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Australian Team Reports 2006/2007
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November 16 - The Forerunners
November 19 - Sim PB in World Cup
November 24 - More Coming Up
November 26 - Racing in Finland + Canada
November 28 - More From the Mouth
November 30 - The Wrong Trousers
December 3 - Season Beginning and Season End
December 14 - Late Brief Race Reports
December 18 - From Russia With Love
December 22 - Have Snow, Will Race
December 24 - Two Wins But No Christmas
January 1 - Sim Does a "Bradbury"
January 4 - We're Going To Rossland, Rossland
January 7 - Aimee Watson On The Podium
January 9 - More Comments From Rossland
January 10 - Cogne COC Results
January 19 - Late Swiss Champs
January 21 - Uni Games Reports 1&2
January 30 - Many Reports
February 5 - As Good As It Doesn't Get
February 14 - Fun In Oberstdorf
February 17 - World Championship Team Selected
March 1 - Sapporo Ski Marathon
March 12 - World Junior /U23 Championship
March 14 - Damn'n Drammen
March 23 - Stockholm Finale
March 29 - Russian Sprint Tour



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Australian Team Reports 2006/2007

March 29 - Russian Sprint Tour

Ben Sim has just completed the first day of a series of races in Russia. The "Sprint Tour" is an invitation only event and has four competitions in four days, in the towns of Severo-Uralsk in the Ural mountains and Yugorsk and Khanty-Mansiysk in west Siberia. The big international names are Larsson, Lind and Jonsson from Sweden, Botvinov from Austria, Pasini from Italy, and Sim from Australia. Plus many big Russian stars. However these are not normal sprint races - each day has a different format, as detailed below:

Stage I Point race (sprint-criterium).
Stage II Mountain sprint.
Stage III Supersprint (head to head match sprint).
Stage IV: FIS sprint (normal FIS rules)

In the first day of competition on March 28 there were 12 laps of a 540m course for qualification, then 16 laps for the finals. Simbo didn't make the A-final, though he had good company alongside olympic gold medalists Bjorn Lind (sprint) and Yvgeni Dementiev (pursuit). Dementiev won the B-final, with Simbo ending up 7th out of 10. The final was won by Vassili Rotchev, the 2005 World Champion in sprint, ahead of Emil Jonsson from Sweden. More details can be found on the Russian Ski66 website, which has this section in english. Look for the Sprint Tour logo.

March 23 - Stockholm Finale

Paul Murray and Ben Sim contested their last World Cup of the season on Wednesday, in the Sprint World Cup final in Stockholm, Sweden. It was a good one to finish up with for Paul, who finished 45th in the 1km classic sprint time trial, 8.6 seconds off the pace to take 72.5 FIS points his best of the season. There wasn't as much joy however for Simbo, who was a further 16 seconds back in 59th place out of 61 starters. He pushed hard and gave it everything he could, but the power just wasn't there, and he was overtaken up the finish hill by Paul who started 15 seconds after. The men's final was won by Michail Deviaterov Jnr, who is the same age as Simbo and medaled at the World Juniors in 2005. A couple of the finalists were disqualified for skating, which moved our guys up 2 places each on the final result list. It was very spectacular event, with a big crowd surrounding the course around the Royal Palace in old town Stockholm, and three big TV screens so the crowd could see what was happening on the other side of the palace.

So that's season over for Paul, who heads back to Australia this week. It will be another week before Simbo heads home, as he has been invited to compete in a tour of races in Russia.

March 14 - Damn'n Drammen

Today Paul Murray competed in the Sprint World Cup in Drammen in Norway for the third time. And for the third and possibly final time he had a bad race. Paul finished 57th in the time trial, 17 seconds off the fastest qualifying time. This is what he had to say after the race:

130 points, 17 seconds back, 3rd last, my back is killing me and right now making the finals in Stockholm seems about as far away as my 80th birthday. I know expecting to make finals here wasn't on the cards, but I was hoping for top 40 regardless. Its just so hard for me to ski fast in soft sloppy conditions. I need to do a lot more intervals and technique in that at home this winter as so many times we seem to be racing in slop on World Cup.

Paul's preparation for Drammen wasn't ideal, with a tooth infection in the week preceding (see Paul's website for more details). It is one week now until the next World Cup sprint in Stockholm, where Paul will be joined by Ben Sim.

March 12 - World Junior / U23 Championship

The 2007 World Junior / U23 Championships started today at Tarvisio in Italy, postponed 6 weeks from their original scheduled dates at the end of January. Australia is represented by three athletes, Ben Sim in the U23 events and Aimee Watson and Alex Almoukov in the junior events. Reports from Tarvisio will be posted in the 2007 World Junior / U23 Championship special section.

March 1 - Sapporo Ski Marathon

Back several weeks ago a handful of Australians competed in the Sapporo Ski Marathon, Japan's Worldloppet event. Former national team member Andrew Mock finished 5th in the 50km Freestyle event on February 11, the first non-Japanese competitor. Other Australians Andrew Circosta, Peter Malcolm, and Cameron Dickinson finished 11th, 20th, and 38th. Mocky's report from the event has been added to his annual warped perspective reports. The results of the men's 50km are here.

February 17 - World Championship Team Selected

Oberstdorf Continental Cup, February 10-11
The Australian Team for the 2007 World Championships in Sapporo, Japan, was confirmed by the selection panel during this last week. Six athletes will represent Australia at the championships, which take place from Feburary 22 to March 5. The full Aus tralian Team is as follows:

Esther Bottomley
Clare-Louise Brumley
Katherine Calder

Paul Murray
Ben Sim
Andrew Wynd

Coaching Staff
Finn Marsland, Nick Almoukov

Technical Support
Duane Butcher, Cameron Dickinson

Reports from the team and results will be posted in the World Championship Special section on this site. For other international news during the event follow the links in this section.

February 14 - Fun In Oberstdorf

Oberstdorf Continental Cup, February 10-11
The was the last weekend of racing in Europe for many Australians this winter. On Saturday February 10 OPA Contental Cup Pursuit events were held in Oberstdorf. Because of limited snow conditions only 2.5km loops were used, which made it a challenge for some of the Australians to finish without being lapped. No problems however first off in the Women's 5/5km Pursuit. KT Calder got away to a good start, up in the lead pack for the first lap. Aimee Watson didn't start so quick but moved up to be in the second main pack as they came down into the stadium the first time. However someone stepped on Aimee's pole as they lapped and the grip came off. By the time she went back and picked up her pole and got it on again the pack was gone and Aimee was in no-mans land by herself. Meanwhile the lead pack broke into two on the second lap with KT in the second. On the last hill she lost a little more time and went into the change about 50 seconds off the lead. On the freestyle leg KT started to feel good again and moved back up through the second pack, also maintaining the time gap to the leaders. She continued to fight hard and ended up in 20th place, just 1:08 behind the winner Marina Piller of Italy (and with FIS points of 141, pretty good for a Pusuit event and with a harsh penalty of 83 thanks to the top 3 ranked skiers finishing outside the top 5). Aimee finished in 57th out of the 67 strong field, having picked up a couple of places on the skate leg but pretty much having skied most of the race by herself. Samantha Bonderanko from New Zealand (our adopted team-mate) finished 61st.

In the Junior men's 10/10km Pursuit Neil van der Ploeg got away to a good start and skied most of the first lap in the top 10. However despite not feeling as though he had started too hard Neil then began to struggle on all the hills. On the 4th lap having lost contact with all packs Neil skied up to the drink station and stopped. Retrospectively he thought perhaps he should have gone on to the end of the classic leg to practice the changeover. It was a bad day also for Ewan Watson, who felt weak straight out of the start and pulled out of the race after about 3km.

Last off, the open men's 10/10km Pursuit. It was a good field, with the Swiss World Cup team competing plus some handy Germans. From past experiences Ben Sim took it easier on the first couple of laps because of the tough hills. He skied a very consistant race, moving up just a couple of spots on the skate leg to finish in 30th place, 3:30 behind the winner Tom Reicholt. Toni Livers from Switzerland who tied for 1st in the Davos World Cup the previous weekend finished 2nd. Nick Grimmer lost contact with the pack early on and was lapped by the leaders on the last hill before the changeover. He could have made it over the hill to the stadium but opted to finish on the hill so he could watch the rest of the race with Neil VDP and Ewan Watson in a prime spot. Mark VDP skied a very solid classic leg right up until he came in to the change. Then he went the wrong way into the pit, having to turn around and go back and lost time that would prove valuable later on. Mark moved up a couple of places early on in the skate (and lost one, to Garrot Kuzzy from the USA, one of the top skiers in the US Supertour this season), and then started skiing skiing for survival with the lead pack coming around quickly on the fast 2.5km loop. He hit the last long hill still with a 20 second gap, however it wasn't going to be enough as the pack started going for it and Mark had to withdraw just befor they caught him, about 20 second short of making it over the top for his last lap (Kuzzy was the last to make it though).

The next day and the track for the Sprint Classic was close to sheet ice in the morning after rain during the track grooming the night before. It was tricky getting good grip but we didn't fare too badly - Ewan Watson was the only one really short of kick and that was mostly because he pannicked and went to the start early (arriving at the start with 5 minutes to spare can be 3 minutes too many on a tricky waxing day). This was the third time that Esther Bottomley had raced a classic sprint in Oberstdorf and this was probbly her best. She finished in 16th place amongst the senior women in the 0.9km Sprint, 13 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Sereiner Mischol of Switzerland. KT Calder was having a good race, however fell on the icy downhill and lost probably at least 15 seconds. Aimee Watson looked okay however sprint isn't her thing and she was 29 seconds behind Mischol. To the men's 1.2km Sprint, and they were all pretty close. The times: Mark van der Ploeg 2:34.4; Ben Sim 2:35.5; Neil van der ploeg 2:35.7, and Nick Grimmer 2:38.8. Ewan with the slippery skis was 3:01, grip was definitely needed for this course. The senior guys all missed out on the finals, but Neil qualified for the junior finals in 24th place.

