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Andrew Mock - Into The Wombat
- Into The Wombat - Part 2
- Into The Wombat - Part 3
- Into The Wombat - Part 4
James Millar
Robert Jones / Aislinn Kildea
Paul Murray (website)


Australian Team Reports 2007/2008
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November 27 - Murray Laid Low By Gastro
November 29 - Pre-Race Reports
November 30 - The Word From The Goms
December 1 - No Rabbit Out Of Hat
December 3 - Weekend Racing Wrap-Up
December 6 - Swiss City Sprint #1
December 9 - Turning The Corner
December 12 - Late Race Reports
December 13 - Bottomley Top 10
December 14 - Calder Back On World Cup
December 17 - Yesterday's Results
December 23 - Anything for a Sprint
December 28 - Breakthrough in China Tour de Ski!
January 7 - Bottomley in B-final Again; Murray Sick
January 14 - Fun Times In Klosters
January 19 - McConville on the Podium
January 22 - World Cup Preview
January 23 - Canmore Sprint Classic
January 24 - Watson Takes Bronze!
January 25 - PB World Cup For Calder
January 26 - Sprints in Canada and Switzerland
January 27 - Watson Podium and Under 120!
February 2 - Konig Ludwig Podium
February 4 - Wins to Calder, Watson, Watson
February 6 - Clash Of The Titans
February 7 - Bottomley Wins SilverStar 75
February 10 - All Over The Place Like...
February 16 - Liberec WC Day 1
February 17 - Liberec Team Sprint
February 18 - More Swiss Cup Podiums
World Junior/U23 Championship Special
February 26 - Sim Top 20!
February 27 - Calder Notches Another Win
February 28 - One Down, Two To Go
March 1 - Two In The Hand
March 2 - Gluttons For Punishment
March 7 - World Cup Over For Murray
March 10 - Calder Top 10 In Engadin
- updated March 12
March 18 - Elusive Assortments - updated March 20
March 31 - Season Over


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Australian Team Reports 2007/2008

March 31 - Season Over

You know the northern hemisphere season is pretty much over when you've received your second reminder to supply material for the autumn edition of Australian Cross Country News. Also, it's almost April. There's still several Australian Team members overseas, including KT Calder, Nick Grimmer, and Alex Almoukov who is racing in Russia. However any race reports from now on will appear in the Autumn 2008 News section.

Canadian Championships, Callaghan Valley, March 13 - 18
A week or so ago Esther Bottomley finished off her FIS racing season at the Callaghan Valley in Canada, the 2010 Winter Olympic cross country venue. Unfortunately a month and a half of training and pretty much zero racing wasn't the ideal way to find race form. Bottomley contested the 5km Classic, 10km Freestyle, and Sprint Freestyle events in quick succession over four days, finishing in 56th, 46th, and 22nd place. Felice Beitzel was also at the races, finishing 71st, 72nd, and 55th respectively, though she wasn't so happy with the way she skied particularly in the first two events. Waxing was tricky for the classic race, with many (but not all) skiers going with micro-based skis. The races got better as they went on, and Bottomley thought that her last race the sprint quarter final was the best of them all. She got a good start and was reasonably well positioned after the hill, but lost contact coming into the stadium and retained the same place as her qualification. Even though her form wasn't great, it was still good experience to race at Callaghan and get a feel for the tracks and waxing conditions.

Bottomley had one final race last weekend, the 30km Freestyle Vanouver Island Loppet. She finished second amongst the women behind Canadian Sarah Peters. Now it's goodbye winter, hello beach.

March 18 - Elusive Assortments

Swedish Championships, Falun, March 13 - 18
The Swedish Championships kicked off last week with Australian Team members Paul Murray and Leon Spiller attending, representing their Swedish club Falun-Borlange. Yesterday was the Sprint Freestyle event, and Murray had what he considers hi s best race of the season since his illness at the end of December. Murray was knocked out in the quarter finals and finished in 15th place, but narrowly missed out on semi-final berth behind Swedes Robin Bryntesson and Fredrik Persson, who went on to finish 3rd and 4th in the A-final. If the heats were timed Murray could well have gone through, as the organisers opted to take the two third placed skiers with the best qualification time rather than the fastest heat time, and Murray's was one of the quickest heats. However he was happy to finally be up in contention and competitive all the way to the finish line. The final was won by 2006 Olympic gold medalist Bjorn Lind. Spiller didn't have such a great race, finishing 64th in the 1km time trial, 14 seconds behind Murray who qualified in 20th place.

The day before Murray was also satisfied with his performance in the classic Team Sprint event. With several of his team-mates out of the event due to illness Murray was put into the Falun-Borlange #1 team together with Patrick Karlsson. Unfortunately Karlsson was a little short of grip and lost contact with the pack, but Murray felt good and posted consistent times through all three rounds, not too far off the times of skiers in the top teams who qualified for the finals.

The 15km Classic event on March 13 was a tough one, in slushy slow snow that saw Matthias Fredriksson win in a time over 45 minutes. Murray was 59th and Spiller 76th, out of 89 starters. Murray thought his race was okay, Spiller did not. Spiller had another tough day in the 30km Pursuit on March 15, finishing 57th out of 62 starters. Fredriksson won again.

Tomorrow is the last event, the men's 3x10km Relay. Murray is racing the first leg and Spiller the last leg for Falun Borlange team three.

Assorted Locations, Russia, March
Alex Almoukov is still training and racing in Russia, under the guidance of father and coach Nick Almoukov. Nick sent in this report a couple of days ago:

Alex is feeling good now. We are racing races which not too far from home. We went to Kamensk Uralkiy last weekend (Ural MOuntains region) for a 15km race. Alex won age group 17-30 years. Got some money. And the next day in the Nizniy Tagil 10km he won again a video player. The weekend before he won the 38km Europe-Asia Junior race. Senior athletes did 55km.

Next important race next Sunday is called the "Melnikov Prize" 10km skate. All biathletes are going to race there too.

More details from the Europe-Asia race have just come in from Alex:

The competition was on March 9 and it was 38km. There was a 53km marathon for the older men, the 38 was for 17 years and younger so if you were older you were not allowed to compete. The day before the race my legs were really tired, and damn I was so hungry all the time even when I had a huge meal and I couldn't eat more, I still felt like I wanted more food.

Race day: The temperature was plus 2 degrees and a little snowy, it felt fairly warm with no wind. When we went to breakfast I figured I should eat as much as possible, because I have never done a 38km before and I didn't want to hit the wall. After breakfast I was so full and bloated wishing I hadn't eaten so much. Normally I don't eat much before races and don't feel good for the race because I feel like vomiting.

We started the race at 11:00 am and I still felt really bloated. Out of the start I was just looking out for my poles [not to break them]. After 1km I was in 10th place, I figured there was no rush to get to the front especially with the fresh fallen snow that became faster after the pack skied over it. After 5km I was in around 23rd place, for some reason everyone kept on rushing to lead all the time, I didn't really mind because I needed to burn off some food from my breakfast. After 10km I was still in around 20th place and didn't feel so great, because of the breakfast I was guessing?

At the 20km mark I was in around 12th, and some boys had dropped off. I was really thirsty because of the drink station people - they would only worry about one person and no others so I would never get a drink. At the 26km mark it was down to 6 of us and I started to feeling better, perhaps my food had digested a bit. From 9km to go all the way to the finish there was a lake and there I felt like I should go faster because it seemed so close to the finish. I broke away from the others straight away and was counting every kilometer to the finish though it just seemed to keep on going. When you think about it 9km is a fair way to ski at a fast pace, but it just seemed so close because we were on a lake that stretched out in front of us.

Our prizes weren't bad but the winner for the 53km won a car. We were given food at the end but I wasn't hungry at all because I still hadn't used up my resources from breakfast.

California Gold Rush, Royal Gorge, March 16
The elusive Nick Grimmer popped his head up at the California Gold Rush at Royal Gorge in the USA last weekend. Grimmer finished 10th in the 42km Freestyle event, 10:26 behind the winner Zack Simons of the USA. Interestingly in the 21km Silver Rush Grimmer's girlfriend Lescinska Fackerall was also 10th and 10:27 behind the winner. How's that for precision racing? Here is what Grimmer had to say about the race:

"The Gold Rush yesterday was probably my best race so far in the US this season, but my other results were not that good so that isn't saying much. It would have been a fantastic result if it was only 41 km instead of 42 ,as in the last kilometre I dropped from 8th to 10th and the two people that passed me were female which was a crushing blow. But I was still in the top 10 in what was the toughest marathon I have ever done, it was a new course which seemed to be all uphill with some long steep hills and I was within 10% of the winner Zack Simmons who won the Birkie (American Birkebeiner) last year so I was happy with that."

March 10 - Calder Top 10 In Engadin

Engadin Ski Marathon, Switzerland, March 9
KT Calder finished off the Swiss marathon racing season yesterday with a 10th place in the biggest of them all; the 42km Engadin Ski Marathon. The Engadin Ski Marathon is the largest freestyle skiing marathon in the world, and is second only to the 90km classic Vasaloppet in Sweden in overall participants. Calder was in 7th place past the half-way point at Pontresina, then was picked up by several handy skiers (Katerina Neumannova (CZE), anyone heard of her?) in the second half of the race. At the end she was just under 4 minutes behind the winner Katrin Zeller (GER), who set a new women's race record of 1:33:27.3 for the 42km. The men's winner Tor Arne Hetland (NOR) also set a new race record of 1:24:30. The Engadin is always a pretty frenetic event - it will be interesting to hear what insight Calder can provide from the inside of the pack.

Calder was also 2nd in the 17km Engadin Ski Marathon Frauenlauf last weekend March 2, behind Natascia Leonardi-Cortesi (SUI).

Link to Engadin and Frauenlauf results.

