stefania Belmondo, ITA
4  Elena Buruhina, RUS
5  Julia Tchepalova, RUS

The top four skiers here made a break away on the second 5km lap, the notable absentee from the breakaway being Tchepalova who skied a lone race about 20-30 seconds behind for a long time. Buruhina had amazingly fast skis, seeming to be dropped almost every uphill but catching up again in a tuck on the downs. Smigun managed to hold a tiny break up the final "sprint" hill with about 800m to go, and when she turned under the bridge towards the straight no-one was going to catch her. The other three duked it out in a sprint, with Belmondo splitting the Russian duo.

The next World Cup events are the sprints in Garmisch and Salzburg on December 27 and 29.

December 19 - Asiago Sprints

Asiago World Cup Sprint, December 19
Eurosport took a delayed coverage and went straight to the semi finals. No idea of qualifying times, and it is too expensive to surf for results via the mobile phone. However... Two Canadians made it through to the semis! The Kanucks must have got something right as Scott and Theriault qualified 3rd and 5th, and kept on going. Revealed afterwards was that Sara Renner also ended up 9th, so three in the top 10. It was a slightly reduced field - apparently only 31 women in the start - but a World Cup is a World Cup.

Women 1.5km Sprint Classic Final (qualifying rank in brackets)
1  Bente Skari, NOR (1)
2  Petra Madic, SLO (2)
3  Beckie Scott, CAN (3)
4  Katie Sundquist, FIN (4)
8  Milaine Theriault, CAN (5)

Skari was in a class of her own in both the semi-final and final, skiing away from the rest of the finalists. The FIS rules and control committee should take a close look at Madic's technique going over the second last hill in the final, as she seemed to push the classical definition to its limits in an effort to stay ahead of Beckie. But a fantastic effort by Beckie to score her first WC podium place in Europe (she did the same in Salt Lake City last January).

Men 1.5km Sprint Classic Final (qualifying rank in brackets)
1  Jens Arne Svartedal, NOR (3)
2  Trond Iversen, NOR (2)
3  Andreas Schluetter, GER (5)
4  Bjorn Lind, SWE (1)

 Bjorn Lind seemed to be an extremely happy young man, despite finishing 4th in the final. World Cup debut just over a week ago, and qualified second behind Zorzi in a freestyle sprint. (though fell and was knocked out i the quarter finals). Now he qualifies first and cruised into the final grinning like a madman. Okay, Svartedal and Iversen topped the podium for Norway, but Sweden must be cheering they have pulled a new sprint star out of the wilderness.

December 17 - Duathlon Debut in Continental Cup, Plus Davos World Cup

Ramsau Continental Cup, December 15-16
The new event on the cross country calender - "Duathlon", involving a change from classic to skating equipment in the middle of the race. An interesting concept, and for this event everything worked pretty smoothly. Most skiers changed skis (obligatory) and poles, but not boots. Some skied classic in skating boots (particularly those with Salomon boots as the classic boots don't really go with the skating bindings), some skated in classic boots, and the only notable exception who changed boots was Carl Swenson from the USA. Note this was not a winning move.

Men 15km Duathlon (changeover time)
1  41:16.0 Achim Walcher, AUT (37.1)
2  41:20.7 Fabio Santus, ITA (34.5)
3  41:21.7 Roman Virolainen, BLR (28.8)
9  42:02.6 Carl Swenson, USA (1:19.6)
47 47:57.6 Paul Murray, AUS (36.6)
63 in start

Victor Revine from Russia led into the changeover zone after 7.5km classic with Virolainen and Swenson hot on his heels. A smoking change from Virolainen saw the Belarussian head out with a 7 second lead on Revine and 10-12 seconds on a pack containing Santus and De Bertolis from Italy, Hoffmann from Germany, and Walcher. Swenson? Still changing his boots as the leaders were heading out under the bridge, went out in 17th place, 52 seconds behind Virolainen.