In the quarter-finals Esther lost a bit of ground over the first bridge but then fought hard to hold ground up the big hill and only just lost contact with the 2nd and 3rd in her heat as they crested the top. Not bad but no semi-final. Neil had a bad start but then stormed over the bridge and up into 3rd place (out of 6) as the climbed the first hill. He dropped back to 6th as he herring-boned the last 20metres of the hill, then took two guys with a nice sweeping corner into the second hill. Neil was in 5th and with a good chance of 4th as the went over the top, however behind the mound he tripped himself up and secured 6th place. At least he got in some good experience of sprint finals in Europe in this last hit out before heading home.

Which he did on Monday February 12, along with Mark, Aimee and Ewan. There's a chance that Aimee Watson could fly back for the World Juniors in the middle of March, however she had to return now for university. For the rest of the team in Oberstdorf, Esther, Ben and KT have already flown along with Paul Murray to Japan for the World Championships. They will be joined next week by Andrew Wynd and Clare-Louise Brumley. More coming soon in a World Championships Special.

February 5 - As Good As It Doesn't Get

Davos World Cup, Switzerland, February 4-5
High expectations for the World Cup this weekend f ell short. A combination of errors, lack of confidence, and bad luck led to some disappointing results. It started with the men's 15km Freestyle, and Ben Sim racing on skis that had too cold a structure for the conditions. It became apparent on the long downhill when a Norwegian and then a Swede rocketted past. Simbo ended up in 70th place out of 71 starters, his FIS points of 107 not that bad but his worst in a World Cup this season and stark reminder of what the race could have been with good skis. After the race Simbo's race skis were tested against the 178cm Germina test skis and ran considerably slower. Basically it was a big stuff-up that we shouldn't be making at this level of competition. Up next, the women's 10km Freestyle. KT Calder was feeling a bit of pressure in her first World Cup of the season, not helped by having the worst FIS point average of the starters by about 40 points. She started okay, with 5 seconds of the two USA skiers after 2km, however after about 4.5km she imploded physically and mentally and pulled out of the race. It was just not a good day.

The next day, World Cup relays. For the first time since 2006 Australia entered part of a relay - Ben Sim on the first leg, Torin Koos from the USA second, Rafael Ratti from Switzerland third, and Mark van der Ploeg set to make his World Cup debut on the 4th leg. Mark and Australian juniors on site (Neil VDP, Simon Flower, Ewan, Aimee and Callum Watson, and Juliette Booth) had a time trial on the World Cup course on the Friday, with the fastest guy given the last relay spot. The time trial (with Swiss skiers from the local regional team) was used by the TV crew to practise for the World Cup the next day. With the last two freestyle legs of the 4x10km men's relay being done on a 3.3km loop, the challenge was going to be for Mark to be able to finish his second lap before being caught by the leaders. Unfortunately the wheels started to fall off early, as Simbo tripped himself up changing tracks 50m after the start. He lost contact with the pack, and though he closed the gap to about 8 seconds by skiing his arse off for the first couple of km he never made it on, and that was the race run. Okay, Simbo was only 2:15 off the fastest time over 10km, which would have been a half decent result in an individual race, however the whole aim of starting this relay was to try and ski in the lead pack for as long as possible. After Koos' second leg the gap was out to 6min and it was looking like Mark might just get one lap in. However when Ratti came around towards the third change the gap was only about 20 seconds and the TD decided that it was too close and Mark was pulled off the course before he could start. Yep a top weekend of racing really.

Telemark Supertour, USA, January 27-28
In the 15km Classic SuperTour in Telemark on January 27 Andrew Wynd scored his best FIS points of the season, 136.5 FIS points, finishing just over 3 minutes behind the winner Lars Flora of the USA. This is under the Australian "B" criteria set for the 2007 World Championships in Sapporo, which means that Wyndy has become the 6th Australian to qualify for Japan. Being selected to the team under this standard means that Wyndy would be able to start in just one event in Sapporo if there are available starting positions. The final Australian Team for Sapporo will be confirmed after this coming weekend. On the previous day Wyndy was 2:15 behind Flora in the 10km Freestyle, not a bad result however the FIS penalty wasn't quite as good.

Swedish Cup, Filipstad, Sweden, February 3-4
In the Swedish Cup Sprint Freestyle in Filipstad on February 4 Paul Murray made his first FIS sprint final of the season, finishing the time trial in 15th place, 6.2 seconds behind Robin Bryntesson of Sweden. In the 1/4 final the lead early on but ended up in 4th place, with the fairly handy duo of Peter Larsson and Anders Hogberg qualifying through. Larsson, who qualified 6th, ended up winning the A-final. Leon Spiller and Duane Butcher finished in 47th and 48th place, 16-17 seconds behind Bryntesson. Paul was pretty happy with the result

On February 3 Leon Spiller had a half decent race in the Swedish Cup 30km Freestyle, finishing just over 7 minutes behind the winner Jorgen Brink. However witha FIS point penalty of 79 Leon ended up with FIS points of 176. Leon has shown some reasonable form in the last few weeks, however it looks like his chances for Sapporo qualification might just about be gone. Last weekend he scored FIS points of 160 in a Swedish FIS race, so he hasn't been too far off the mark.

January 30 - Many Reports

World Junior/U23 Championships Postponed Until March
This decision was made on January 21 and wasn't very well received by the Australian Team, having only arrived in Europe a week before. Some of the athletes started looking for flights home immediately, knowing that they couldn't afford to stay until March, some investigated chances of finding a log cabin to hole up in for a month living on beans, while a few just stared blankly at the wall murmuring softly to no-one in particular. Now that the dust has settled it looks like maybe 2-3 of the original team of 9 Australians may be able to stay on in Europe for the competitions in March, which still do not have a firm date. Ironically it started snowing the day after the decision was made, and by Tuesday other sites in Italy had enough snow that they could have taken over the championships from Tarvisio no problem. However the decision was made. For those who have decided to head home flights are quite limited, and it looks as though most will travel on their original departure dates. Meanwhile, many competitions have happened...

2007 Winter Universiade, Pragelato, Italy, January 16-27
The racing continued every second day last week for the team at the WUWG in Italy.

Race Day 3 - Men and Women Relays - January 22
This was the first time Australia had entered relay teams in a major international championships since 1995 (World Junior Championships in Sweden) for men and 1993 (World Championship in Sweden) for women. And it turned out to be the most successful day for the Australian team at the 2007 WUWG. After studying the start lists the men's team (Grimmer, van der Ploeg, Watson, van der Ploeg) decided they could potentially knock off a few teams and set their goal particularly on the Canadian team (who they had recently trounced in poker). The women's team (Watson, McConville, Bottomley) calculated that they could take on Austria if everyone had a good race. With special preparation - a soccer match against the Swiss - the Australians were ready...

Nick Grimmer got away to a good start midfield, then settled into a pack of about four teams after the first 2.5km lap, back in about 12th place (of 17 teams). With the Canadian team up in the main pack Nick became impatient, and broke away from his pack after 5km with the Belorussian team in his sights. A lap later he was regretting his move, and was recaught by his orginal pack and then dropped before the 1st exchange. Not the ideal start back in 16th place about a minute behind Canada, however there were plenty of teams in sight for Neil VDP to chase on the second classic leg. Which he did, mowing down Italy, China, and Estonia, and closing the gap to Canada to about 25 seconds. Ewan Watson took over, and for the first half he skied solidly holding the gap to Canada. Then the time gap started to come down, and though Italy and Estonia caught and overtook him, Ewan reeled in the Canadians and with a flying change sent Mark VDP out onto the last leg in front. Canada's Andrew Casey quickly took the lead back but Mark was on his tail, and together they bridged the gap to Estonia and Italy. Estonia hung on for a lap before peeling off, then it was Australia and Canada in a tight battle for 11th place. Both Casey and Mark had tried to make a break, but with 1km to go they were still together. Then coming into the last climb Casey made a decisive move, laying it all down up the hill while Australians and Canadians yelled and screamed either side of the track. Mark tried but couldn't follow (in fact he could barely stand at the top of the hill), and though the gap came down slightly in the finish straight Canada took 11th. Despite not reaching their goal the guys were stoked with giving it a red hot go, and finishing ahead of Estonia, Italy, China, Korea and Latvia in the process.

Then it was the girl's turn. On paper Aimee Watson and Esther Bottomley had to give Chloe McConville a big lead to hold off Austria's Barbara Feichtner on the last leg. After a slow start Aimee started to work through the field, overtaking Italy, another unknown team (which turned out unexpectedly to be France), then the Austrians. The gap started to grow and Esther was delivered a lead of about 20 seconds. Esther started seemingly fast in the first few 100m then settled into a good rhythym. On the second lap she started to extend her lead, and even pulled back a bit of time on the Chinese. Up the last hill she really put her foot down (to the surprise of the Aussie guys who thought she had been giving it all on the first lap) and the gap went out to 45 seconds ahead of Austria, with the French team only about 10 seconds back. Chloe took off, to cries of steady from the coach and team who knew her reputation for blowing up after 3km. The French held steady for a bit before losing a few seconds, China looked a possibility, while Feichtner gained slowly from behind. After 2.5km Chloe's gap was out to 20 seconds on the French but down to 30 seconds over Austria. A kilometre later she was still looking strong and hit the final hill with everything she had left. Suddenly Feichtner was on the hill as well, and the gap didn't look so big. Over the top and it looked like it was going to be enough, however little did the cheer squad know that Chloe's legs had turned to jelly and it was all she could do not to fall on the downhill. Chloe thought she was gone, but somehow in the final straight she hung on to enough of a margin that she didn't have to sprint - 11th place to Australia, Austria 12th, France 13th, Italy 14th. Not bad at all for a team with two "sprint specialists" who initially were scared they would embarrass themselves by starting. For the record, in the 5km Classic Aimee Watson was about 3 1/2 minutes back off the winner - in this 3x5km relay the team was collectively about 3 1/2 minutes back from the winning team.