Addition March 12, from KT Calder:

"The first 20km of the course was sheet ice up until the day before the race, but the groomers worked their magic and the snow was borderline soft sugar on Sunday. I had a good first 25km of the race and was skiing in a small pack with two men. I was pretty sure I could spot Laurence Rochat [the #1 Swiss skier, who finished 5th] in a pack just ahead. When we hit the sharp right hand downhill at Muottas Muragl I got tangled up with one of the men and ended crashing into the fencing. By the time I was up and skiing again I had lost the two men and was in no-man´s land, skiing into the wind on the long flat near Samedan. I tried really hard to catch back up but just got swallowed up from behind by a massive pack that was about 30sec behind at Pontresina. It became evident on every downhill inbetween there and the finish that my skis weren't gliding that well, and I blew myself apart trying to stick with the group. The last 1km into the finish is pretty much all downhill and I just got passed at the finish line by another girl, who at the last shoulder-glance with 2km to go was quite a way back. Anyhow... I´m stoked to have made it to the finish without snapping a pole this year and it was pretty cool to have skied part of the race sitting behind Katerina Neumanova [the 2006 Olympic gold medalist from Czech, who finished 7th].

March 7 - World Cup Over For Murray

Drammen World Cup, Norway, March 5
Paul Murray finished up his 2007-2008 World Cup season with 64th place in the Sprint Classic event in Drammen in Norway. Waxing his own skis for the event, unfortunately Murray didn't quite jag the wax combination and was 17 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Boerre Naess (NOR). Glide was not good and grip was a little slippy. More details from the day are available on his website: www.paulmurray.cc The race was won by Ole Vigen Hattestad from Norway, with an incredible 13 Norwegians finishing within the top 15. Virpi Kuitunen (FIN) won the women's final, virtually securing her victory in the overall World Cup with events in just Holmkenkollen and Bormio to go.

While Murray didn't achieve his season goal of making it into the top 30 and into the World Cup finals, the writing was on the wall pretty much after his illness in China at the end of December. Two and 1/2 weeks off in the crucial part of th season meant that Murray was playing catch-up for the rest of the winter, trying to race himself into form. He was in good shape for these last three races in Scandinavia, but didn't quite have the extra spark needed to succeed at this level. Generally Murray will need to be about 4-5 seconds quicker over 1km next season to make the grade that he is aiming for. However before this season is over there is one more week of racing at the Swedish champinship beginning next Thursday.

March 2 - Gluttons For Punishment

Swiss Cup, Marbach March 1-2
Ben Sim finished up his racing season this weekend with two top five place in the Marbach Swiss Cup. The races were moved to Salwideli near Sorenberg because of snow conditions. The two 15km Swiss Cup events were Sim's 4th and 5th races in 8 days, and only two days after his 30km at the World U23 Championship. Alex Almoukov also competed in the same events, skiing up in the open 15km on the second day instead of the junior 10km event. On Saturday Sim finished 4th and Almoukov 13th in the 15km Freestyle. The race was won by Gordon Jewitt (CAN), who skied a cranking last 5km lap to win by 45 seconds ahead of Marco Muhlematter (SUI). It rained fairly steadily throughout the race, and the track was quite soft. Two other Canadians struggled in the conditions - Graham Nishikawa was 7th, and David Nighbor pulled out on the last lap. The next day Simbo started the 15km Classic well, catching Jewitt from 30 seconds behind on the first 3.75km lap. After 5km he was in third, 5 seconds behind Nighbor who was having a much better race. However Muhlematter was absolutely fliying, and caught and passed all the top seeds, including Sim from 1:30 behind. Sim was still in third until the last lap, but he was dropping back and in the end was taken by Nishikawa and Gaudenz Flury and finished 5th. Almoukov started slow but found some energy in the second half of the race to stay with a few of the top seeds as they caught him and he moved up to 10th overall. He picked up 146 FIS points for his troubles, his best points of the season. Sim flies directly back to Australia tomorrow, while Almoukov heads to Russia for another month of training.

Link for all Swiss Cup results.

March 1 - Two In The Hand

Lahti World Cup, Finland, March 1
Another World Cup down for Paul Murray today, he finished 77th in the Sprint Freestyle qualification in Lahti, 13 seconds behind Andy Newell from the USA. It was a long course, 1.5km, with ankle deep sugar snow on the hills. Murray said his race was "okay, not great", and that "my legs were toast on the last uphill and I lost a lot of time there". Anders Gloersen (NOR) won the A-final ahead of Newell. Chandra Crawford (CAN) won the women's final. Tomorrow Murray flies to Norway in preparation for the World Cup in Drammen next Wednesday.

February 28 - One Down, Two To Go

Stocholm World Cup, Sweden, February 27
Paul Murray finished 11.5 seconds behind the fastest qualifier in the Sprint Classic in Stockholm on Wednesday, however this was about 5 seconds slower than he needed to be to make the finals. He ended up in 60th place, happy with the way he skied but disappointed with the result. There's no easy results on World Cup. The qualifying was won by Boerre Naess (NOR) and the A-final was won by Jens Arne Svartedal (NOR). More details are available on Murray's website: www.paulmurray.cc

This was the first of three World Cup sprints in Scandinavia in eight days. The next is a freestyle sprint in Lahti in Finland on March 1, followed by another classic sprint in Drammen in Norway on March 5. Murray's goal is still to make the top 30 and get a run in a World Cup final before the season is over. It's a tough task as the national groups in Scandinavia are usually very strong, but Murray's form seems to be going the right way and he just needs all the various factors - skis, wax, form, and some luck - to come together on the right day.

February 27 - Calder Notches Another Win

Gommerlauf, Switzerland, February 23
KT Calder recorded her third Swissloppet victory of the year last weekend, winning the Gommerlauf 30km Freestyle ahead of 2006 Kangaroo Hoppet winner Natascia Leonardi Cortesi of Switzerland. Here is Calder's report from the race:

It was 13 degrees C in Davos yesterday... the warmest February day they´ve had since 1901. It was about 11 C in Goms over the weekend. Luckily it was a bit colder for the start. I was feeling feverish last Thursday and had a racking headache, so I wasn´t sure if I was going to start. Had a great sleep on Friday night and decided what the heck. I definitely wasn´t feeling very fresh and after 10km wasn´t sure I´d make it in the top 3. We skied as a group of 4 (Calder with Leonardi-Cortesi, Jasmin Nunige, and Muriele Huberle) for most of the way with Natascia attempting high-speed break-aways right from the start. I was working way over threshold and was lactic from about 10km onwards and suffering as if I hadn´t done any training in the last 6 months. I managed to hold on for a third and a second place in two of the three intermediate sprints and tried to make sure I was positioned well in the group. We all took turns in leading and it was pretty much a dead flat course after the first 4km. The last 3km was a long flat straight into the finish and felt as if it was 10km long. I managed to dig deep in the last 400m and it came down to a sprint between Natascia and I. I had the finish line in my sights and just kept pounded the snow trying to get there as quickly as I could. I managed to hold her off and take out the win, but Natascia was by far the fittest person in the race and is in really good shape at the moment. It is awesome to have come away with the win, but I am feeling the after-affects of squeezing every last bit of energy out of my body after not feeling so flash last week. My tank is totally empty. I don´t think I´ve ever worked so hard in a race before - well certainly not for 30km. I was working much harder than the other girls in the group and am really surprised I didnt get dropped when it wasn´t my turn to lead. Normally my brain would kick-in and tell me to back off, but I think even my brain had decided it was too tired to function properly, which ended up being a good thing. A bit of extra mula and a massive hamper with a 10kg block of cheese will certainly come in handy.

Link to full results.

February 26 - Sim Top 20

World U23 Championship, Malles, Italy, February 22-28
Ben Sim took 19th place today in the 15km Classic at the 2008 World Under 23 Championship in Italy. This is the first time an Australian skier has made it into the top 20 at a World Championship cross country skiing event, in open, U23 or junior class. Sim skied the last 5km of the race with the 14th fastest time, climbing him into the top 20 result that he set as his main goal for this event and season. Aimee Watson also put in a great performance today to take 39th place in the women's 10km Classic. More details of the event and the previous races at the World Junior / U23 Championship are available here.

Australia's best result at a World Junior Championship is 21st by Esther Bottomley in the Sprint Freestyle event in 2003. The best World Championship result is 31st by Paul Murray in the Sprint Classic at the 2005 World Championships. Chris Heberle holds the best Winter Olympic result of 33rd in the 15km Classic from Calgary in 1988, followed closely by Anthony Evans' 34th place in the 50km Freestyle in Albertville in 1992.

The World Junior / U23 Championship continues tomorrow and on Thursday with the mass start freestyle events.

Ben Sim on his way to 19th place at the 2008 World U23 Championship

February 18 - More Swiss Cup Podiums

Trun Swiss Cup, February 16-17
KT Calder picked up two Swiss Cup podiums on the weekend, finishing third in both the Sprint Classic and the 5km Freestyle in Trun. In the sprint on Saturday Calder had the 7th fastest qualifying time, but then made her way through to the A-final by knocking out Swiss sprinter Sandra Gredig in the semi-final. In the A-final she was third behind Lena Pichard and Laurien Van Der Graaff and ahead of the second fastest qualifier Bettina Gruber. The next day in the 5km Freestyle mass start (there's not many races in this format!) Calder led for much of the race, however was passed on the last downhill before the finish and outsprinted by Ursina Badilatti and Lucy Pichard to be third by just 2 seconds. These were two good solid results for Calder, who skipped the Liberec World Cup after being sick last weekend.

Scandinavian Cup, Sundsvall, Sweden, February 16-17
Saturday was a tough day at the office for Leon Spiller and Andrew Mock at the Scandinavian Cup in Sundsvall. As many Australians can attest from the past 15 years Scandinavian Cup competition is extremely competitive and the fields are very deep. In the 10km Classic Spiller and Mock finished in 100th and 102nd place, 10 seconds apart around 19% behind the winner Jens Arne Svartedal of Norway. The 30km Freestyle the next day was better for Mock, who finished 69th just over 12% behind the winner Petter Eliassen of Norway. Spiller was again around 19% behind, in 80th place out of 95 starters. Mock returns to Australia this week, while Spiller will stay on racing in Sweden until the Swedish Championships in March.