Women 10km Duathlon (changeover time)
1  32:14.9 Yvonne Zeibig, GER (34.3)
2  32:15.2 Anna Santer, ITA (38.7)
3  32:30.9 Ramona Roth, GER (40.3)
23 36:54.2 Katie Calder, AUS (49.8)
25 37:15.9 Camille Melvey, AUS (52.6)
27 in start

Ramona Roth went in and out of the changeover with a 13 second lead, chased by Santer of Italy and Constanze Blum and Zeibig from Germany. Some to and froing before Santer and Zeibig broke away and stuck together for a sensational sprint finish. Neck and neck down the straight, both lunged for the line and Zeibig was given it by 0.3 of a second.

Junior Men 15km Duathlon (changeover time)
1  42:18.9 Toni Lang, GER (30.9)
2  42:27.6 Franz Goring, GER (35.7)
3  42:31.4 Tom Reichelt, GER (31.6)
23 46:43.2 Ben Sim, AUS (53.4)
39 1 lap   Chris Darlington, AUS (50.4)
45 in start
Junior Women 10km Duathlon (changeover time)
1  34:03.0 Ursina Badilatti, SUI (39.3)
2  34:14.0 Vesna Fabjan, SLO (41.1)
3  34:15.0 Julia Swieder, GER (42.7)
28 in start

Ramsau Sprint Relays

Men 2 by 5 by 1.2km Sprint Relay
1  32:01.6  Germany  Schlickenrieder/Klessen
2  32:01.9  Austria  Urain/Mayer
3  32:04.9  Czech  Biman/Sperl
4  32:07.3  USA  Swenson/Koos
17 34:02.1  Australia/Greece  Murray/Fafalis
27 1 lap    Australia  Derrick/Mock
31 1 lap    Australia  Sim/Darlington
33 teams in start

An exciting event but also pretty tough. 10 laps round a 1.2 km loop, changing every lap. For the first 3-4 laps there was a chaotic pack up front containing the first 20-25 teams. Then about 8 or so teams went off the front, with the pace occasionally slowing and surging as skiers started to ski a tactical race. At the final change there were still 6 teams in the hunt - Austria, Czech, two German teams, the USA, and Italy. Di Santo broke a pole in the change, and though that lost Italy valuable seconds it is also worth commenting on the new pole delivery, see below. Austria and Germany made a small break, and Urain led Schlickenrieder down into the finish straight. But Schlickenrieder was too fast and took the win with a couple of metres to spare.

As witnessed by Paul Murray in the middle of the change zone: Di Santo ripped his broken pole off and yelled to his coach. From 15 metres back the Italian coach threw a pole that flew vertically through the air, Di Santo was already free skating down the track when he caught it cleanly in the middle of shaft and slipped it directly onto his glove as though they had practised the manouever a hundred times. Very impressive.

Women 2 by 3 by 1.2km Sprint Relay
1  22:35.4  Germany  Zeibig/Roth
2  22:35.8  Italy  Genoin/Santer
3  22:36.6  Germany  Reschwamm/Klaus
15 25:39.4  Australia  Melvey/Calder
DNF         Australia  Palmer/Bottomley
17 teams in start

A smaller pack than the men with 5-6 teams of Italians and Germans breaking away after a couple of laps. Santer from Italy was cranking on her leg, making a break on the Germans, while Zeibig and Reschwamm pulled them back on the other leg. Genoin took a 6 second lead on Reschwamm and 10 on Zeibig into the final leg, which the German steadily pegged back. At the top of the course the three were together, and stayed together into the final straight. Zeibig proved too fast again in the straight, winning her second sprint finish is as many days, with Genoin taking second.

Davos World Cup

With racers in the Continental Cup in Ramsau combined with a loss of Eurosport from one of the Australian appartments, we have minimal information of the Davos World Cup. Which is a bugger especially as the relays look like they would have been pretty exciting. Sweden and Russia ahead of Norway in the men, and Norway ahead of Russia in the women.