Race Day 4 - Men and Women Pursuits - January 24
Because of the state of snow in the stadium it was decided to change the continuous Pursuit into a one-day Pursuit (which has an interval start classic first then a gap before the freestyle). Neil VDP got away to a good start in the men's 7.5km classic, however it was his brother Mark who brought it home strong to be the first Australian in 55th place. Neil caught Ewan Watson from 30 seconds behind and gapped him, but Ewan was picking up momentum as the race went on and caught Neil back and out sprinted him to the line. So for the skate Mark started about 30 seconds ahead of Neil, with Ewan about 25 seconds further back. In the freestyle leg Mark had the three fastest Canadians plus a few other athletes starting within 8 seconds in front of him, so a good start was important. A pack quickly formed ahead of him, and at about 1.5km he almost but not quite got on the back. He was within 10-15 seconds for a another couple of km until the elastic broke, and he worked his back to just ahead of a pack containing Neil, who had been smoking his way forward. Neil's group worked hard and got smaller, but couldn't quite catch Mark, who ended up 55th overall. Neil was rubbing shoulders with a Chinese athlete and an Italian coming into the final sprint; the Italian faded but Neil was outsprinted by the Chinese. As was Ewan a minute later.

Aimee started well in the 5km classic leg, and after 2.5km had dropped just 7 seconds to Canadian Alysson Marshall who had caught her from 30 seconds behind over the same distance 6 days before. However on the last hill Aimee ran out of steam, and the gap blew out to similar to the previous race (although Alysson had a much better race to be first Canadian in 24th place). Aimee ended up in 44th place, 2:30 behind the winner (Kowalczyk again 45 seconds off the front). In the skate Aimee moved up a bit, moved back a bit, then was outsprinted by a Chinese girl to remain in 44th place. Actually every Australian on this day had a Chinese athlete one place ahead of them (all outsprinted except for Mark).

Race Day 5 - 30km and 15km Freestyle
Originally no Australians were going to contest these events as the World Juniors were set to start only a few days later, however no WJC until March and what the heck. The 30km was first and Neil VDP got away to the best start, somewhere midfield in the 80 odd field. He looked to be comfortable but on the third lap (of six) he was unable to stay with his pack. He dropped back to Canadian Cameron Egan who went straight past him, then back to a pack of about 6-8 with his brother Mark. The pair were sitting at around 8-9 % behind the lead pack for a while, but on the last couple of laps the time blew out and they ended up around 13.5%. Mark was the stronger finisher in 63rd place, with Neil in 65th and Ewan in 74th (three very tired boys after a long week of racing).

Aimee got away to a reasonable start in the women's 15km (dodging a few crashes), up in a loose group of Canadians, Chinese, and a Polish girl. As the race progressed the loose group became looser, and Aimee had a bit of a battle with Canadian Andrew Dupont. Going up tha last long hill Aimee was in front, but was overtaken over the top of the hill and lost some time on the down. She tried to come back but couldn't make it, ending up in 41st place out of 55, 2 seconds behind Dupont and 5:08 back from the winner. Then got in car to get ready for the Swiss Cup competitions the next day (see below).

So that was the 2007 WUWG. Full results can be found on theWUWG website. The relays were definitely the highlights, apart from Chloe's stylish dancing work up in Bardoneccia after the team dinner. The next WUWG in 2009 are in China - it might be difficult to send a reasonable size cross country team as all the rest of the season's major competitions will be in Europe, but who knows.

Coop City-Sprint, Sion, Switzerland, January 25
Three would-be sprinters from the Uni games team (Bottomley, McConville, and Grimmer headed north to Switzerland to join up with the rest of the Australian juniors (Almoukov, Flower,Watson Jnr, Booth, Baxter) plus randoms (Sim, Bondarenko) for the final Swiss City-Sprint event in Sion. It was an inauspicious start, with Esther feeling sick and withdrawing before the start. Nick Grimmer snuck into the men's finals in 15th place, with Ben Sim only 0.3 of a second back just missing out - only top 16 in junior and open classed progressing. Nick was knocked out in the quarter-final, however the only other Australian to make the finals Chloe McConville made it through to the semis of the junior women. She was knocked out there, but kept on a bit of a adrenaline high by winning the B-final.

Swiss Cup, Feutersoey, January 27-28
This event was moved from Feutersoey up to the nearby pass of Col de Pillon, where a very hilly course awaited. In the women's 5km Freestyle KT Calder made the podium taking second place behind Switzerland's Doris Trachsel. KT was within 5-10 seconds around half way, before dropping to 35 seconds at the finish. Aimee Watson had a pretty good race to take 8th overall , 1:20 behind KT, not too bad after a 15km the day before. Samantha Bondarenko from New Zealand was another 12 seconds further back in 10th place, with Juliette Booth in 19th out of 28 starters. In the men's 15km Freestyle Ben Sim was up amongst the podium contenders on the first lap, then faded a little to take 4th place, 1:48 behind the winner Curdin Perl (who finished like a train to take Remo Fischer by 3 seconds). Alex Almoukov had a cracker to be 5 minutes behind the pace in 12th place, with FIS points of about 143 (it would have snuck under the World Championship qualification standard of 140 points if Simbo had finished outside the top 5!). Simon Flower next in 16th place, with Callum Watson in 18th out of 22 (in the open class - all the Swiss juniors skied only 10km).

The next day was a Pursuit in Classic technique, 10km for women and 15km for men. Waxing was a little tricky, not because of really difficult snow conditions, but because the course was so hilly. KT was a little light on for grip, but in the first 2km she lost only another 5 seconds to Trachsel, Unfortunately Trachsel wasn't moving the fastest, and Laurien van der Graf came through from 13 seconds behind KT into second place and closed on Trachsel. On the second lap KT struggled more and dropped another place, but rallied at the end to hold onto 4th place overall. Aimee also struggled for grip and dropped down through the field several places.

In the men Simbo skied better than in the freestyle, holding Perl and Fischer within 5-10 seconds for a lap or so before Perl made a decisive move. Simbo then dropped another half a minute on Perl, but gained some on Fischer. The end result; another 4th place. Alex didn't have such a cranking day on the classic skis, but held onto his 12th place. Simon lost time on Alex and Callum early on, partly thanks to several of four falls that he had throughout the race. He held time during the middle of the race, before dropping more towards the end. Callum had a much better day, and was up about 5 seconds on Alex (for the classic leg only) for most of the race before ending just a few seconds further back at the end.

Night-Sprint and Surselva Marathon, Sedrun, Switzerland, January 27
We have limited information from this event so far, apart from the following: Esther Bottomley won the A-Final ahead of Chloe McConville, and Nick Grimmer was 6th amongst the men. For their troubles they received 1500, 800 and 200 Swiss Francs respectively. The women's field may have been depleted somewhat because of the top Swiss athletes competing in the World Cup sprint in Estonia, but that was their loss. The next day Chloe was 11th in the 25km Surselva Marathon, and Nick 33rd. Esther didn't race because of the previously mentioned illness (she dragged herself from her sickbed to win money in the sprint, its a tough life).

Austrian Championships, Hochfilzen, January 20-21
Wups, forgot about this one.This race was moved from St Jakob down near the Slovenian/Italian border, though it sounded though there was only just enough snow in Hochfilzen. The races were individual 15km for men and 10km for women each day, with Freestyle on Saturday on Classic on Sunday. Alex Almoukov was the fastest of the Australian guys on day one, finishing about 1:15 ahead of Simon Flower with Callum Watson another 12 seconds back. Apparently there was some confusion about the course, with some skiers doing an extra bit of a loop about 10 seconds long on some laps. Juliette Booth wasn't skiing too bad, before she crashed right off the thin strip of snow that was the course and lost quite a bit of time running along grass and climbing back up onto the track. The next day in the classic Alex Harvey from Canada pumped the rest of the juniors, finishing about 4th overall. Simon had a much better race though was still considerably behind Harvey, Alex A was about 12 seconds back on Simon and Callum about a minute back after blowing up. For the women's race torrential rain started to fall. d'Arcy Baxter claimed to have the worst race of her life. Full results can be found on the Vereins Cup page, look for the FIS results for St Ulrich A.P on January 20-21. To top off the day the World Juniors were cancelled in the afternoon.

Swedish Championships - Sprint Relay and Relay, Ostersund, January 20-21
Report from Paul Murray in Sweden:

On Saturday was the sprint relay in Ostersund. With 4 of Sweden's best sprinters out through illness or a mess up with their visa applications to Russia for the World Cup , it left a few extra spots open in the final. As there were 10 healthy guys in our club and only 4 teams of 2 racing, 2 form Falun Borlange had to miss out on a sprint relea spot. That was Leon, and Rikard Tynell, little brother to 2 time Vasaloppet winner Daniel. Super tough course, -10 and tough semi final's with many good distance skiers making up teams.