February 17 - Liberec Team Sprint

Liberec World Cup, Czech, February 16-17
The Australian combination of Paul Murray and Ben Sim finished 26th out of 29 teams in the World Cup Team Sprint Classic in Liberec today. The boys were 13th in their semi-final, 1:44 behind the Norwegian combination of Dahl and Roenning who went on to win the final. Murray started first at the back of the starting grid and made a mistake of easing up behind Filbrich of Germany as they came out of the stadium towards the first downhill. The field was then in single file down the hill, and by the time they were halfway up the first hill Germany, Australia, and Kazakstan were already off the back of the main pack. Australia and Kazakstan changed together, and Sim and Odnodvortsev skied their first lap mostly together just behind Teichmann of Germany. On the third leg Kazakstan pulled away, but at the same time Murray pulled back six seconds on Wurm from Austria. Sim closed the gap on the 4th lap and Austria and Australia went out together for the 5th lap. They were still together over the last hill, then Murray out double-poled Wurm in the stadium to give Sim a small break onto the last leg. Sim then pulled out his best lap time of the race, posting the 8th fastest time for the last leg to secure 13th place. Compared to the other semi-final Australia had a faster time than the Canadian #2 team and Lithuania, and was 2 seconds short of Slovakia. This was the first time Australia has competed in a classic Team Sprint event on World Cup. It was a tough event - lap times for the men were mostly between 3:40 and 4:00 minutes. In anticipation of this the women's Team Sprint was only two laps each; Norway won the final ahead of Finland.

Other Race News
Details coming soon... KT Calder competed in the Swiss Cup in Turn this weekend, while Leon Spiller and Andrew Mock were up in Sundsvall for a Scandinavian Cup.

February 16 - Liberec World Cup

Liberec World Cup, Czech, February 16-17
Ben Sim finished 62nd today in the 15km (13.5km) Freestyle at the pre-World Championship World Cup in Liberec, while Aimee Watson in her World Cup debut was 65th in the 10km (7.6km) event. The race was held on a 1.9km loop made up of tr ucked-in snow, artificial snow, and dirt and rocks. Sim was satisfied with his race, 2:50 behind the winner Jean-Marc Gaillard of France, pretty close to smack on 10 % behind with 80 FIS points. The top seeds went first, and Sim skied a lot of the race together with Canadian Alex Harvey (who ended up 49th) and Jussi Simula of Finland (35th) who were on a later lap. Watson was in last place after the first lap, but then started to reel in Laura Rohtla of Estonian who started 30 seconds on front. At the end Watson was 3:20 behind the winner Astrid Jacobsen of Norway, just over 15% behind with FIS points of 128, and 14 seconds ahead of the Estonian. No earth-shattering result, but it was good experience and Watson was very happy not to be last. Both Australians will compete next weekend at the U23 World Championhip in Italy.

But first, the Team Sprint. Sim and Paul Murray are drawn in semi-final #2, which for some reason starts first. Three laps each of a 1.4km loop in classic technique. Probably the course has too much climb just to double pole, but Norwegians have done crazier things before.

February 10 - All Over The Place Like...

Sprint World Cup, Otepaa, Estonia, February 10
Paul Murray flew across from Sweden this weekend for the World Cup Sprint Classic in Otepaa in Estonia today, however the race didn't go quite to plan. Murray was travelling well in the 1.4km classic time trial but fell on a corner and then ran out of steam in the final straight after stressing and trying to make up time. He ended up in 64th place, 27 seconds behind the fastest qualifier. It was a disappointing result, as Murray had been training well in the last couple of weeks since returning from Canada. He is set to travel to Czech this week to join team-mate Ben Sim for the classic Team Sprint World Cup on the 2009 World Championship tracks in Liberec.

Late addition: Murray didn't actually fall, but rather spun around on a hairpin corner, touched one hand to the ground, and ended up stopped still facing backwards on the edge of the track.

Biela Stopa, Kremnica, Slovakia, February 9
Ben Sim finished 2nd in the 25km Freestyle at the Biela Stopa in Slovakia on Saturday, 1:57 behind Slovakian World Cup skier Martin Bajcicak. Alex Almoukov finished 6th overall in the same race, and Juliette Booth was the 11th woman. The Biela Stopa is Slovakia's biggest loppet event, and part of the Euroloppet series. Booth returns to Australia this weekend, while Sim and Almoukov are staying on in Europe for the postponed World Junior/U23 Championships that seem likely to be in Italy in two weeks' time. In addition to the aforementioned Team Sprint, Sim will race the 15km Freestyle in Liberec next weekend.

International Koasalauf, Pillersee, Austria, February 10
Aimee Watson kept her podium run going with a second place in the 20km Classic at the Koasalauf in the PillerseeTal in Austria. Aimee was 2:45 behind the fastest women Franziska Schneider from Germany. Callum Watson was 6th overall and second junior in the 20km Classic. Aimee will travel to Czech next week to make her World Cup debut in Liberec, while Callum will remain in Austria training with the British Junior Team in Lofer.

Transjurassienne, Lamoura-Mouthe, France, February 10
In the main event at the French Worldloppet in the Jura mountains Andrew Mock finished in 34th place just under 7 minutes behind the winner Marco Cattaneo from Italy; who won in a 6-way sprint ahead of Mathias Fredriksson of Sweden. The race was possibly 50km Freestyle - the normal course from Lamoura to Mouthe is 76km, but the times seemed too quick. Mock will head up to Sweden this week to join Leon Spiller for the Scandinavian Cup events in Sundsvall.

Callum and Aimee Watson,
Koasalauf, Austria, February 2008

February 7 - Bottomley Wins Silver Star 75

Esther Bottomley won the women's solo 30km Freestyle event in the Silver Star 75 race at Silver Star in Canada last Sunday February 3. Bottomley is training in Silver Star for the next month leading into the Canadian Championship at the 2010 Olympic venue at the Callaghan Valley near Whistler. This is what she had to say after the event:

The Silver Star 75 is a race where a lot of skiers will go in teams and do one or more laps (depending on team size) to make up 75km. The laps are 7.5km.There were about 170 people entered with about 50 skiers doing the solo 30km (4 laps). I skied the first 5km with Alysson Marshall [a member of Canada's Team 2014] then dropped back about 20m from her and stayed there for about the next 7km, then caught back up and skied to just before the 15km mark with her. That's where she finished (Alysson was in a team skiing where each of them did 15km). The next 15km I skied on my own, but felt good, the course was undulating although the first half of the course was easier than the second half. My skis were nice and quick which helped too I think. I was the 4th person in out of the 30km solo efforts and first female.

Bottomley carbo-loading for the Silver Star 75

February 6 - Clash Of The Titans

British Championship, Ruhpolding, Germany, February 5
Family Watson picked up some more podium places and some prize money in the British Championship in Ruhpolding yesterday. However there was some controversy in the women's Pursuit and the result has been protested. Aimee Watson crossed the line in first place ahead of Karolina Bicova from the Czech Republic and Olwen Thorn the first British citizen. In the men's Pursuit Callum Watson led the field after the classic leg by about 10 seconds ahead of Shane Clash, who went without wax and double poled and herringbone ran the whole course. Clash was too strong on the skating leg, and won by about 10 seconds ahead of Callum. It emerged after the race that all the leading women skied a shorter course than what was planned, though it has to be said that the course was poorly marked. After much deliberation the TD and race jury decided to disqualify everyone who skied the shorter version, leaving the winner as Australian junior skier Ashleigh Spittle, who has been living in the Netherlands and training with the Great Britain development squad. Congratulations Ashleigh!

Later the same day was the sprint event of the British Championship, known as the Meggitt Super 16. There was no qualifying round, and the top skiers were seeded based on their results in the previous events of the championship. In the men's A-final Callum Watson took second place behind Shane Clash and ahead of Alan Eason. Callum had a tough semi-final, coming from behind in the last 200m to take second place behind Rob Chudley. Chudley was leading in the A-final, but put his pole between his legs while leading with 300m to go and ended up 4th. Aimee Watson came through her semi-final comfortably together with Olwen Thorn. In the A-final Aimee was 4th out of the start, then tripped herself up going over the bridge 200m into the race. She fought hard and closed the gap to the leading three, but he finish came too quickly and Thorn won ahead of Karolina Bicova and Sarah Young. Ashleigh Spittle won the junior women's sprint.

Callum Watson, Bdr Shane Clash, and Alan Eason
British Championship Meggitt Super 16 Sprint

Contrary to the report on February 4, the Kandersteg Ski-Marathon was not KT Calder's first win of the season but in fact her third. Calder won the first Swissloppet of the year, the Attraverso 21km Freestyle in Campra on January 7, and also a Swiss regional BSV Cup in Splügen.

February 4 - Wins to Calder, Watson, Watson

Kandersteg Ski-Marathon, Switzerland, February 3
KT Calder picked up her first win of the year in the Kandersteg Ski-Marathon in Switzerland last Sunday February 3. Calder won the 21km Freestyle event in the time of 58:45, nearly a minute and half ahead of second placed Muriele Huberli of Switzerland. This was the 5th race of the season in the Swissloppet series. A little worried about her form after adjusting to jetlag during the week, Calder made a good start and only Huberli was able to follow. Unusually for a marathon race the women started a few minutes after the men, which meant that the top women had to pass men throughout the race, though at least they didn't get caught up in bottle-necks right at the start. The men's event was won by Phillip Rubin in a sprint finish with Marco Muhlermatter. Pascal Grab (runner-up in the 2006 Kangaroo Hoppet) was third. Full results.