Men 15km Classic
1  Erling Jevne, NOR
2  Per Elofsson, SWE
3  Ivan Batory, SVK
Women 10km Classic
1  Bente Skari, NOR
2  Kristina Smigun, EST
3  Stefania Belmondo, ITA
Men 4 by 10km Relay
1  SWE
2  RUS  +2.2
3  NOR  +6.3
4  ITA  +12.2
5  GER  +35.6
Women 4 by 5km Relay
1  NOR
2  RUS  +21.3
3  RUS2 +1:08.1
4  ITA  +1:08.2
5  FIN  +1:18.3

The next World Cup is the classic sprint in Asiago on the 19th, followed by the 15/30km in Ramsau on the 22nd.

December 12 - Brusson World Cup

Men 15km Freestyle
1  33:50.4 Johann Muhlegg, SPA
2  34:14.3 Christian Hoffmann, AUT
3  34:22.9 Per Elofsson, SWE
4  34:30.2 Thomas Alsgaard, NOR

A lot of people had their money on Elofsson here but Giovanni Muhlegg (as he is called by the German Eurosport commentators) had other plans. Taking the lead right from the first split Muhlegg had his name written all over the rest of the race, extending his lead at nearly every stage. Elofsson held second place with only about 3km to go, however Hoffmann had started to pull a few second back, and it was apparent when Elofsson came towards the stadium that he had nothing left up his sleeves.

When Eurosport cut over to Biathlon World Cup in Slovenia there were still many competitors out on the course. There had been a glimpse of Carl Swenson in the new USA red race suit looking pretty strong in about 20th place after 6.8km, and he was due to come into the stadium to finish just as the coverage switched over.

Women 10km Freestyle
1  24:55.9 Julia Tchepalova, RUS
2  24:56.7 Stefania Belmondo, ITA
3  25:03.7 Kristina Smigun, EST
4  25:12.9 Katerina Neumannova, CZE

Tchepalova also lead right from the start in the women's 10km, and held a 7-8 second advantage after 6.8km. Then Belmondo decided to thrill the Italian crowd with a flying finish, falling short of Tchepalova and the gold medal by less than a second. Kristina Smigun took her second podium place of the season as Neumannova dropped back to fourth place.

Pretty sure that Nina Kemppel of the USA pulled a good race out of the bag to finish about 19th place, about a minute and half behind Tchepalova, with Beckie Scott from Canada further back in the 20's.

Next World Cup this Saturday in Davos, Switzerland.

December 9 - Cogne World Cups
As reported in the Australian team report section, the tracks were hard in fast in Cogne, on a tight loop of artificial snow surrounded by bare ground. The course was closed in the afternoons to preserve the track (plus 16 degrees in Aosta the day before the races), and to take advantage of fast early conditions the red group (skiers ranked in the top 30) started first.

Cogne World Cup Races, December 8-9

Men 10km Classic
1  23:18.6 Anders Aukland, NOR
2  23:28.8 Per Elofsson, SWE
3  23:34.9 Frode Estil, NOR

Just to prove it wasn't a fluke in Finland, Anders Aukland rolled out the second World Cup victory of his career to extend his lead on the overall World Cup. At least this time the Norwegians didn't quite dominate as much as in Muonio, only 5 men in the top ten. A very close field, first 32 men within one minute, and then 52 within the next minute.

On an aside, FIS claim to be clamping down on skating in classical races, and footage from World Cup races last year was shown to team captains demonstrating many skiers who would have been disqualified under the new ruling (which is basically the old ruling but they are going to enforce it). In this race only one skier was disqualified for skating, Swede Magnus Ingesson, but the story is that he veered off the track in the stadium to throw away his hat, and then skated to get back on the course. However no excuses accepted.

Women 5km Classic
1  14:20.4 Bente Skari, NOR
2  14:27.1 Olga Danilova, RUS
3  14:34.8 Vibeke Skofterud, NOR

For a while it looked as if the podium places would be identical to the 10km classic in Finland, and then the late starting Skofterud knocked Swede Lina Andersson down to 4th place by just 0.7 of a second. 5 Norwegians in top 8 - and only one Russian! A good result from Canadian Beckie Scott in 9th place. Chockers like the men's field, first 60 skiers within a minute and a half.