I skied in team number 4 with Adam Steen, and was with the lead group of 7 teams until the start of the 5th lap, when a gap grew and both I couldn't go with the top 5 teams. We finished 7th in their semi out of about 15 teams. Certainly competitive and a big improvement on the form that I had last weekend in Asarna. The other 3 teams form FBSK made the final, with the Ostberg brothers taking the silver medal behind team Ostersund with Tobias Fredriksson and Anders Sodergren.

Sunday was the normal 3 by 10km relay, and again with 10 healthy skiers someone had to miss out. This time I sat out and Leon raced in the third team for FBSK. Leon skied the last leg mostly by himself, although he managed to pick off a few teams in the last lap. He also showed an improvement in form, skiing 3.54min behind the fastest time of Sodergren over 10km. Falun Borlange grabbed another bronze medal in the relay with a 3 way sprint for first place between Ostersund and Mora.

Leon is back in Borlange now, while I'm still training in Jarpen with Rikard Grip. We are both racing classic races next weekend but in different towns, then we will both race the Swedish Cup in Filipstad on the 3/4th of February. There's stacks of snow in Sweden now which is great; we're both healthy, and feeling confident that things are on the up and up.

More reports soon, there's still a backlog.

January 21 - Uni Games Reports 1&2

2007 Winter Universiade, Pragelato, Italy, January 16-27
With marginal snow conditions across Italy somehow the 2007 Winter Universiade managed to manufacture some snow on the 2006 Olympic tracks in Pragelato and run some events. So far two days of races have gone ahead, however snow conditions are deteriorating rapidly with some gale winds a couple of days ago and extremely warm conditions (+17!). There are seven Australian athletes competing in the cross country events here: Esther Bottomley, Nick Grimmer, Mark van der Ploeg, Ewan Watson, Aimee Watson, Chloe McConville and Neil van der Ploeg. Futher details of the competitions (and full results) can be found on the official WUWG website.

Race Day 1 - 5km and 10km Classic
On the two days before the race and on race day there were crazy changing conditions thanks to warm days, cold nights, and fresh snowmaking adding to the icy tracks. After frantic changes by the time the races started it was pretty straight forward, red klister of some kind. Despite aspersions against his distance skiing capabilities Nick Grimmer pulled out the race of the day, finishing in 56th place out of the field of 102 competitors in the 10km Classic. With the start field seeded in reverse order this lead to some minor excitement as Nick was lapping in 3rd place after 30 competitors had gone through, and he was still in the top 15 after 60. He caught Mark VDP from a 30 second deficit after 2.5km, then for a while it look as if Mark was starting to pull away, but instead it was Nick who rallied on the third 2.5km loop and extended his lead. Mark ended up in 66th place, jut over a minute behind Nick. Neil VDP was very focussed on his double poling at the start, so much so that he missed a turn 200m into the race. When coach Finn started yelling his name Neil thought he was being cheered on, however the penny dropped when the cheering turned to "you are going the wrong way", and he doubled back to the point where he missed the turn - lucky as the TD was standing right there and would have disqualified him if he had cut directly across to the to right course. This mishap set Neil back probably about 40 seconds, and then he never seemed to get into a good rhythym for the rest of the race, ending up in 77th spot, about 1:30 behind Mark. Ewan Watson started quite slow, back in 86th place, however picked it up more towards the end and finished up in 78th, 6 seconds behind Neil.

Aimee was the fastest of the Australians in the 5km Classic, though she didn't feel as good as she did in the NORAM races two weeks before. After 2.5km she was in 43rd place, but dropped down to 52nd at the finish. Her skis didn't seem to be so fast - she was caught by Alysson Marshall from Canada after 2.5km, hung with her all the way up the big hill and even took back a bit of time, but then lost it all plus a bit more on the long downhill. FIS points were pretty bad as World Cup skier Justyna Kowalczyk won by a minute, but the penalty was still 87 points because of the other skiers in the top 5. Esther Bottomley skied a pretty good race for a 5km classic with a big hill, ending up 38 seconds behind Aimee. Chloe McConville started quite strong on the flatter sections of the course, and was within 7 seconds of Esther after 2.5km, but then lost time on the long climb to end up a minute down at the finish.

Race Day 2 - Sprint Freestyle
The sprint course was modified on the morning of the race thanks to massive buildup of water on parts of the tracks. Initially the tracks were quite firm, but the warm conditions soon saw the tracks become softer and wetter. Not as mushy as the 2006 WJC in Slovenia because at least there was a freeeze to begin with, but pretty soft. Esther Bottomley was the only Australian to qualify for the finals in 23rd place, though Chloe McConville skied one of her best ever races to finish in 39th out of the 64 strong field, about 4.5 second outside qualifying for the finals. Aimee Watson finshed in 50th place, about 8 seconds behind Chloe. The guys fell a little short of their hopes, with Neil VDP, Mark VDP and Nick Grimmer finishing in 52nd, 54th and 57th with a second or so of each other, and Ewan Watson back in 70th place out of the 92 skier field. None of the guys seemd have as high tempo as most of the faster skiers.

Esther didn't look to be herself in the time trial (she was seeded 11th from FIS points), she seemed to be short of spark and felt the same. However in the finals she felt a lot better, and easily won the start in her 1/4 final. After gaining the lead she switched into cruise mode until the short steep hill, however then everything went pear shaped as she started to put the pedal down again. The skier behind her stepped on Esther's ski, and she went down like a sack of spuds. Back in 6th place 30m off the back Esther worked hard and slowly gained on 5th, however it was all too late and she ended up last in her heat and back down to 28th on the overall rankings. Bugger.

Now the team is getting ready for the relays tomorrow. The girls reckon they have a chance to knock of the Austrian team if the course is hard and fast (and short), while the guys have their eyes on the Canadian team. However the key to the guys's chances is Mark VDP, who picked up a slight cold on the day of the sprint and is resting up today. If he hasn't improved by tomorrow then the guys will likely skip the relay and rest up for the pursuit on Wednesday instead. Except Nick who is piking and heading across to Switzerland for a city-sprint with Esther instead.

January 19 - Late Swiss Champs

Swiss Championships, Steg, Liechtenstein, January 11-14
Okay this is a litte bit late and not very detailed, but there were some good results at the Swiss Championships last week. Ben Sim lead the charge with a 6th place in the 15km Freestyle on January 11, he fell short of the finals in the Classic Sprint (only top 16 going through), but backed it up with a solid 11th place in the Pursuit on January 14. KT Calder finished a creditable 9th place in the 10km Freestyle, however was not happy with the way she was feeling and skipped the remaining races in Steg. Alex Almoukov had a very good result in the 15km Freestyle, finishing in 24th place in the open class with a personal best 151 FIS points, not too bad for a 16-year-old. Alex bypassed the sprint but raced the Pursuit in his own age class, finishing 17th. Or was that 14th? NSW Team junior athletes Sarah Slattery and Clare Bradbury raced in the junior classes, finishing 23rd and 24th in the 5km Freestyle and possibly higher in the Pursuit however the internet is down right now and it can't be checked.

The NSW Team moved to the Goms in Switzerland to train this week, Alex and Sarah are set to race in the Austrian Championships tomorrow together with some of the other juniors who arrived from Canada on Monday and have been training in Obertilliach. The rest of the crew from Canada who came to Europe are all racing in the World University Games in Pragelato in Italy, the first race was yesterday but a report for that will come later.

January 10 - Cogne COC Results

Cogne Continental Cup, Italy, January 7-8
On January 7-8 KT Calder raced in the COC competitions in Cogne in Italy. In the Open Women's 5km Freestyle KT finished in 15th place, 52 seconds behind the winner Marina Piller of Italy. The next day in the Open Women's 10km Classic Mass Start KT was 17th, 2:24 behind the winner Antje Maempel of Germany. Full results can be found on the German site XC-Ski.de

The next races for KT will be the Swiss Championships in Liechtenstein, where she will be joined by the NSW Team and athletes Ben Sim, Alex Almoukov, Sarah Slattery, and Clare Bradbury. These race start tomorrow January 11 with individual freestyle events, followed by sprints and pursuits on the weekend.

January 9 - More Comments From Rossland

Some comments from the Australian athletes who competed in Rossland:

Neil VDP - The first event was the worst feeling I've had in a race in my life, then in the sprint I was still a bit dazed from the first race. The last race was pretty good, the best part was manouevering through the pack in the first few kilometres. Good practice for mass start events.

Juliette Booth - I thought I skied alright in the 5km freestyle, but I was disappointed with both classic races. That girl who pushed me in the 10km deserves a big smack!

Nick Grimmer - Come back to me, I'm trying to think of something clever.

Ewan Watson - I had a strong start with the 10km, then slid back in the sprint, then further back in the 20km.

Georgia Merritt- I was fairly happy with the way I skied, except for the start in the 10km classic. I was blocked out of the track and I couldn't get back in until everyone else went past. The competition was very stiff!

Callum Watson - The 10km was one of my best international races, then the sprint was reasonable for a sprint, and the 20km was quite good.

Mark VDP - Overall it was a pretty good weekend of racing. It was good to finally beat Neil. And knocking off Nick is always good.

Aimee Watson - The skate was just another race, and I was pretty content with making the sprint finals. In the 10km I didn't have any problems following the pace early on, and was surprised to be up there amongst the top places. At the finish I went quite early, then when I was passed by the girl who took second I just kept double poling as hard as I could, which was just as well as I held on to third place by only about a second.

Chloe McConville - I was really disappointed to fall in the sprint. After blowing up in the 5km my goal for the 10km was last the distance, and I did.