British Championship, Ruhpolding, Germany, February 4
Aimee Watson and Callum Watson won the British Championship today in Ruhpolding in Germany. Aimee won comfortably in the women's 10km Classic, 2:25 ahead of second place and new British Champion Olwen Thorn. Callum had to work harder in the men's event, winning by 30 seconds ahead of Marc Walker, the reigning men's 15km Classic champion. There was quite a large field of mostly British military athletes competing, but still a reasonable number of civilian athletes particularly in the younger age classes. Only British athletes were eligible for the British titles, so Aimee and Callum were awarded special medals for the guest class. In the Youth category Australian junior Ashleigh Spittle was 3rd overall and first female in the 5km event. Tomorrow there are Pursuit events in the morning, and then Sprint events in the evening.

Konig Ludwig Lauf, Oberammergau Germany, February 3
In day 2 of competition at the Konig Ludwig Lauf, the German Worldloppet race, Andrew Mock finished 12th in the 21km Classic event. Mock elected to double pole the race on skating skis, which in his own words was "the right tactic, but I just needed bigger guns". Ronan Magaharan was 25th, skiing with grip wax. In the 42km FIS Marathon Cup event all of the top skiers double poled the whole way, with Daniel Tynell from Sweden winning a bunch sprint ahead of Jerry Ahrlin from Sweden. Elin Ek (also Sweden) was the first woman..

Slovakian Junior Cup, February 2
Alex Almoukov finished second in the Slovakian Junior Cup 8km Classic in Strbske Pleso last Saturday, just 2 seconds behind first place. Juliette Booth was 4th in the 4km Classic, 1 minute behind the winner.

February 2 - Konig Ludwig Podium

Aimee Watson has made her third podium in just over a week, finishing second in the Konig Ludwig Lauf 21km Freestyle at Oberammergau in Germany today. After an average start Watson moved up through the pack of mostly men and was the leading woman in the race at one point, for both the 23km and 42km events, losing the lead only after being tripped up by a couple of men in her pack. At the finish she was just over a minute behind Evgenia Kurchochkina of Russia, who won in the time of 56:43. Andrew Mock was in the top 10 in the 42km Freestyle event for most of the race, dropping to 12th only right at the end after just about hitting the wall. He was in the lead pack of 10 until about the 25km mark, then skied solo for about 15km before being caught just before the stadium. The race was won by Tom Reichelt of Germany. Ronan Magaharan finished in 36th in the same race, while Callum Watson was 22nd overall and 4th junior in the men's 21km Freestyle. Full results are available on the Konig Ludwig Lauf website. Tomorrow Mock and Magaharan compete again, this time in the 21km Classic.

In late news, Andrew Mock finished 4th in the Surselva Marathon in Switzerland last Sunday February 27. More can be read about the race and Mock's experiences in Europe in Part 3 of Into The Wombat.

January 27 - Watson Podium And Under 120

Swiss Championship Pursuit
Aimee Watson took her second bronze medal of the 2008 Swiss Championships in the women's 5+5km Pursuit at Lac Retaud today. Watson finished just 6 seconds behind the winner Ursina Badilatti and less than second behind the runner-up Muriele Huberli. The result gave Watson FIS points of 100.4, a personal best which also qualifies her for World Cup. Chloe McConville also had a good race to finish 8th out of the 32 starters in the combined open/junior field. In the men's 10+10km Pursuit Ben Sim finished 6th, 1:22 behind the winner Dario Cologna. It was another good race sub 70 FIS point result for Sim, which will help him to move up the world ranking list. All three Australians in the open class had good skating legs, with Watson posting the 2nd fastest time, and both McConville and Sim the 5th fastest time.

Amongst the junior men who skied 6+6km Callum Watson skied a very good race to be 5th in the U20 class, improving his best FIS points for the second time this week. Alex Almoukov lost time on the classic leg, then moved up on the skate leg to take 14th in the U18 class. In the junior women Juliette Booth was 8th in the U18 class and Georgia Merrit was 12th in the U20 class.

With this week of Swiss Championship over the Australian Junior/U23 Team was to make their way towards Poland for the 2008 World Junior/U23 Championships in Szczyrk. However for the second year in a row the event has been postponed due to lack of snow. Some of the team are certain to return to Australia before the rescheduled races on February 21-28, while others plan to stay on in Europe to compete. A new snow check will be made on February 11. It is frustrating for all involved, especially as so many members of the team are all in great shape right now.

January 26 - Sprints in Canada and Switzerland

Canmore World Cup Sprint Freestyle
Esther Bottomley took 43rd place in the Sprint Freestyle World Cup in Canmore today, 10.1 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Kuitunen from Finland. It was Bottomley's best FIS point race of the season, but about three seconds short of the time she needed in order to qualify for the finals. Paul Murray was 10.9 seconds off the pace in the men's qualification, however with super fast men times under 2 minutes this left Murray towards the back of the field in 68th place. It was a good result for Bottomley, not in the finals where she is aiming to be but still up in the ball park and not too far off. For Murray the result was a reflection of his illness after China and lack of training over the past month. The plan for both athletes now is to get some good training in and build the fitness up again. Murray will return to Sweden tomorrow for two weeks before the World Cup in Estonia. Bottomley will return to Silver Star and train for nearly 6 weeks before the Canadian Championships on the 2010 Olympic tracks at Callaghan Valley. KT Calder heads back to Switzerland in preparation for competitions yet to be determined - possibly some Swiss loppets, maybe an OPA cup if they schedule a new event in the next two weeks, and possibly even a World Cup in Czech.

Swiss Championship Sprint Freestyle
At the Swiss Sprint Championship in Lac Retaud most of the Australians competing got some finals action. Chloe McConville qualified 5th in the open women's event, 9 seconds behind the fastest qualifier and A-final winner Laurien Van der Graaff, then was knocked out in the semi-final and finished 6th. Georgia Merritt was 13th in the U20 junior class and Juliette Booth 12th in the U18 junior class, both being knocked out in the quarter finals. In the open men's class Nick Grimmer and Ben Sim qualified for the finals in 14th and 16th place, 9.8 and 10.7 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Eligius Tambonino. Andrew Mock just missed out in 18th place, two seconds behind Sim, while Ronan Magaharan was further back in 22nd place. Both Grimmer and Sim were knocked out in the quarter finals. Last but not least, Callum Watson qualified 8th in the U20 junior class, 10.7 seconds behind the fastest junior and 1.4 seconds behind Mock. On paper Watson was best positioned to make it through to the next round, but he was tipped out of the quarter finals by the 9th fastest qualifer and so ended up 9th overall. Alex Almoukov, Aimee Watson, and Jaffa Withers didn't race today. Tomorrow there are the Pursuit competitions, with 10+10 for the open men, 5+5 for all the women, and 7.5+7.5 for the junior men.

Paul Murray, Canmore World Cup, January 2008

January 25 - PB World Cup For Calder

KT Calder achieved her best World Cup result today, finishing 43rd in the 10km Freestyle in Canmore. It was a solid performance from the 27 year old ACT Academy of Sport athlete in her return to World Cup racing, though she is probably a little short of peak form at the moment. Calder made a fast start, up in 35th place after 2.5km, however was unable to maintain her early pace throughout the race. As most athletes who have competed on the new Canmore World Cup tracks will testify, it is a tough course here built for athletes with big lungs. The race was won by Valentina Shevchenko from Ukraine, a full 30 seconds ahead of number two Medvedeva from Russia. The men's 15km Freestyle was won by Valerio Checchi from Italy.

Tomorrow it is the sprinters' turn again, with Esther Bottomley and Paul Murray looking to improve on their classic sprint results in the 1.1km freestyle event. The course should suit Bottomley, and is though she is ranked number 45 out of 62 on the start list this could be her big chance to crack into the top 30 for the first time.

KT Calder in the 10km Freestyle
Canmore World Cup, January 2008

January 24 - Watson Takes Bronze

Aimee Watson achieved her biggest international result today with a bronze medal in the Swiss Championship open women's 10km Classic at Lac Retaud. This is the second time in the last four years that an Australian woman has been on the podium at the Swiss Championships - KT Calder was third in the sprint in 2004. Watson was 25 seconds behind second placed Muriele Huberle, and 1:33 behind the winner Ursina Badilatti. Fourth place went to 2006 Kangaroo Hoppet Natascia Leonardi-Cortesi.

In the men's 15km Classic Ben Sim finished 7th, just under two minutes behind the winner Reto Burgermeister, and with a season best 61 FIS points. Andrew Mock finished 12th, Nick Grimmer 14th, and junior Alex Almoukov 17th. Mock's 115 FIS points re-qualify him for World Cup again after a two year break off the Australian Team. In the junior women's 5km Classic Juliette Booth finished 13th, 1:30 behind the winner Tatiana Stiffler, a result good enough to qualify Booth for the World Junior Championship. Georgia Merrit had a solid race to be 25th, 40 seconds after Booth, while Jaffa Withers didn't have a good race and was 29th. In the junior men's 10km event Callum Watson was 16th, 2:22 behind the winner Jonas Baumann, with a PB FIS points of 173.

The Swiss Championship continues on Saturday with sprint freestyle events.

January 23 - Canmore Sprint Classic

Esther Bottomley had her best ever classic sprint World Cup today, finishing 46th in the1.2km event at Canmore in Canada. While she was still 8.3 seconds outside the top 30 it was a promising result in classic technique and bodes well for the freestyle event coming up on Saturday. Paul Murray was 51st in the men's classic sprint and was satsified to be only just outside 15 seconds behind the fastest qualifier after being sick for two weeks. KT Calder didn't really fire today and was 53rd, 8.7 seconds behind Bottomley. See below for further comments from the athletes:

Murray: Four days ago I wasn't sure if my season was over and I was going home early. Today was far from the disaster it could have been, and I am certain I could have given the finals a good shake had I been healthy the last three weeks. I'm hungrier than ever to turn this season around and make it my best yet.