Men 1.5km Sprint Freestyle (qualifying time trial)
1  2:50.70 Christian Zorzi, ITA
2  2:50.74 Bjorn Lind, SWE
3  2:51.77 Vassili Rotchev, RUS
80 3:00.72 Paul Murray, AUS - FIS Points - 46.96
103 skiers in start
1  Christian Zorzi, ITA
2  Tor Arne Hetland, NOR
3  Marcus Hasler, LIE
4  Vassili Rotchev, RUS

A fantasting qualifying round from Swede Bjorn Lind finishing second in the time trial. Four Swedes made the final 16, and only two Norwegians which makes a (welcome) change. Quite a few notable absentees from the final rounds, including Schlickenrieder (32), Alsgaard (25), Verdenius (24), and Solbakken (24), plus other Norwegians back down to Bjervig in 78th place. (Lucky for Bjervig because Paul Murray was going to send a highlighted result list to any Norwegians behind him. Good solid result from Carl Swenson in 35th place as first North American, just a couple of seconds out of qualifying.

In the finals, back luck for Lind who fell and broke his pole while leading his quarter final, some extremely close lunges for the line requiring the video replay to see who made it through, and a lot of tactics in the main final between Zorzi, Hetland (2001 World Champion), and Hasler from Liechtenstein. Hasler led into the finals straight with Zorzi and Hetland challenging him on either side, Zorzi edged ahead to take the victory while Hetland only made it past in the dying meters to take second ahead of Hasler.

Women 1.5km Sprint Freestyle (qualifying time trial)
1  3:11.83 Katerina Neumannova, CZE
2  3:15.11 Sabina Valbusa, ITA
3  3:15.42 Evi Sachenbacher, GER
1  Katerina Neumannova, CZE
2  Vibeke Skofterud, NOR
3  Hilde Pedersen, NOR
4  Julia Tchepalova, RUS

A smoking qualifying run from Neumannova saw her over 3 seconds clear of the rest of the field. Considering the rest of the 16 finalists were within 4 seconds this was not a bad effort. Good result from Beckie Scott in 8th place, and a personal best from Swede Anna Dahlberg into 7th place. Good skis from the Swedes today it seems, or is it good training? The coaches likely claim both. Notable absentees Skari (24), Henkel (27) and Belmondo way down in 69th over 18 seconds off the pace.

From the first two quarter finals the top ranked skiers all made it through, but notable absentees from the other two quarters were Valbusa, Dahlberg, and Smigun, the last of whom fell. Beckie Scott lost contact early in her semi final, but then came flying home in the B-final to take 5th place in a photo-finish with Moen from Norway. Beckie's best World Cup result outside of North America. In the main final, Neumannova was just too strong and won comfortably, with Skofterud ,Tchepalova and Pedersen sprinting it out in the finish straight, from where I was standing it looked like Tchepavola was third but then my eyesight isn't what it used to be, no actually it may never have been good.

So now the World Cup moves to Brusson on another short loop with man-made snow. Some say the race should have been held here in Cogne and some say it should be moved to Davos, but the Australians are heading to Ramsau anyway so it makes no difference for us.

December 4 - Delayed Report on World Cup
This was supposed to be written a week or so ago when everything was fresh. So this time around will be short and sweet. After some uncertainty of snow conditions the next World Cups are set to go ahead in Italy on articificial snow. Australian skiers Ben Derrick and Paul Murray will make their season debuts in Cogne and Brusson, and some North Americans could show up as well. Don't forget to check the international news links above for the latest World Cup news as it happens.