Simon Flower - The classic sprint was an absolute distaster, after being shafted with my start position and changing wax conditions. The classic mass start was fantastic, watching Neil trying to cause accidents in the pack and following the gap he created.

d'Arcy Baxter - I felt absolutely terrible in the 5km skate, was almost (but no not quite) pleasantly surprised with the result. I qualified for the junior sprint heats, but didn't feel fast at all during either the time trial or my heat. The 10km mass start was interesting- a couple very decent bottlenecks on course, and the pace wasn't too bad at all. I felt quite good, a big (and better) change from the 05/06 season.

And some comments from the coaches:

Finn Marsland - Getting back into competition mode after a month of only training was a shock to the system. There were some very positive results and I'm looking forward to the competitions in Europe - if they have some snow.

J-C Legras - There was deep powder skiing that we didn't get to experience. Driving a 2-wheel drive on the ice is no fun.

Jacinta O'Neill - Chocolate and ice cream don't count as lollies.

January 7 - Aimee Watson On The Podium

A brief update from the last two days of competitio n in the Rossland NORAM. Today Aimee Watson took a very impressive third place in the junior women's 10km Classic. The winner Brittany Webster skied away from the field early on, and after 5km Aimee was in a chasing group of 5 athletes. It came down to 3-way sprint for 2nd to 4th places, and Aimee just held on for the podium spot. d'Arcy Baxter was the next of the Australian juniors in 25th place, with Chloe McConville in 31st, Georgia Merritt in 33rd, and Juliette Booth in 35th. Neil van der Ploeg and Simon Flower had pretty good races in the junior men's 20km Classic, finishing in 14th and 15th place not too far back from the leaders. Callum Watson was 37th and Ewan Watson 46th. All the junior races in Rossland were Canadian qualifying events for the 2007 World Junior Championships. In the open men's 30km Mark van der Ploeg and Nick Grimmer finished 14th and 18th.

In the Classic Sprint yesterday Esther Bottomley, Neil VDP, Mark VDP, Nick Grimmer, Aimee Watson, and d'Arcy Baxter made the finals. Chloe McConville unfortunately fell in the time trial and just missed out on the final 30. Simon Flower was jibbed in the seeding and started out of everyone in the time trial just as the wax was starting to change and slipped his way out of the final 30. Nick and Mark put in very contendable performances in the finals, finishing 3rd out of 6 in their heats but missing out on going through to the semis. Aimee and Neil were close 4th places in their heats. Esther missed out on making the A-final but put in a solid performance to win the B-final and take 7th overall.

Full results are available on on www.zone4.ca, more race details coming soon...

January 4 - We're Going To Rossland, Rossland

NORAM Cup, Rossland, January 4
The NORAM Cup competitions in Rossland Canada started today with the individual 5km and 10km Freestyle events. Esther Bottomley scored the best place of the day for the Australians in one of her rare appearances in distance events, finishing 9th in the women's 5km 1:22 behind the winner Brittany Webster. Aimee Watson was a further 42 seconds back in 23rd place, with the rest of the Australian juniors within the next minute (see brief results below). Chloe McConville was the fastest of the Australians early on, up in 15th place overall after 1.5km near the top of the course (compared to Esther Back in 28th place), however paid the price on the second 2.5km lap and dropped down to 45th place.

Mark van der Ploeg was the best of the Australian men in 24th place, 2:37 behind the winner Dave Nighbor. For his troubles Mark scored a personal best 155 FIS points, which is also under the Australian qualification standard for the 2007 World U23 Championships in Italy. From recent team time trials Neil van der Ploeg was expected to be moving and shaking, however this was not his day. Right from the start he felt lacking energy, and after fighting hard for half the race he blew up and dropped back down through the places. Simon Flower also had a strange race today, however his form was quite contrary to Neil's. As the race progressed Simon got faster and faster, and after dropping 40 seconds to Mark in the first 6km he took back 15 seconds in the next 3km. The strange part was that Simon felt light-headed and unstable on his skis during the latter stages when he was moving fast, couldn't remember parts of the race including passing a coach yelling splits at him with 1km to go, and was certain when he finished he'd had a shocker - instead of a PB 169 FIS points.

Women's 5km Freestyle
1 - 13:34.5 Brittany Webster
9 - 14:57.1 Esther Bottomley
23 - 15:39.3 Aimee Watson
36 - 16:06.8 Juliette Booth
43 - 16:21.8 d'Arcy Baxter
45 - 16:24.8 Chloe McConville
49 - 16:38.0 Georgia Merritt
60 skiers in start

Men 10km Freestyle
1 - 23:47.6 Dave Nighbor
24 - 26:25.0 Mark Van Der Ploeg
34 - 26:49.5 Simon Flower
54 - 27:35.7 Callum Watson
55 - 27:37.2 Ewan Watson
58 - 27:45.2 Nick Grimmer
61 - 27:55.4 Neil Van Der Ploeg
90 skiers in start

Full results are available on www.zone4.ca.

The next races in Rossland are Classic Sprints on Saturday January 6.

January 1 - Sim Does a "Bradbury"

FIS Sprint, Zakopane, Poland, December 30
Ben Sim had a Bradbury-esque performance in the FIS sprint in Zakopane on December 30, though didn't quite make it atop the podium. Alex Almoukov didn't race due to a twisted ankle. The course was a tight little track on the Zakapane ski jump that took about 2mins to get around. Here's Simbo's report:

I just qualified in 15th and it was looking like I wouldnt go any futher than the quarterfinals until the last corner when everyone fell and I went from 4th to 2nd. Then in the semifinal I was at the back the whole time, it was pretty much impossible to pass on the track because of the tight corners, unless you could accelerate really fast for 100m. In the B-final I had good luck again when 2nd and 3rd place fell on the first corner and so I ended up 6th place overall.

Now more NSW Team members have arrived in Slovakia, however snow conditions are not so good - the lastest weather report was not quite snow which unfortunately is rain. On January 9th the plan is to head across to Liechtenstein for the Swiss Championships.

Swiss Cup, Campra, December 27-28
KT Calder raced her first FIS races of the season last week in the Swiss Cup competitions in Campra. Two seasons ago this was the site of KT's best FIS races, with two podium finishes and personal best FIS points. THis time around it was KT finished 8th in the 5km Freestyle on December 27, about 55 seconds behind the winner Laurence Rochat and 9 seconds behind 2006 Kangaroo Hoppet winner Natascia Leonardi. With FIS points of about 121 for the race it was not a bad result for KT with so little racing under her belt so far this season, but not quite up to her 65 FIS points from two years' previous. In the mass start 10km Classic the next day things didn't quite go to plan, with a couple of big falls seeing KT lose contact with the leaders. She ended up in 8th place again just over 2 minutes back, but if you're not with the leaders in a mass start its never good for FIS points.

Schmozzle Time Trial at Sovereign Lake, December 31
The team in Canada did some time trials at Sovereign Lake on New Year's Eve, however not everything went to plan. All was fine for the classic sprint time-trial that two athletes did, but the pursuit ran a little off the rails. Planning to follow the pursuit courses used for the World Cup and Continental Cup races, it was discovered that part of the course went backwards on a regular one way trail. There was seemingly little traffic before the start of the time-trial, then the first time down the one-way section after the pursuit mass start a group of kids were coming up the right way. Collisions were avoided, however the Sovereign Lake trail managers were not very impressed at our choice of course and made this known vigorously. To top it off, there was a lot of confusion about the skate course and only three athletes managed to ski the right 2.5km loop. The others disappeared down tracks that looped back after 5km or more, resulting in some very bewildered athletes and coaches who were expecting short lap times. Here's what can be salvaged from the results - note that the classic times are all okay, though the girls did a slightly shorter loop than the guys (unfortunately not by design - yes some organisation was lacking on this day). Also the last classic loop was slightly shorter for everyone due to the positioning of the exchange zone.

Pursuit 7.5 Classic / 7.5 Freestyle  
                  Lap 1 Lap 2  Lap 3   -  Lap 4  Lap 5  Lap 6
Neil VDP          8:43  17:29  25:31   -  32:15  38:18  44:12  
Glenn Bond(CAN)   8.43  17:30  25:32   -  32:15  38:17  44:11
Mark VDP          8:44  17:51  26:24   -  ? 42:34 (unknown distance)
Nick Grimmer      8:45  18:06  26:58   -  34:21  41:48  48:44
Ewan Watson       9:38  19:52  28:24   -  ? 46:02 (unknown distance)
Simon Flower      8:44  17:29          -  ? 34:06 (unknown distance)
Pursuit  4.5km Classic / 5km Freestyle
                  Lap 1 Lap 2   -  Lap 3
Aimee Watson      8:29  15:42   -  ? 35:44 (unknown distance)
d'Arcy Baxter     8:56  16:45   -  ? 39:25 (unknown distance)
Georgia Merrit    9:05  16:55   -  ? 49:16 (unknown distance)
Andy (NZ)         9:07  16:56   -  ? 49:16 (unknown distance)
Classic Sprint
Esther Bottomley  3:17
Chloe McConville  3:21

Simon Flower did only two laps of the classic course, as it was his first hard session after a violent stomach bug laid him low after Christmas (together with coach Jacinta O'Neill, and to a less violent extent Nick Grimmer, Callum Watson, and Juliette Booth), but he seems to have made a good recovery. It was decided that Callum and Juliette would wait another day before doing a post-gastro intensity session - they did intervals today instead.

Tomorrow the team travels south to Rossland for the Canadian World Junior and U23 Trials starting on January 4th, which will be the first proper races for this group (except for Nick Girmmer) this season.

December 24 - Two Wins But No Christmas

Tjumen Cup, December 23-24
Another week another race in Russia, with Ben Sim and Alex Almoukov racing in the Tjumen Cup this weekend. Both days were 7.5km events, classic on Saturday and skate on Sunday. Here's another report from the Russian crew:

Saturday's race was a cold one with temperatures around -19, but it was worth it because the snow conditions in Ishim were very good. Simbo had fun pushing around the 2.5km hilly track and won with a bit of time up his sleeve. Alex said he felt great recovering fully on the downhills to power up the next hill. He finished about 11% behind Simbo which is a good performance after about two weeks of illness.