Bottomley: Today's classic sprint went alright, the course was good for a classic course (although a little too long), it was nice to have skiable uphills in it and a long and tough double pole finish straight. Still scrambled a bit on the ups but skied them better than usual, and then the finish, well double poling till it hurt and then keeping that going for another couple of 100m went well - it hurt. I'm looking forward to cheering on KT in the 10km Skate on Friday and then getting out there for the skate sprint on Saturday - a shorter course and it's skate...fun times ahead.

Calder: Two days ago I though I felt the onset of a cold. Luckily it hasn't fully knocked me for six but I had nothing in the tank at all for the sprint today. I'm just going to tuck myself in bed and attempt a turn-around of mass proportions for Friday.

The women's final was won by Petra Majdic of Slovenia in a photo finish with Astrid Jacobsen from Norway. In the men's event all A-finalists went without wax double-poling on skating skis. The top five places in the final went to Norwegians, lead by Boerre Naess. There's a rest day tomorrow, followed by individual freestyle races on Friday.

Esther Bottomley striding out in the new 2XU race suit
Canmore World Cup, January 2008

January 22 - World Cup Preview

Canmore World Cups, Canada, January 22-26
Tomorrow Paul Murray, KT Calder, and Esther Bottomley will compete in the Classic Sprint World Cup in Canmore. Pursuit races were held today, with Kowalczyk from Poland winning the women's 15km event and Pankratov from Russia winning the men's 30km event. Murray and Bottomley will race tomorrow and again in the Freestyle Sprint on Saturday January 26, while Calder will race both sprints and also the 10km Freestyle on Friday. Murray's preparation has been less than ideal. After being sick for two weeks since the China Tour de Ski he did his first intensity session today - three by one minute efforts at about 85%. At the start of the season contesting the finals of the classic sprint here was one of Murray's main goals. Now he will be happy to get through without blowing up and hopefully will then be in better shape for the Saturday. Calder will be hoping for a good race tomorrow, although there is probably a little too much double pole in the course for her to have a chance at making the top 30. Her best race here will likely be in the 10km on Friday. Bottomley is in good shape, and though she doesn't like classic sprints the hills here are not so steep and she could surprise herself. The freestyle sprint on Saturday will be Bottomley's best chance to make the finals.

The event can be followed "live" via the FIS website.

In Switzerland the Australian junior and U23 team are preparing for the Swiss Championships starting on Thursday. Alex Almoukov has just joined the rest of the team, fresh from victories in Siberian Junior Cup events last weekend. The races have been moved from Feutersoey up to the Lac Retaud tracks near the Col du Pillon due to limited snow conditions. With fresh wet snow this week waxing could be interesting for the individual classic events on Thursday.

January 19 - McConville on the Podium

Coop City-Sprint, Sion, Switzerland, January 17
Chloe McConville has made her first podium in a FIS international event, taking third place in the Swiss Cup sprint in Sion on Thursday January 17. The 20-year-old from Myrtleford qualified second in the 1km time trial behind Sandra Gredig of Switzerland, then in the A-final lunged her way into third place after a spectacular fall together with the eventual fourth placed skier. Six out of the seven Australians competing in the night sprint made it through to the final rounds, though it has to be said that the field was a little slimmer than the last Swiss City-Sprint which was also an OPA Continental Cup.

Ben Sim qualified for the open men's final in 11th place, 7 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Gaudenz Flury. Callum Watson was only 1.5 seconds behind Sim, and qualified in 7th place for the U20 finals. In the U20 women's class Juliette Booth, Georgia Merritt, and Jaffa Withers qualified in 9th, 10th, and 11th place, all within 0.25 of a second of each other. Aimee Watson qualified 5th in the open women's class, however only the top four women were taken directly through to the A-final. The fields were a little slimmer than the last Swiss City-Sprint which was also an OPA Continental Cup.

McConville made a good start in the A-final behind Gredig, though started to lose contact with the leader at the end of the first lap. As they went through the lap lane McConville was overtaken by Rahel Imoberdorf, and had Nicole Donzallaz on her heels. As the three went over a bridge into a sharp left hander Donzallaz tried to overtake on the inside and put her hand on McConville's shoulder and McConville fell heavily, then the Swiss girl collided with her on the ground and somersaulted over the top - all caught nicely on the two big video screens in the middle of the town square. The two skiers got back to their feet at the same time and began the race for third. McConville was behind as they hit the final lanes but drew level and outlunged Donzallaz right on the line. It was all worth the effort as third place won CHF 500 and 4th place received CHF zero.

The three junior Australian girls were all knocked out in the quarter finals, with Booth the closest to making it through just behind the 8th fastest qualifier and Withers putting in a tough fight against the 3rd and 6th ranked skiers. Sim also went out in the quarterfinals, but just held onto 3rd place in the final straight and ended up in 9th overall. Callum Watson was second in his quarter final then was knocked out in the semi-final by a couple of very fast juniors who were over 5 seconds quicker than him in qualifying. In the B-final Watson was right in the mix before he took a corner too tightly and veered over into the starting chute through a couple of V-boards. He tried hard but couldn't catch back up and ended up in 8th place overall.

The extra bonus for the evening was that with her third place McConville took 4th place in the Coop City-Sprint series and picked up some extra cash. And who was she behind? Esther Bottomley, who probably had no idea she was in third place in the series and probably still has no idea that she won some more cash. Let's keep it quiet and split the cash okay...

Chloe on the podium in Sion... with special apricot pie prize in hand!

January 14 - Fun Times In Klosters

OPA Continental Cup, Klosters, Switzerland, January 12-13
It was a difficult weekend of racing at the OPA Continental Cup in Klosters, particularly on Saturday when first light rain then wet snow hit the overnight frozen tracks. Three of the Australians managed to have reasonably good races with the assistance of "micro-base" skis. KT Calder was 12th in the women's 5km, 58 seconds behind the winner Doris Trachsel from Switzerland, and Aimee Watson was 14 seconds further back in 17th place. Callum Watson finished 22nd amongst the U20 men, 4:37 behind the quickest junior Jonas Baumann of Switzerland. McConville raced on patterned based skis, but they weren't that fast and she also blew up on the long uphill - pretty much 90% of the climb on the course was in the first kilometre - and ended up in 41th place overall. The earliest Australian starters Georgia Merritt and Jaffa Withers had good grip with red klister before the start of the race, but theirs skis iced up during the race as the snow continued to fall and became drier. Withers struggled the most, ending up walking most of the uphill on the second lap. The two signed the combined open/U20 list in 47th and 48th place.

For the men's event Andrew Mock, Nick Grimmer and Ronan Magaharan ended up racing on Rode yellow stick over the top of purple klister. Their skis weren't super fast, but the grip was alright and they didn't ball up too badly. Ben Sim, fresh off the plane, train and automobile from Russia, opted to race on "hairies", which had some grip initially but then he pretty much ran up all the hills - also battling with the temperature and altitude change from Russia where he was training at almost sea-level and at -25. Mocky finished in 53rd place in the combined open/junior result list, pretty much smack on 15% behind the winner Alexandre Rousselet from France. Sim was 57th, Grimmer 59th, and Magaharan 73rd.

The next day there were mass start freestyle races, 10km for women and 15km for men. It had stopped snowing and you would think that glide waxing would be relatively easy compared to the classic from the day before. Unfortunately we managed to somehow stuff things up a little and most of the Australians competing had slow skis. KT Calder got away to a good start up in the first five, but then worked her way down to 21st place after losing touch with skiers on the downhills. Aimee Watson on the other hand had a terrible start, then spent the rest of the race passing people and moved up to 27th. Chloe McConville, Georgia Merritt and Jaffa Withers finished in 38th, 39th, and 40th place, out of 44 starters. In the men's event Ben Sim was 51st, Andrew Mock 58th, Callum Watson 67th, and Ronan Magaharan 70th. Marina Piller from Italy won the women's 10km, while Tom Reichelt from Germany won the men's 15km.

Mock, Grimmer and Magaharan are heading to Campo Carlomagno in Italy this week for the Italian police championships; KT Calder is in transit to Canada in preparation for the Canmore World Cups; the rest of the team in central Europe is now in Les Diablerets in Swtizerland for a training camp in preparation for the Swiss Championships and World Junior/U23 Championships.

OPA Continental Cup / Coop City Sprint, Olten Switzerland, January 10
For the first time a Coop City Sprint was also part of the OPA Continental Cup series. Four Australians made the trip across to Olten for another night sprint right in the middle of a Swiss city: Chloe McConville and the "Davos Three" - Nick Grimmer, Andrew Mock and Ronan Magaharan. There were two laps of a 400m loop for women and three laps for men. McConville qualified 13th, 7.5 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Caroline Weibel from France. Grimmer went like the clappers at the start of the men's qualifying, however became slower and slower each lap in the ever softening snow, ending up in 33rd place 13.7s back from Andreas Waldmeier of Switzerland. Mock and Magaharan paced it more consistently, but didn't fare any better, finishing in 34th and 35th place out of 38 starters.

In her quarter final McConville came up against the 4th and 5th ranked skiers Vina and Cuinet from France and 12th fastest Habersetzer from Germany. She missed the gun at the start and spent both laps of the course trying to pass in the deep slushy snow, and though she never made it out of 4th place she gave it her best shot down the final straight to be within 2 metres of second place as they crossed the line. McConville was happy to be so close, but disappointed not to make the semis. One more city-sprint remains - in Sion this coming Thursday January 17.