Muonio World Cup Races, November 24-27

Men 15km Classic
1  Anders Aukland, NOR
2  Erling Jevne, NOR
3  Frode Estil, NOR

Well what do you expect for the season opening classic race? You know the Norwegians are going to dominate but even so having them take the top 8 spots is pretty embarrassing for the rest of skiing world. Anders Aukland (yes, he won the Kangaroo Hoppet in 1993 and his brother Frederik was third this year) got up for his first World Cup win ahead of Erling Jevne, Per Elofsson did his bit for the best of the rest taking 9th place

Women 10km Classic
1  Bente Skari, NOR
2  Olga Danilova, RUS
3  Lina Andersson, SWE

Skari continued her domination of classic races from last season, with Danilova taking yet another second place. A breath of fresh air from Sweden with 20 year old Lina Andersson skiing an impressive race to climb onto the podium, followed by Kaisa Varis who is notable as one of the very few top Finnish skiers not to get caught doping last season.

Men 10km Freestyle
1  Per Elofsson, SWE
2  Ole Einar Bjorndalen, NOR
3  Thomas Alsgaard, NOR

Elofsson bounced back to win the freestyle event the next day, but until after a close tussel with biathlon star Bjorndalen. And some relief for middle Europe with a couple of Czechs, Lukas Bauer and Martin Koukal taking 4th and 6th place. But the slightly disturbing result here was Norway taking 6 places in the top ten in a skating race. Okay, they can dominate classic races from time to time, but if they start to do it in both disciplines it will get pretty boring. After this opening weekend, Aukland leads the overall World Cup by 3 points from Elofsson.

Women 5km Freestyle
1  Katerina Neumannova, CZE
2  Julia Tchepalova, RUS
3  Kristina Smigun, EST

A great result for Neumannova to knock off last season's World Cup Champion Tchepalova and score her 5th World Cup win. Good solid performance from Smigun who seemed to drop off a bit last season (though still ended up 10th overall so everything is relative) plus the usual contingent of more Russians making up a fair whack of the top ten. Danilova leads the overall World Cup by just one point ahead of Neumannova

Men 4 by 10km Relay
1 Norway
2 Sweden
3 Russia

This was a pretty exciting relay to watch in the comfort of the lounge-room on Eurosport. The two top Norwegian skaters (Bjorndalen and Alsgaard) skipped the relay leaving Haarvard Bjerkeli and Tor Arne Hetland to wave the flag, mind you pretty fair back-up skiers with Bjerkeli rested up and Hetland the reigning sprint World Champion. Norway managed after a struggle to get away on the classic legs, but Sweden in anticipation had put Elofsson in the third leg against Bjerkeli. Somewhere about the 6km mark Elofsson collected the Norwegian and looked to break away immediately, but whether Bjerkeli was foxing a little or just dug deep he managed to get back on and sit behind. Elofsson finally got away in the last km, giving Jorgen Brink only a 8-10 second lead over Hetland. Russia was clear in third about 30 seconds back, ahead of a slowly forming mega pack containing Italy, Austria, Finland and others (it was a week or so ago and I forgot to take notes).

Hetland bridged the gap to Brink fairly easily, and looked to make a couple of half-attempts to get away from Brink to no avail. Now and then it looked as though the two were playing around with tactics but Villisov from Russia wasn't gaining any time so they can't have been cruising around too much. Brink took the lead again mid-way through the second lap, and the speculation from Aussies armchair critics was that he was backing himself in the finishing sprint. And good tactics they proved to be, for when Hetland put his foot down over the last little hill into the stadium Brink was unable to answer and Norway were the victors. Russia third, and pretty sure the Italy with Zorzi won the sprint for fourth but they never showed it from side on and we haven't been onto the internet to check.

Women 4 by 5km Relay
1 Russia
(2) Russia 2 (unofficial)
2 Finland
3 Sweden

Not as gripping as the men's relay but a decent battle for the minor placings with the second Russian team mowing down Finland and Sweden in the lead in to the stadium and holding on in a sprint. Finland and Sweden were not that far behind the number one Russian team either, and if anyone was wondering where Norway finished they were a no show.

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