Sunday was a lot warmer but the wind brought the temperature down again making it cold by the 1pm race time came around. Alex put in another strong performance saying "I was having a good time in the race and liked the first (very hard long) hill the best". Simbo won again in a time of 18:08 and Alex's time was 19:45. Again another good % behind for the young man. Both boys are happy that training is going well and are keen to head off to Slovakia on Wednesday morning.

Merry Christmas to all readers because we won't get one this year. The reason is that Russian Christmas is on the 31st of December after we have left for Slovakia, while Slovakian Christmas is on the 25th as in Australia before we get there. Oh well, always next year to rob Santa Claus.

Ben, Alex and Coach nick will be joined in Slovakia by more members of the NSW team; athletes Clare Bradbury, Sarah Slattery, and Matt , and manager Peter Slattery.

Another Time Trial
Yesterday a classic sprint time trial and heats were held amongst the team at Silver Star in Canada. More snow overnight and snow falling during the morning meant a soft track. The track ended up being a little shorter than planned, and it wasn't so easy to have really good grip. Simon cleaned up the time trial and several of the heats, partly thanks to rocket fast skis on the downhill (though with sacrificed grip on the uphills). Esther lead each of the women's heats, and made it clear what would happen to anyone who tried to pass (see pics below)[Note - Esther would like to point out that she was in front and Chloe tried to overtake on the inside where there was soft snow, hence it was not her fault]. Juliette had the slowest time in qualifying but became quicker and quicker as the heats went on and wasn't far off Esther's heals in the last heat. All in all good practise for trying to go fast in soft snow.

Time Trial Results
Simon Flower      1:54
Neil VDP          1:58
Mark VDP          2:01
Callum Watson     2:08
Ewan Watson       2:16
Esther Bottomley  2:18
Chloe McConville  2:20
d'Arcy Baxter     2:28
Aimee Watson      2:32
Georgia Merrit    2:37
Juliette Booth    2:39

"Back in your place junior..." Chloe comes off second best trying to take on Esther.

December 22 - Have Snow, Will Race

La Sgambeda, December 17
The FIS Marathon Cup for 2006-2007 kicked off in Livigno in Italy with La Sgambeda on December 17. Australian World Cup Team member KT Calder started in the 22km event, making a short trip across from Switzerland chasing snow. Here's a brief report of her race:

I asked for a seeded start. When I got there and picked up my race number, I asked again to check that all was okay with the start. Yep, no worries, the lady told me I was in the second start row, with the first row containing only 25 skiers. Cool, I thought. Putting my number on before the start - 2073 - it occurred to me that the lady was pulling my leg. Anyway I ended up back in the fourth start block with about 450 people in front...

I had decided due to the gravel texture of the start area just to use my crap skis, as if I scratched my one pair of good ones, I would be rather distraught. I went like the clappers for the first 8km to try and get past the hordes, and then paid for it for the rest of the race.

KT finishing fourth, about a minute and a half behind the winner. In the 42km Marathon Cup event the winners were Jerry Ahrlin from Sweden, and Lara Peyrot from Italy. The next planned event for KT is a Swiss Cup in Campra on December 27-28 (her ride fell through for the OPA Cup in Austria this week).

Atomic Cup, Foret Montmorency, Canada, December 16-17
2005/2006 National Team member Andrew Wynd has been based in Canada for just over a year now, racing for XC Ottawa. Here is his race report from his his first races of the season:

Last weekend I raced in Quebec City, only place with snow. Yesterday went rollerskiing to do my double pole intervals. A sad day....... Anyway, 10km classic. Virgin skis, never been on them even, so not sure about the waxing of them. Anyway, struggled with the right amount of klister. Got them iced up somehow in the starting chute and kicked off my World Championships campaign for 06/07 with a face plant, kicking the starting wand in the process and sliding down the starting chute on my face, between my ski tips. Banged my knee a treat on the top edge of my brand new skis to give them an early blood stained career. Great. Amidst cheers and ohhhs and ahhhs, got up and skiied to 22nd place. Only 1:15 behind Karl Saidla who is skiing very well right now. Struggled on the steep ups, but double poled well. Alex Harvey destroyed the field.

Sunday, skate race 15km. Wrecked another brand new pair of skis. My skis were rockets, but a little too lively for me to relax on them at high speed. I need to work on this for sure. Mass start and they decided to start the Quebec juniors on the front line, so put me in 33rd place. Worked my way up to 20th or so on the narrow trails and felt ok, but then had a huge high speed crash on the downhill trying to pass 3 people on a tight corner. I was going pretty hard. Anyway, ended up 30th and not a good reflection of where my fitness is at. I need to work on changing gears, terrain changes and balance on skis. Fitness is quite good I feel. Unfortunately all these things require snow, something we have a distinct lack of here in Ottawa.

Wyndy is now aiming to put it all together for the US Nationals in Houghton from January 1-7.

Team Time Trial, Silver Star, December 21
With no official races nearby, the team training in Silver Star in Canada had a freestyle time trial yesterday. The course was an approximate 2km loop, the girls did 3 laps and the guys did 5, except for Callum Watson the most recent arrival for whom it was the first real high intensity session. The times were as follows:

Cumulative times
                 Lap 1   Lap 2   Lap 3   Lap 4   Final
Simon Flower      4:27    9:08   13:35   18:01   22:15
Neil VDP          4:23    8:56   13:26   17:56   22:16
Mark VDP          4:31    9:13   13:58   18:37   23:12
Ewan Watson       4:43    9:46   14:41   19:47   24:28
Callum Watson     4:44    9:31   14:09
Aimee Watson      4:50    9:52   14:48
Chloe McConville  5:02   10:20   15:38
Juliette Booth    5:06   10:21   15:44
Georgia Merrit    5:17   10:52   16:25
d'Arcy Baxter     5:42   11:28   16:48
Lap times
                 Lap 1   Lap 2   Lap 3   Lap 4   Lap 5
Simon Flower      4:27    4:41    4:27    4:26    4:14
Neil VDP          4:23    4:33    4:30    4:30    4:20
Mark VDP          4:31    4:42    4:45    4:39    4:35
Ewan Watson       4:43    5:03    4:55    5:06    4:41
Callum Watson     4:44    4:47    4:38
Aimee Watson      4:50    5:02    4:56
Chloe McConville  5:02    5:18    5:18
Juliette Booth    5:06    5:15    5:23
Georgia Merrit    5:17    5:35    5:33
d'Arcy Baxter     5:42    5:46    5:20

Part of the aim of this time trial was to pace consistently - with varied results as you can see from the lap times. It should be noted that d'Arcy started very conservatively to try to combat some exercised induced breathing difficulties that she has been struggling with lately, hence her final lap being considerably quicker. Callum's times were within the tightest spread (9 seconds), however Neil's middle three laps were the most consistent. This weekend the team will run a classic sprint time trial and simulated sprint heats down at Sovereign Lake.

December 18 - From Russia With Love

Assorted Russian Events, Dec 3-16
As reported previously National Team members Ben Sim and Alex Almoukov are training and racing in Russia with NSWIS coach Nick Almoukov. Here's an update from the last three weekends of races in Russia:

Ural Cup, December 2-3
On the 2nd and 3rd of December was Russia's Ural Cup with around 500 competitors. Ben Sim and Alex Almoukov both competed each day. Day 1 was a skate sprint. Because it was a Russian selection race all foreigners had to start last which meant the track was well and truly chopped up because of lack of snow conditions. Simbo qualified 31st , four seconds behind the fastest qualifier and Alex who didn't feel as fast as he does normally was another seven seconds back putting him well into the 100th places.

Day 2 was 10km classic. Again any international skiers (Kazakhstan, Belarussia, Aussie's) had to start at the back. This time it made a huge difference because to snow was getting so thin in the tracks the tar was coming through so the later starters had to ski out of the tracks. Simbo went out was too hard on the 3.3km loop because he felt good and the hills weren't so big, but then suffered on the last lap to finish in 21st position, 1:21 behind the leader Egoshin 27:19. Alex had a better race but was still towards the back of the pack because it was a senior only event; He was two years younger than the youngest competitor.

Youth Olympics December 9-12
This is Russia's championship for all skiers born in the year 1989 and 1990. Still heaps of skiers around 500 again. Alex competed in all three races. Day 1, 7.5km Classic. Alex wasn't really confident going into the event after last weekend's performance but he had a solid race, picking up places as the race went on. He ended up in the top half of the 225 skiers, just over 4 minutes behind first place.

Day 2, Classic Sprint. Even though Alex hates classic sprints (especially this one as it had a lot of double poling in it and he claims that he loses a second every ten meters in double poling) he still did ok finishing 77th.

Day 3, 10km Skate. Things weren't looking good the day before as Alex was very sick, with head ache, coughing and blocked nose. He still decided to race and came 122nd just over 4 minutes behind the winners time of 25:02. He was disappointed because he was really looking forward to the skating event.

Tolbolsk Pursuit, December 15-16
Day 1. 10km Skate. Today was Nick's opening race for the season and he did pretty good. Simbo raced, but Alex decided not to race in the morning due to a head cold from last weekend. Things were looking good for Simbo after two laps (3.3km loops); he was 15secs up to 2nd place out of the 116 men field. But things changed on the last lap and the great wax that was on the skis wore off completely and became really slow. "I was skating down all the hills", he said. Simbo ended up in 4th place, 31 seconds behind 1st.