Jaffa Withers racing in Klosters

January 7 - Bottomley in B-Final Again; Murray Sick

China Tour de Ski, various locations, December 28 - January 5
Unfortunately the China Tour de Ski didn't continue for the Australian competitors the way it started. Paul Murray became sick in Changchun before the second event and missed the rest of the tour. Esther Bottomley qualified 14th in the Classic Sprint in Changchun on January 1 and was knocked out in the quarter finals. She then decided to skip the 50km Classic Chinese Vasaloppet on January 2 because of a niggling heel problem. In Bottomley's words: " I was very disappointed, I was going to start but thought I might not be able to walk for the next three weeks so decided to stay back at the hotel." The final event on January 5 however was a duplicate of the opening race in Shangri-La. Bottomley qualified in second place in the Freestyle Sprint in Inner Mongolia, then was knocked out in the semi-final and finished 2nd in the B-final to end up 6th overall. The A-final was won by Barbara Morrigl of Italy, while Solfried Braathen who was 7th in the B-final won the overall series. The men's series was won by Fabio Pasini of Italy. Bottomley and Murray have returned to Europe, and will continue on to Canada this week in preparation for the World Cup events in Canmore beginning on January 22.

OPA Continental Cup, Oberstdorf Germany, January 5-6
The Austalian Junior/U23 Team training in central Europe had their first competition last weekend in Oberstdorf. Having arrived from Australia only a week previously, most of the athletes chose to skip the pursuit on Saturday and just race the sprint on Sunday, as did the roaming trio of Nick Grimmer, Andrew Mock, and Ronan Magaharan who drove across from Davos. Aimee Watson was the only Australian racing on the first day and skied a reasonably solid race to finish 39th out of 53 in the 10km Pursuit, 3:37 behind the winner Coraline Hugue from France. Watson was a little short of grip in the 5km classic leg, however skied a strong skating leg and moved up a few places.

In the Freestyle Sprint Chloe McConville had the best race of the Australians, qualifying for the open women's finals in 18th place, 6.7 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Bettina Gruber from Switzerland. Unfortunately the women's FIS penalty was ruined by the same German junior who had the fastest qualification time in St Ulrich three weeks ago. Watch out for the name of Hanna Kolb in the future. Aimee Watson also made the finals in 28th place 14 seconds behind McConville, and they went into the same quarter final. McConville got away to a good start up against Nicole Fessel from Germany and Silvana Bucher from Switzerland, though lost her sunglasses while jostling for position after 100m. She was in contact with the leaders all the way up the long hill while Watson was dropped, but then lost a bit of ground to the top three going over the top. In 4th place by a ski length entering the finish straight McConville gave it everything all the way to the line only to be outlunged by Faivre Picon of France and ended up 5th. Georgia Merrit was two seconds slower than Watson in qualifying and went into the U20 women's quarter-finals, but couldn't quite hang on up the hill and finished last in her heat.

Grimmer was the fastest Australian in the open men in 34th place, 8.5 seconds behind Andreas Waldmeier of Switzerland, missing out on qualifying for the finals by one second. Mock was 8 seconds behind Grimmer and Magaharan another 6 seconds back, both not quite setting the world on fire in their first FIS race after arriving in Europe 10 days ago. Look out for another of Mocky's Warped Perspective reports coming soon. Callum Watson split the difference between Mock and Magaharan, however earned a place in the U20 men's finals in 29th place. He fought hard throughout the race but couldn't match the pace up the long hill and ended up 6th in his heat. The men's FIS penalty of 78 was pretty rough considering there were seven athletes with points lower than the penalty and several athletes with points in the 80s didn't make the finals.

After temperatures below minus 15 during the week conditions for the sprint were similar to the Australian Championships last year - dumping rain.

The OPA series moves this week to Switzerland with a sprint event in Olten on Thursday and distance events in Klosters on the weekend. In addition to the Australians who raced in Oberstdorf the team will be joined for the Klosters events by Australian distance champions Ben Sim and KT Calder.

Chloe McConville braving the cold in Oberstdorf

December 28 - Breakthrough in China Tour de Ski!

China Tour de Ski, Shangri-La, December 28
Paul Murray and Esther Bottomley made an impressive start in the opening Sprint of the China Tour de Ski, with Murray winning the opening men's time trial and Bottomley taking second place in the women's time trial. The Australian pair travelled to China from Europe on Wednesday for the series, which takes in four events over 9 days in three different locations in China. The opening stage was a Freestyle Sprint in Shangri-La, held on a 700m loop inside a football stadium at approximately 3200m above sea level (see link on Tour de Ski China website). In the finals both Australians were knocked out in the semi-finals, with Murray going on to win the B-Final and Bottomley taking second place in the B-Final behind Barbara Morrigl of Italy and ahead of Anna-Karin Stromstedt from Sweden. Peter Larsson from Sweden won the men's A-final, Solfrid Braathen from Norway won the women's A-final.

Swiss Cup, Campra, December 27-28
KT Calder and Chris Darlington each recorded their best race of the season at the Swiss Cup in Campra yesterday, with Calder finishing 4th just 6 seconds from the podium in the 5km Freestyle and Darlington finishing 17th in the 15km Freestyle. Calder started fast to be in touch with the leaders early on, and held onto third place for most of the race before fading in the final kilometre. The race was won by Swiss skier Seraina Boner. Darlington was feeling crook in the stomach the night before the race, and was contemplating withdrawing right up until just before the start. In the race he felt the best he has so far this season, finishing 5 minutes behind the winner Toni Livers from Switzerland to score FIS points of 156. Calder's FIS points of 91 are her best in the last two years.

The next day in the mass start Classic competitions both Calder and Darlington were a bit down on the previous day. Calder got a little tangled up early on in the 10km Classic and was unable to match the pace set by Leonardi-Cortesi , losing 30 seconds in the first 2km. She skied most of the rest of the race in 5th place with Bettina Gruber, but was outsprinted to the finish to end up 6th, 1:20 behind Doris Trachsel. Darlington started okay and was 1:20 behind the lead pack after the first 5km lap, but was a little short on grip and lost time on the next two laps to end up around 6 minutes off the pace. Livers won again.

For Darlo, that's the end of his racing season. It is unfortunate, as he only just now starting to find a bit of form. He travels home next week via New Year's Eve in Edinburgh, and then it is back to work in Jindabyne. Calder will have a training block for two weeks now, before heading over to Canada for the World Cups in Canmore.

Fischen Night Sprint, Germany, December 26
Nick Grimmer reports from the Night Sprint in Fischen a couple of days ago. Esther Bottomley was third in this event in 2005.

A quick race report from last night, I only have two minutes on the internet. I finished 11th out of 25 in the qualifying which I was happy with, I might have been able to come tenth but from 9th up it was all very good skiers (9th was Gaudenz Flury). Michael Greis won the qualifying however times were not published. I was pumped for the quarter final hoping if everything went well I might get through on a course like this. In my quarter was a Swiss bloke called Jöri Kindschi and German Müller twins. I did not have that great a start and was fourth from the start to the finish however we all crossed the line together. Iskied the corners well, almost overtaking third a couple of times. In the finish straight I had the energy but struggled to go fast (the start and finish straights were slushy, the rest of the course was firm) but caught up to first and second and only lost third by a foot. There were a lot of crashes with many good skiers being knocked out early. Silvio Waldmeier won the A-final with Gaudenz second Müller third and Greis forth. In the girls Van der Graaf smashed it in with Fessel second and Gredig third. I am going to put my money on Angerer to win the Tour de Ski, I still have to decide about the girls but I had a dream about a Swede so I think I will pick the top Swede, I think there will be another German second in the men as well.

December 23 - Anything For A Sprint

Coop City Sprint, Wil, December 20
Last Thursday Esther Bottomley hit the podium for the first time this season with a third place in the Coop City Sprint competition in Wil in Switzerland. The 24-year-old from Mt Beauty qualified in fourth place, just fast enough to make the finals as the open women's event went straight to an A-final of four with no quarter or semi finals. Up against the Swiss trio of Seraina Mischol, LaurienVan der Graaff and Sandra Gredig, Bottomley gave it all down the final straight to be just pipped for second place by a foot by Van der Graaff, with Mischol winning by about 3 metres. Nick Grimmer and Chris Darlington also got some finals action for the first time, finishing up in 14th and 16th place respectively after being knocked out in the quarter finals. The men's A-final was won by Eligius Tambornino. Bottomley picked up $500 for her troubles - with 20% going to each of the wax technicians of course!

German Sprint Championship, Oberwiesenthal, December 22
36 hours after the City Sprint in Wil, including 10 hours travelling, Esther Bottomley and Nick Grimmer hit the German Sprint Championship in Oberwiesenthal. Bottomley qualified in 6th place, however was knocked out in the semi final when she came up against Claudia Kunzel-Nystad and Manuela Henkel. Kuenzel won the women's final comfortably ahead of Nicole Fessel, with Henkel third. Bottomley was outsprinted for 7th place in the B-final. The men's competition was tough, with the top Czech men also competing and dominating the qualification and finals. Grimmer was 28th in the qualifying time trial, 18 seconds behind Ales Razym of Czech who went on to win ahead of team-mate Martin Koukal.

Somewhere in Russia, December 23
Ben Sim won a local Russian race today, with Alex Almoukov finishing fourth. No word on the race distance, style, or location, however we do know that it was -25 degrees!

Extra information from Russia. It was a Siberian Junior Cup race, so while Sim had the fastest time on both days of competition he wasn't eligible to win the races. Almoukov was 8th in the 10km Classic on day one, then was 4th in the Freestyle race on day two just 10 seconds from first and 1 second from third place.

Esther Bottomley in the 2007 German Sprint Championship, Oberwiesenthal

December 17 - Yesterday's Results

Rybinsk World Cup, Russia, December 15-16
Ben Sim was 76th yesterday in the World Cup Sprint in Rybinsk, 19 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Anders Gloersen of Norway. He wasn't expecting anything special after the 30km the day before and little speed work on snow since leaving Australia in November. The men's final was won Gloersen of Norway. In the women's final Kikkan Randall from the USA claimed her first World Cup victory, also the first for a woman from the USA.

OPA Continental Cup, St Ulrich am Pillersee, Austria, December 13-16
The races in St Ulrich last weekend finished up with the classic mass start events. It was cold again, -18 in the air first thing in the morning and slowly warming up in the sun by midday to around -8. KT Calder finished 23rd in the 10km Classic, just over 3 minutes behind the winner Shevchenko of Ukraine. Calder didn't quite have the spark of the previous day, and was unable to stay with the leading pack (or rather the pack following Shevchenko) for very long. Still, around 11% behind behind one of the top women in the world at the moment is not too bad. Chris Darlington was 61st in the 15km Classic, about 6 1/2 minutes behind Seifert from Germany who won in a bunch sprint from Koukal from Czech and Moriggl of Italy. Though this was still not a great result for Darlo he felt at least that he was starting to recover between the hills so hopefully he starts to find some form soon.

Chris Darlington sucking in the air on OPA Cup in St Ulrich

December 14 - Calder Back On World Cup

OPA Continental Cup, St Ulrich am Pillersee, Austria, December 13-16
KT Calder requalified for World Cup t oday with a sub 120 FIS-point result on OPA Cup in Austria. Calder finished 17th in the 5km Freestyle, 1:05 behind world number 4 (on FIS points) Valentina Shevchenko from Ukraine, scoring 118.75 FIS points for her trouble. Esther Bottomley finished 37th out of 42 in the open class, one minute behind Calder. Conditions were cold in the morning, around -15 at the start of the women's race. Nick Grimmer and Chris Darlington finished 59th and 61st out of 72 in the open men's 10km Freestyle, 4:17 and 4:24 behind the winner Martin Koukal from the Czech Republic. Darlo was up 15-20 seconds on Grimmer in the first 3.5km, but couldn't keep up the pace on the second lap. With two kilometres to go the two Australian guys were equal, with Grimmer finishing much stronger at the end.

Tomorrow Calder and Darlington will race in the 10km and 15km Classic mass start event.

Nick Grimmer and Chris Darlington at the start of the St Ulrich 10km Freestyle

Rybinsk World Cup, Russia, December 15-16
Ben Sim raced his first World Cup of the season today in Rybinsk in Russia, finishing 63rd in the 30km Freestyle mass start out of 68 starters. In the end Simbo was the last skier to finish, lucky not be overlapped on the 3.75km loop. The race was won in a sprint finish by Tor-Arne Hetland of Norway. Simbo hung onto the main pack for one lap then dropped off as he felt like he was going sprint pace just to stay there. Skiing most of the rest of the second half of the race by himself he ended up 12.2 % behind the winner, not too bad a result considering in Ural Cup two weeks he was about the same % behind Russian skiers who didn't even get a start in the World Cup. Simbo will continue training in Russia for the next month, aiming to come into peak form at the end of January for the World U23 Championships in Poland and then the World Cup in Liberec in Czech. But first... Sprint Freestyle World Cup tomorrow!

December 13 - Bottomley Top 10

OPA Continental Cup, St Ulrich am Pillersee, Austria, December 13-16
Esther Bottomley made her first top 10 finish on OPA Continental Cup today in Austria. She qualified 12th in the 1km time trial, 6 seconds behind Italian World Cup skier Karin Moroder, who went on to win the A-final. Bottomley progressed through from the quarter-finals, was knocked out in the semi-finals, then fought hard in the B-final to finish 4th and take 10th overall. KT Calder qualified 25th in the time-trial 10 seconds behind Moroder, then was just pipped for 5th in her quarter final to end up 23rd overall. Bottomley celebrated her top 10 finish by making a face plant during her warm-down ski. Yay black eye and fat lip! Unfortunately a couple of German juniors made top 5 overall in the time trial, which destroyed the race penalty, so no good FIS points.

In the open men's time trial Nick Grimmer and Chris Darlington finished 45th and 58th, 15 and 24 seconds respectively behind the fastest qualifier Daniel Heun from Germany. The A-final was won by Mauro Gruber from Switzerland. Similarly to the women's race the men's race penalty didn't really reflect the standard of the athletes in the races. Grimmer was happy with the way he skied in some sections of the course, while Darlo described his race as appalling. The new snow (a foot of fresh in the past couple of days) became a little glazed and sketchy to ski on the more it was skied in, and Darlo found it hard going. Calder also struggled to keep sure footing and to get the powe down (though she stayed upright), and switched to skis with a better edge for the finals.

Link to full sprint results from St Ulrich.

The St Ulrich COC continues on the weekend with individual start freestyle races on Saturday and mass start classic races on Sunday.

KT Calder and Esther Bottomley in St Ulrich

December 12 - Late Race Reports

Some athlete reports from races last weekend:

Alex Almoukov reports from a junior race somewhere in R ussia (it's a big place you know). His main this season is the 2008 World Junior Championship in Poland

Here is a quick summary of the junior races in Russia for December 6th 7th and the 9th. When we got the place on Tuesday I could feel a little bit of a cold coming, then next day I was pretty much already sick. The next day on the 6th it was a 10km classic and we decided not to race. Then on the 7th it was a classic sprint, I didn’t feel much better then the other day but I wasn’t fully sick. Since I am a double pole sprint specialist I decided to race just on skate skis, it was the best option because it was pretty much just flat! It was a good temperature not too cold. I started off and after half way my arms were stuffed!! Finished 112th out of 260 competitors.

The next day I felt worse then the other days, and was deciding if I would race the next day… On the 9th I felt better wasn’t too bad still sick. It was a 10km skate, I decided to race because there aren’t any other races after for me to wreck myself in. In the morning it was -14 but felt even colder then that. Started off not bad for around about 500m then started getting buggered, throughout the whole race felt like I wanted to pull out, my legs weren’t recovering at all and after each uphill I was just whinging to myself saying “oh my LEGS”. I finished in 165th place, even worse than the sprint. Didn’t get too cold throughout the race, was a good temp thanks to simbos bottom windstopper thermals.

Pretty much a waste of a trip to the race. That is all hopefully I recover fast and start smashing!

Andrew Wynd returns to Australia next week after living in Canada for most of the last three years. This report was after his last races in Canmore - his main goal for this short season was to go under 120 FIS points and qualify for World Cup.

Well here ends my racing time in Canada. I was sick after the first race in Sovereign Lake and I skipped the sprint race there. I started to come good again by Tuesday in Canmore, but lacked real energy and fight. I started the 15km pursuit on Thursday very relaxed and got caught up in a pile up which saw me at the back of the field instantly. I wasn't too concerned about being back there as it gave me a chance to ease into the tough hills and see how the body responded. I surprised myself (and others) by skiing straight up the steepest climb in the track with good kick and glide and started moving through the field. I had great classic leg that got stronger and stronger and had me wishing I had started harder. I had an uneventful change and started slow on my skate skis, then started to feel better and better and finished strongly, but had already lost too much time. Still, the body worked well.

The next day I woke up feeling flat as a tack and suffering more than normal for an effort like that. It seems whatever was affecting my body was still not quite gone. On Saturday the sprint was the usual b/s affair for me, I have been focussing on classical all year, including the classic sprint that I didn't get to do it at Sovereign, and the sprint skate sucked.

I woke up feeling great for the 10km classic and finally could breath properly through my nose and mouth. Started strongly and caught Remi Doiron by the first big hill. The race went awesome, only two slips on the Olympic 5km loop they used for the World Cups and it is one tough course. I skiied strongly throughout, no-one caught me until the finish straight when I entered a 3 way double pole sprint and came out on top. I crossed the line in 2nd place from the starters ahead of me and felt great.

It was the best classic race of my career and my classic form has changed dramatically. Alas, I was too far back to Babikov again and the penalty was worse today, his points don't count and the right top 5 order didn't work again. Still, I am at least happy to be consistently skiing 10% to the top Canadians and Babikov, all whom I suspect are skiing really fast this year.

No 120 points however and I am a little disappointed. If I was staying in North America all season and chasing races, I am very confident I could make it. I have a hell of a lot of fitness left in me and it's a pity I have been sick as I feel I have another level of racing to step up to this season and won't get to test it, except catching waves at Wilson's Prom.

December 9 - Turning The Corner

Today KT Calder and Esther Bottomley had promising results in Europe and seem to be on their way into better form. Hopefully this is the beginning of an upswing for all the Australian cross country team after an average start to the season. See details below.

OPA Continental Cup, Formazza, Italy, December 8-9
Chris Darlington and KT Calder made a long weekend trip to Italy for the opening event of the OPA Continental Cup series in Formazza. Saturday's individual start events didn't produce the results we were hoping for, with Calder finishing 24th amongst the open women in the 5km Classic 1:40 behind the winner Silvia Rupil of Italy, and Darlington 67th in the 10km Classic, over 5 minutes behind Thomas Morrigl of Italy. Darlington struggled to recover from the hills during the race and lost time towards the end, while Calder had more problems with the downhills falling twice.

On Sunday Calder made a good start in the women's 10km Freestyle, up in second place from the field of 50 or so skiers (open and junior combined) in the first 500m and then amongst the top ten for most of the first lap. Unfortunately she stumbled and fell (again!) and lost contact with the lead group towards the end of the first lap, and though she almost got back on again at about 7km she never quite made it. She continued to work hard and pulled back a few places after the lead pack broke up, ending up in 14th place 1:17 behind the winner Aurore Cuinet of France. Darlo skied a much more even race than on Saturday, ending up in 93rd place out of 114, 6:45 behind the winner Moriggl. After the race Darlo said that he wasn't expecting anything special with his current form. Now after two weekends of tough racing he plans to rest up more this week before the OPA races in St Ulrich in Austria , in order to try to pull some form out from somewhere.

German Cup, Balderschwang, Germany, December 8-9
Nick Grimmer was the sole Australian starter in the Deutscherpokal races in Balderschwang on Saturday, with Esther Bottomley resting up for Sunday. Grimmer was feeling a bit flat before the race and considered waiting for Sunday as well, but the 10km classic course was relatively flat and he couldn't help himself from testing out his double pole form. In Nick's words: "The double poling was good, but I got smashed on the hills. I was a fair way off the pace." Nick ended up in 11th place out of 15 starters.