Day 2. 10km Skate (yes skate again that's correct, there wasn't not enough snow to cut a classic track). Again Alex was not feeling 100% so he didn't start. Nick had another good one finishing strong in 39th. Simbo raced a lot better and won the race by 15 seconds in a time of 27:15.

However on combined time Simbo missed out on the overall prize of 10,000 Russian rubles ($500) by 9 seconds. He still pocketed 2500 rubles but it would have been nice to bring home a total of 15,000 if he won both events. We are in need of snow desperately as returning home for three days means three days of running until we move to our next competition venue.

US Super Tour, Soldier Hollow, December 16-17

Nick Grimmer reports from the Super Tour races at Soldier Hollow:

Day 1, 15km Freestyle. I raced today at Soldier Hollow, I originally was not going to race and save everything for the sprint tomorrow but a change in course due to lack of snow to a relatively easy 2km loop (8 laps) made me think it would be a good chance to get a good distance result. I started off quite well, skied the first lap fast and by the third lap I had caught the two people who had started in front of me (it was 45sec intervals so I was quite happy with myself at this point). Then not long into the fourth lap Torin Koos caught up to me closing a 2:15 gap, I was able to stick with him for a bit, at this point I was thinking if I could stick with him to the finish it would be really cool to outsprint him to the line; this was not the case and he at first slowly and then quite quickly pulled away. This did nothing for my confidence as I realised Koos would be lucky to finish within 2min of the winner and I was going to be way back from him. Thus the last three laps were quite slow and a lot of time was lost there. In the end I was 64th out of 80, a huge 8.49min behind the winner who skied it in 36.05. The top five from memory was 1. Kris Freeman, 2. Dan Roycroft, 3. Dave Nighbor, 4. Andrew Johnson, 5. Drew Goldsack. In the end if I wanted a good result here I needed to dig deep and try to stick with Koos for longer, instead of letting him go without a fight but iIdidn't have any fighting spirit today. Tomorrow I am just going to have to go out and push and hurt all the way holding back nothing.

Day 2, Sprint Classic. I didn't have the best race today, and in fact I'm pretty disappointed. The conditions were not ideal for me, there was a foot of fresh snow and it was snowing quite heavily which slowed everything down. This meant the flat and slight uphills which makes up a lot of the course went from being fast and easy to a hard slog. My poles kept sinking into the snow which meant it was hard to get much power. My strategy therefore was to go out with a high tempo and keep the speed up for as long as possible. This worked well to start with as after the first 300 meters of double polling I was within 5 meters of the guy in front of me; however I slowly started to fatigue and by the end felt like I had nothing at all. I didn't look at the results that well but I ended up around 29 seconds back, which considering the last time I classic sprinted here I was only 6% back I was pretty disappointed. Stephan Kuhn won by over 2 seconds in front of Newel and Koos, some other Canadian was fourth and Widmar was fifth. The winming time was around 3.16 and there were huge gaps in the field. I think there was almost 15 secs between 1st and 16th.

I'm not giving up yet, hopefully between now and when I go to Europe I can start to find some form.

December 14 - Late Brief Race Reports

Sweden FIS Races
Leon Spiller raced last weeken d in the FIS competitions in Idre and Sarna in Sweden. He didn't fare so well in the 15km Classic in Idre on December 9, finishing 8:50 behind the winner Tobias Fredriksson, with FIS points of 209.9. Leon had this say after the race via SMS:

That was a tough course. All steep uphills with slush. Maybe 200m of double pole per lap. I skied well for the first three laps, then got tired. I think I need to lose about 10kg for a course like that.

In the 10km Freestyle in Sarna the next day Leon performed better, finishing 4 minutes behind Fredriksson, with FIS points of 179.9. Still not quite in the ball park for World Championship qualification, however almost in the car park outside the stadium. There's now no FIS races in Sweden or Norway until after the New Year. With bugger all snow in Borlange, Leon is heading up to train in Jarpen, where Esther Bottomley and Rhiannon Palmer went to the Ski-Gymnasium as juniors back in 2001.

Swiss City Sprint #2
Down in Switzerland Duane Butcher raced the second Coop City Sprint in Olten on December 7. Unfortunately he again struggled to go fast, finished 24 seconds behind in the qualifying and missing out of the finals. Duane has headed back to his Norwegian base of Geilo, where at least they have snow to train on.

Junior Team Settled in Silver Star
Most of the Australian Junior Team are now in place in Silver Star in Canada, with the exception of Alex Almoukov who is training in Russia, and Jaffa Withers, Chris Cook, and Phillip Bellingham who are not travelling out of Australia this summer. The junior athletes are training in Silver Star for a month, together with senior athletes Esther Bottomley and Mark van der Ploeg, and coaches Finn Marsland and Jacinta O'Neill. Also training with the team for three weeks is New Zealand skier Samantha Bondarenko, the female winner of the Australia-New Zealand Cup this year. Snow conditions are very good in Silver Star right now, with about 50km of trails groomed just about every day - which is just as well, as it keeps snowing every couple of days.

The first of the athlete reports for this season is up now, read Neil van der Ploeg's report of his journey to Canada. Neil is also responsible for getting the other athletes in Silver Star to write reports for the internet, so if there is no news for a while hassle him, not the editor.

Coming Up Next
Nick Grimmer will be racing next week in the Super Tour events down at Soldier Hollow in the USA, while KT Calder is set to notch up her first competitions of the season (after two events cancelled) in the OPA Continental Cup in St Ulrich. Still no news from the crew in Russia, maybe a surprise report will pop up soon.

December 3 - Season Beginning and Season End

This weekend we had athletes racing in Sweden and in Canada (possibly also in Russia and Switzerland, but no reports yet).

Canmore NORAM Continental Cup, Canada, December 2-3
Two more races for the guys in Canmore. In the Freestyle Sprint Nick Grimmer and Chris Darlington finished in 46th and 52nd, 18.4 and 20.1 seconds respectively behind Sean Crooks the fastest qualifier (again, also the race winner). Neither were satisfied with the way they skied. The next day in the 15km Freestyle Darlo finished in 46th place, 5:23 behind the winner Dave Nighbor. Darlo started well, and only lost 45 seconds to the leaders in the first 4km. However he couldn't keep the pace up and dropped back through the field. Nick finished about another 5 minutes after Darlo, skiing a steady race for the last 3 laps. For Nick the races this week were the first races of a 4-month long season. For Darlo, this was the end of his 3.5 week season and he flies back to Australia tomorrow. He had this to say in an email:

On Thursday the race was held on the hardest course that I have ever raced on, combining that with not being in the form of my life, I just wasn't quick enough to make the cut. Today in the 15k things were a little better but still not good enough. I started strong and was skiing about the pace that I needed to ski for the first 5 km or so. I just couldn't hold the pace and I ended up a little over 12% back in time.

So no world champs for me. It's pretty fustrating, as I know that I can skif aster than I have been and I'd love to be able to stay over for longer and give qualification a shot in some other races. I'm flying back home tomorrow. Feelings are mixed. While I'll admit that I did have a heap of fun this trip and I did enjoy racing, I'm a little devastated that that I didn't succeed with my goal after putting in so much effort.

Thanks to everyone who has helped me out and/or supported me in any way with this trip.

Nick heads tomorrow down the USA; his next planned FIS races are at Soldier Hollow in two weeks.

Boden Intersport Cup, Sweden , December 2-3
Leon Spiller opened his 2006-2007 international competition scrapbook with a solid performance in the 15km Sweden Cup competition in Boden. Leon finished 60th in the 15km Classic on Saturday, with FIS points of 162.8, and was feeling confident for the Classic Sprint the next day. The race was won by Martin Larsson, who placed 11th in the 15km Classic World Cup in Ruka a week ago. Unfortunately the next day didn't go to plan for Leon. He finished 21 seconds off the pace of fastest qualifier (and race winner) Petter Myhlback, in 69th place, with FIS points of 272 (he was hoping to be about 10-15 seconds behind the winner). While Leon was disappointed in this result (classic sprint is the main event that he is aiming at for the 2007 World Championships), he has another 2 months of racing in Sweden to qualify for Japan.

November 30 - The Wrong Trousers

Two race reports from Canada and Switzerland:

Shaffhausen Coop City Sprint, Switzerland, November 29
Duane Butcher reports from the land of holey cheese and no snow.

Considering the current tropical weather in Europe it was pretty lucky that last night's Coop Sprint in Schaffhausen even went ahead. Good thing the Swiss are so smart - they've figured out a snazzy idea of scraping up the ice in a local skating hall (probably with hundreds of fork-wielding volunteers) and trucking it out in piles onto the streets to ski on. Travelling with Swiss sprint star Pascal Grab, we arrived to 9 degrees and misty rain in the cobblestone streets of Schaffhausen - typical Swiss city-sprint setup. The course appeared slightly different to the one we'd studied on the net (which was dead flat), with 80m of flat from the start, turning hard right into a decent 250m downhill into a gnarly hairpin corner, then straight back up to the start, 2 laps. Hmmm, combine that with some ice which quickly turned to slush and a track so narrow you nearly had to tuck uphill to squeeze by and it made for some exciting racing. Unfortunately not my ideal setup, and I struggled to get the power down. Actually I sucked. Not sure about the placing but the time behind the winner was 8secs off what I was hoping for (about 20). So, a bit dissapointing really, but some good fun watching the dozens of crashes in the following heats. Pascal made the top 16, and after smashing Waldmeier (SUI) and Lefty (Lefteris Fafalis, GRE) in the start he got absolutely robbed by a german going into the hairpin, who basically skiied into him in a wild snowplough and took 'em both out. I got some footage on my camera, most of it was of guys picking themselves and thier skis out of the fence. Anyway, looking ahead to next week's sprint in Olten, hopefully with a bit better course and some firmer ice. DB

ps. KT talked about driving over to Pontresina this Saturday for a 10km classic race - they have a 700m loop, so it will be something like 12 laps.