Bottomley took over racing duties on Sunday, with Grimmer withdrawing on the morning of the race after waking up sure he was getting sick. Bottomley was third in qualifying, about 4 seconds behind Nicole Fessel of Germany. Conditions were like the Australian sprint championship this year - raining! After a quick hot shower at home Bottomley returned to win her semi-final comfortably. In the A-final she won the start ahead of Fessel, was overtaken with a clash of skis on a corner, then slowly ran out of steam and worked her way back to fourth place. Next stop, the OPA Cup Sprint in St Ulrich in Austria on Thursday.

NORAM Continental Cup, Canmore, Canada, December 6-9
Andrew Wynd finished off three days of NORAM racing in Canmore today with a 32nd place in the 10km Classic. He was 3 minutes or just over 11 % behind the winner Ivan Babikov of Russia, and mid-field amongst the 62 starters. Previously Wyndy had finished 34th should have been in the men's 15km Pursuit, just over 4 minutes off the pace of Babikov, and 44th in the Sprint Freestyle qualifying time trial 15 seconds behind Canadian Alex Harvey. Full results are available on Zone 4. The 10km result looks like one of Wyndy's better races in the last couple of years, though depending on the race penalty he will likely be just short of the 120 FIS point qualification standard for World Cup.

December 6 - Swiss City Sprint #1

Coop City Sprint, Zug, Switzerland
There are four events in the Coop City Sprint series in Switerzerland this winter - Zug, Wil, Olten, and Sion - and Australian skiers will be at all of them. Esther Bottomley and Nick Grimmer raced in the Zug event this evening on soft wet snow that seems too often to be the norm for these trucked in snow events. The results were not sensational - Bottomley finished the 1km time trial in 8th place 19 seconds behind Kikkan Randall from the USA, and Grimmer finished in 32nd place 18 seconds behind Andreas Waldmeier of Switzerland. The open women's event went straight to semi-finals of four so Bottomley had just scraped in, however she declined to compete in the head to head stage of the event. With the remnants of a cold still in her system after being sick Monday to Wednesday Bottomley opted instead to play it safe and try to be healthy for the German Cup sprint this Sunday. She showed signs of some speed this evening in first lap of the course but couldn't keep it going the full distance. Grimmer also showed some promise early on but didn't have the fitness to keep putting the power down in the soft snow. Where have I heard that before? Australians struggling in soft snow... We really have to do something about this.

NORAM Continental Cup, Canmore, Canada
The Canmore NORAM pursuit races were held this morning, and unless something went amiss Andrew Wynd should have been in the men's 15km event. The top five finishers are listed on this report on the CCC website, however the Zone 4 results are a little slower in coming. We hope for some inside info from Wyndy before too long.

Lots more racing happening this weekend, in Italy, Germany, Canada and Russia.

December 3 - Weekend Racing Wrap-Up

Goms Swiss Cup, December 1-2
The Australian Continental Cup Team ha d their first hit-out of the season in the Swiss Cup in the Goms on the weekend. KT Calder had the best results of the four athletes competing, finishing 5th in the 5km Classic and 6th in the 10km Freestyle mass start. Both women's races were won by an "unknown" Russian with no FIS points, however a familiar Russian name was back in the field - Olympic gold medal winner Julia Tchepalova finished 9th in the 5km and 3rd in the 10km. KT Calder sent in this report on behalf on the team:

This weekend's races were a good training hit out for us. I dont think any of us were firing at 100% considering we only arrived in Europe a few days ago, but it is good to have the first races of the season done with and morale is good. Jetlag has been hilarious since arriving, with all of us trying to outdo one another by trying to stay awake the latest. I think the record is 7:45pm. A few more nations than expected turned up to the Swiss Cup races this weekend (Russia, Croatia, Poland, Germany etc.), so it felt more like an OPA Cup race. Without Finn here, we somehow surprisingly managed to do okay with the waxing, which is always a bonus. After being at sea-level a few days ago I really noticed the altitude in the races, but hopefully we'll be a bit better adapted soon. Nick and Darlo were neck and neck in the classic race, and Darlo had the upper hand in the skate race the next day. The boys were a little further back in their races than they would have liked, but it was a good warm up for the races to come. Es skied a very consistent 10km race and is ready to fire in the City Sprints this coming Thursday. Julia Tchepalova raced, and it was pretty cool skiing alongside her in the race today.

For results from all the Swiss Cup races look to the Nordicski.ch website. Next race for half of this crew is the Coop City-Sprint event in Zug on Thursday.

KT Calder (second from right), 5th in Swiss Cup

NORAM Continental Cup, Sovereign Lakes, December 1-2
Andrew Wynd opened his season account with a 50th place in the 15km Classic at Sovereign Lake on Saturday. Similar to Paul Murray in Finland, Wyndy felt the effects of his recent illness and was missing that extra gear. Here's is what he had to say after the event:

I started the race still not 100%, but pretty close to it and was hopeful of something special happening. NOT today... I ended up in 50th place, way off the pace behind Ivan Babikov (surprise, surprise) who smashed Dave Nighbor [second place] by over a 1 minute. The course was brutal, the World Cup 7.5km loop and the snow was a cold -15, making glide a real problem. Every time I got something like good technique and momentum going, I started to go lactic very quickly in the legs and had to back off. I tried digging deep about 1/2 way through the race, and had nothing.

At least I got a hard workout in and hopefully it won't delay my recovering as a result of pushing hard today. I think I should come into better form for next week at Canmore and hope to have faster skis and more energy reserves.

Wyndy unfortunately had a bit of a relapse of his cold and decided to skip the sprint race on Sunday. He has another three days now to be healthy for the next NORAM races in Canmore beginning on Thursday. Results from the Canadian NORAM races are posted on the Zone4 website.

Ural Cup, Ekaterinburg, December 1-2
In the icy cold of Siberia Ben Sim and Alex Almoukov had tough first races in the Ural Cup events in Ekaterinburg. In the Sprint Freestyle event on Saturday the pair were 14 and 18 seconds off the pace respectively behind Maxim Bulgakov, a podium winner from the World U23 Championships in 2006. In the 10km Classic the next day Simbo was 3 minutes off the pace, with Alex another 2 minutes further back. Though the results weren't what the boys were hoping for, they are in the middle of a heavy training block and not too concerned. In two weeks time Ben will have his first big race of the season, the 30km Freestyle World Cup in Rybinsk.

December 1 - No Rabbit Out Of Hat

Paul Murray finished 69th today in the classic sprint World Cup in Kuusamo in Finland. In the 1.2km time trial Murray was 9.5 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Bjorn Lind from Sweden and 5 seconds outside of his goal of qualifying for the finals. After the race Murray was initially disappointed not to be in the finals but then realistic about his performance considering his illness at the start of the week. Though he worked hard throughout the race it was apparent that his top gear was lacking and he was tired over the last hill and into the final straight. To be still so close to the top skiers after only a couple of days on snow after illness bodes well for the rest of the season, assuming of course that he can stay healthy and go into some races in good shape. Full results

The original plan was for Murray to race tomorrow in the 15km classic event however while he was able to dig deep or a reasonable sprint race today it makes no sense for him to attempt a tough 15km World Cup event with this preparation. Murray will head to his Swedish training base in Borlange on Monday and try to put three weeks of good training under his belt before the China Tour de Ski at the end of December.

November 30 - The Word From The Goms

The quartet of Australian team members in Switzerland have this to say about their shape leading into the races in Goms this weekend:

Chris Darlington: I'm 84% sure that I'm in the form of my life. The other 16% is saying it could be a disaster.

Nick Grimmer: Two words... fireworks. Or is that one word?

Esther Bottomley: I'm hoping to cut down from sleeping 12hrs each night soon.

KT Calder: After waking up at 4:30am I could possibly fit in another training session.

In Finland Paul Murray is feeling better and better each day, and though he is still hoping to pull a good race out of the bag tomorrow he has no real idea what his form will be like.

November 29 - Pre-Race Reports

Another Australian athlete is recovering from illness before races this weekend. Andrew Wynd caught a cold last weekend and was able to start training again on Wednesday. He has another couple of days to recover before the 15km at Sovereign Lake on Saturday. Wyndy had the following to say from his training site in Silver Star:

I have been able to ski easy for 1.5 hrs the last two days, so I am trying to stay confident that I will be healthy enough to put in a good performance in Saturday's 15km race. I was feeling really good in my training leading up to departing Ottawa and despite the change in race schedule, felt like I was coming to a peak. The weather has been good here, some bare patches have scratched my race skis up a bit, but we have enough snow for the races to go ahead from now without problems. I plan to test the body tomorrow in a short interval session and then rest up for the weekend.

In Russia Ben Sim and Alex Almoukov are preparing for a Ural Cup and Russian selection race in Ekaterinburg. The competitions are a freestyle sprint and a 10km classic. According to Ben it has been consistently cold, around -15, the boys are tired from training but ready to smash it in the races.

Paul Murray skied for the first time today since last Sunday, testing skis and just tapping around on the flat for about an hour or so with a few double pole sprints. Tomorrow he will try a couple of short intervals testing out the hill on the sprint course and see how the body responds.

November 27 - Murray Laid Low By Gastro

Just five days before his opening World Cup event of the season Paul Murray has come down with a bout of gastro. After arriving in Ruka Finland on Saturday, Murray began to feel ill on Monday and then spent the next 24 hours in bed or in the bathroom. As his girlfriend back in Australia was also sick the same day it seems likely that it was in his system before he left the country on Friday. Tonight Murray is feeling a bit better but still quite weak. Hopefully he will continue to improve and be able to compete in the Sprint World Cup in Ruka on Saturday December 1, although this is certainly not the ideal preparation. More details available on his website: www.paulmurray.cc