The sprint final was won by Andreas Waldmeier, Duane was 21st in the open men. The women's final was won by Flurina Bachmann.

Canmore NORAM Continental Cup, Canada, November 30
Just as the slushy snow didn't suit Duane Butcher, the big hills in Canmore were not a good fit for Chris Darlington and Nick Grimmer. Darlo and Nick finished 42nd and 62nd in the 15km Classic, Darlo 7 minutes off the pace of Dave Nighbor of Canada and Nick another 3 minutes further back. A chinook (how do you spell that?) came through to warm the air up to a balmy -7 or so, but not warm enough to make it difficult waxing. The course was on a tough 2.5km loop which was basically up and down with a bit of double poling in the stadium. You needed to be really fit or have really good technique to keep gliding in the track on the last extended pinch of the major climb and our boys had neither. The women's 10km Classic was won by Tasha Betcherman of Canada.

Next race, sprint Freestyle on Saturday. Next DVD, Fight Club tonight.

November 28 - More From The Mouth

Ben Sim reports from last weekend's racing in Ruka:

On Saturday I woke up feeling good and thinking I could maybe go alright in the sprint as the course had steep long hills. Once I started I just had nothing, Nick said he's seen me ski faster in 30km events, I don't know why but I was just dog slow. I went home feeling sorry for myself and it made me nervous for Sunday's event.

I woke up Sunday morning and it was raining. Not sure if anyone knows this but me and rain dont mix that great especially in classic. I was only walking about 100m to the wax cabins and my socks were totally wet already. Nick was confident on the wax and it felt good as well. Warming up I didn't feel great and yesterday's thoughts were coming back in. So I decided to take it easy for the first lap and see what happens.

Even though I was going slow I probably couldn't go any faster. Its some weird feeling not being able to kick off hard when you want to. But by the time the 3rd lap came Nick said I was doing ok and so I tried to finish like I normally do - but I still had nothing which was frustrating cause I just wanted to go hard. Anyway in the end I wasn't so far behind and couldn't complain about the result, last season I would have been happy with this result. A lot of people died during the race or made a big mistake of skiing in the tracks which were heaps slower than out so maybe I made up time there.

Now it is off to Russia for Ural Cup (a Russian selection race), I heard its bloody cold there but hey its better than rain.

Tomorrow night Duane Butcher makes his season FIS race debut in the Swiss City-Sprint in Shaffhausen. Apparently the race will be on ice shavings from a skating rink, there is very little snow about in Switzerland at the moment. Results will likely appear first on the City Sprint site.

In Canmore where Chris Darlington and Nick Grimmer will be racing on Thursday it is currently about -25 degrees, but it is supposed to get up to -15 on Wednesday and stay warmish (maybe up to -10) during the day for the rest of the week. To see the snow conditions in Canmore have a look at the Trailsports webcam.

November 26 - Racing in Finland + Canada

Ruka World Cup, Finland
A mixed weekend of racing for Ben Sim in Ruka. On the Saturday he finished 81st out of 85 in the Classic Sprint, 21s off the pace. Sunday's result in the 15km Classic was much better, 69th place out of 94 starters, with FIS points of 66.83 (or 8.4%). Apparently Simbo didn't feel good during the race, but the fact that he is racing consistantly around 60 FIS points shows that he is good shape and an "average race" is up at a new level this winter. Here is what Simbo had to say about the sprint:

"Well today was crap. I felt good, I had good skis, and just went so slow. Not sure how tomorrow will go so just have to wait and seee but if I do the same as last weekend I'll be happy after today's result. Weather was foggy and warm, the tracks are dirty now though and not icy, just all slush. Tomorow's forecast is rain and +5-6. "

The men's sprint was won by Svartedal of Norway; the women's sprint by Petra Madic from Slovenia; the men's 15km by Eldar Roenning from Norway; the women's 10km by Virpi Kuitunen from Finland. Full results from all the World Cup races in Kuusamo are available on the FIS website.

Sovereign Lake NORAM Continental Cup, Canada
In his first races of the season Chris Darlington felt short of his expectations, finishing 48th in the Sprint Classic and 43rd in the 15km Pursuit at Sovereign Lake in Canada. In the pursuit he was aiming for at least under 10% behind the winner, however ended up about 14%. Race conditions were cold (~ -12) and snowing and Darlo was hoping to stay in a big pack, however he lost contact early on in the classic and skied most of the time by himself or in a small group. On the skating leg he felt better and moved up through the field a bit, but not enough to really improve his %. Darlo's words of wisdom:

"I hope this weekend of racing gets me ready to crank next week because if the eggs in my basket aren't ready to hatch by Thursday I'm stuffed."

Darlo's haste to find form quickly is because he only has 4 weeks off from work and is using these 5 NORAM competitions in Canada to try to qualify for the 2007 World Championships in Japan. To qualify fully he needs to get one result under 120 FIS points; the best chance will be in the 10km Classic next Thursday.

For all the results from Sovereign Lake: www.zone4.ca. For interest sake Darlo's training partner from part of his 2 weeks in Silver Star (Jerry Ahlin from Sweden) won both men's events.

November 24 - More Coming Up

As Ben Sim and Nick Almoukov prepare for the next World Cup races this weekend in Ruka in Finland, here is a short report from Ben on the Gallivare World Cup:

"I started off pretty easy as I had a good warm up and felt ok. The hills were not too big so you could keep a high speed throughout the course, but then the downhills were tight and not really anytime for a rest. I didn't want to try to stick with Lars Berger (who started 30 seconds behind Simbo and finished 4th overall) so when he passed after 5km I let him go, but then a Swiss and Swedish skier were together as I was lapping and I managed to stay with them.

All in all I finished stronger than normal, - maybe because I had the Australian santa claus team cheering for me (no joke). and also Sal [Sally Flower, who has been working in London].

This weekend is going to be tough, we haven't really got the wax right yet - it has been warm +3 but the tracks are icy up the hills and slushy going down, we will see how we go."

Simbo races in a Classic Sprint on Saturday and a 15km Classic on Sunday

Meanwhile in Canada Chris Darlington is getting ready for the NORAM Continental Cup events at Sovereign Lakes. On Saturday Darlo will have a chance to demonstrate his new found classic sprinting form (apparently it was down between the cushions on the couch), then on Sunday he has a 15km Pursuit. At the moment waxing doesn't look like it will be difficult - it was -6 today and it is only supposed to get colder the next few days. More reports coming after the weekend.

November 19 - Ben Sim PB in World Cup

Ben Sim has opened his 2006/2007 World Cup season with a personal best performance in the 15km Freestyle in Gallivare in Sweden yesterday. The 21 year old from Cooma finished 64th from the field of 97 starters, his first time into the top 2/3 of a World Cup field. Scoring FIS points of 58.34 (7.3 % behind the winner for the old school Australian skiers who compare everything in %) for the race, Sim is now fully qualified in World Cup for the rest of the season.

The 15km event was won by Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjorndalen, who was 23 seconds ahead of fellow Norwegian Tore Ruud Hofstad. Sim finished 2:24 behind Bjorndalen, right in the mix where every second counts - 10 seconds quicker would have jumped him up 5 places. He started the race conservatively, back in 83rd place at the 2.3km split, but moved up steadily for the next 10km before settling in the mid 60's amid pretty resonable company - a few seconds ahead of Russian Ivan Babikov who broke through last season with a World Cup 4th place, and not far behind 2006 U23 World Championship bronze medalist Marcus Hellner of Sweden.

Sim and coach Nick Almoukov are now driving across to Ruka in Finland, the site of the next World Cup on November 25/26. More details from the Gallivare race are expected after the guys manage to make it onto the internet in Ruka.

The women's 10km Freestyle event in Gallivare was won by Katerina Neumannova from the Czech Republic, ahead of Kristina Smigun from Estonia.

November 16 - The Forerunners

With the World Cup nordic opening coming up this weekend in Sweden here is a short update on Australian Team members already overseas:

Ben Sim and Alex Almoukov have been training in Russia since mid October with NSWIS coach Nick Almoukov. Ben and Nick arrive in Sweden today in preparation for the 15km Freestyle World Cup in Gallivare on Saturday. From there they will head across to Finland for the Kuusamo World Cups next weekend, then head back to Russia until Christmas.

KT Calder is in Shindellegi in Switzerland, which has been her home base for most of this year. Her first FIS competition is likely to be in Goms at the start of December.

Chris Darlington is in Silver Star in Canada, preparing for the first NORAM Continental Cup races at Sovereign Lake on November 25/26. Esther Bottomley is planning to race the sprint in Sovereign as well, though she will have just stepped off the plane the night before. Snow conditions are good in Silver Star and many Canadian athletes are arriving there to train leading into the NORAM races.

Duane Butcher is in Geilo in Norway, where they had some good early snow that turned to ice a week or so back (along with many ski areas in northern Europe) - now there is good snow again. He was supposed to race last weekend however picked up a cold on the way over to Norway on the plane. The next FIS races in Norway are in Gaalaa on December 2/3.

Leon Spiller is in Borlange in Sweden, where they have quite good skiing conditions for this time of year - ie they can actually ski. Leon is racing again for Swedish Club Falu-Borlange; his first race in Sweden will also be on December 2/3, a Sweden Cup competition in Boden.

Of other Australian Team members heading overseas this summer, most will assemble in Silver Star in Canada for a training block through December.