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Australian Team Reports 2007/2008

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2008 World Junior / U23 Championships
Malles, Italy, February 23-28
Back to 2007/2008 Team Reports

Updates: Team - Feb 21 - Feb 23 - Feb 24 - Feb 25 - Feb 26 - Feb 27 - Feb 28

Aussie WJC Reports

The Australian Team

Australian Junior Team: Alex Almoukov, Callum Watson, (Juliette Booth)*
U23 Team: Ben Sim, Aimee Watson, (Chloe McConville)*
Manager: Brian Keeble
Coaches: Finn Marsland, Nick Almoukov
* Brackets indicates athletes who were selected to the team but were unable to compete because of the postponement of the competitions from the original dates.

Competition Schedule:



Australian Competitors


February 23

Women Junior Sprint Freestyle

No Australians

- Link

Men Junior Sprint Freestyle

Alex Almoukov; Callum Watson

69th/99; 76th/99 - Link

February 24

Women U23 Sprint Freestyle

Aimee Watson

45th/47 - Link

Men U23 Sprint Freestyle

Ben Sim

52nd/63 - Link

February 25

Women Junior 5km Classic

No Australians

- Link

Men Junior 10km Classic

Alex Almoukov; Callum Watson

DNS; DNS - Link

February 26

Women U23 10km Classic

Aimee Watson

39th/52 - Link

Men U23 15km Classic

Ben Sim

19th/70 - Link

February 27

Women Junior 10km Freestyle Mass Start

No Australians

- Link

Men Junior 20km Freestyle Mass Start

Alex Almoukov; Callum Watson

57th/97; 71st/97 - Link

February 28

Women U23 15km Freestyle Mass Start

Aimee Watson

24th/50 - Link

Men U23 30km Freestyle Mass Start

Ben Sim

25th/73 - Link

February 29

Women Junior 4 by 3.3km Relay

No Australian Team

Men Junior 4 by 5km Relay

No Australian Team

Full results at www.fis-ski.com

The Australian Team at Schlinig

February 21 - Event Preview

For the second year in a row the World Junior/U23 Championships have been postponed. Szczyrk in Poland had no snow; the event was first postponed for 3 weeks and then moved to Malles in Italy for the new dates of February 22-28. Originally eight Australian athletes were set to travel to Poland for the competition on the original dates: six athletes selected to the team (U23 athletes Ben Sim, Chloe McConville and Aimee Watson; junior athletes Callum Watson, Alex Almoukov, and Juliette Booth) and two juniors athletes who missed out on selection coming as observers (Jaffa Withers and Georgia Merritt). With the new dates we are now left with four competing athletes. All the races are held up at Schlinig, a small village about 10km from Malles. The top of the courses hit the FIS limit of 1800m.

The sprint events start this weekend. Generally all the athletes on the team are better in distance events, although Callum Watson has had a couple of good sprints this season and Ben Sim has been known to pull some reasonable sprints out of the bag. It is not a normal sprint course here however: there is a gradual climb for most of the first half of the race (with a steeper section for the men) and then the second half is mostly downhill. This could be a good course for Alex Almoukov, and even for Aimee Watson who is not really known for her sprinting ability. Ben Sim probably has the best chance of the Australians of making the top 30, though he will need to put in an exceptional performance.

On Monday and Tuesday there are the individual classic events. The final events on Wednesday and Thursday are mass start freestyle. Unfortunately there is not enough room in the stadium for pursuit events, hence the switch to a normal mass start instead. The 5km loop has no real steep hills but a lot of steady grinds broken up by switchbacks. There's not really much that is flat, and most of the last 2km is downhill. There's no herringbone hills unless you miss the wax or get very tired. In the distance events if our athletes are able to make it into the top half of the field it will be a good result. Ben Sim may be capable of breaking into the top 20 if he has a good day, but there will be a lot of very good athletes competing. U23 athletes Peter Northug (NOR) and Dario Cologna (SUI) were both top 10 in the Liberec World Cup last weekend. On the women's side the best U23 athletes Astrid Jacobsen (NOR) and Charlotte Kalla (SWE) will likely be at the World Cup in Sweden (as they are number 2 and 3 in the overall World Cup standings), but there are plenty of other top ranked skiers and regular World Cup starters who will be here.

February 23 - Race Day One

Alex Almoukov finished 69th and Callum Watson 76th in their opening event at the 2008 World Junior Championships today. Alex was 19.48 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Sindre Wiig Nordby (NOR) in the 1.3km Sprint Freestyle time trial, and Callum was 2.85 second further back. It was a big field, with 99 athletes starting from 33 nations. The A-final was won by Calle Halfvarsson (SWE). The women's qualification was won by Hanna Kolb (GER), with Laure Barthelemy (FRA) winning the A-final. Both Australians were reasonably happy with their performances, and are hoping to move up the result list in the distance events in the coming week. It was a tough course with pretty much all of the climb in the first 500m. Callum felt that his legs were "like concrete" at the top of the hill, and Alex reckoned that he was buggered already by the second pinch in the hill after about 400m. Both athletes recorded their best sprint FIS points.

Tomorrow Ben Sim and Aimee Watson take on the U23 Sprint Freestyle. Simbo is ranked 36th out of 63 entered athletes, while Aimee is ranked 42nd out of 47.

Alex Almoukov in the Sprint Freestyle

February 24 - Race Day Two

Ben Sim finished 52nd out of 63 and Aimee Watson 45th out of 47 today in the Sprint Freestyle event at the World U23 Championships. Both the men's and women's fields were very strong, with the men's field in particular containing a lot of regular World Cup skiers. Though she was up the back of the result list it was a good sprint result for Aimee, as she was only 21.2 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Aurore Cuinet (FRA) and scored her best ever sprint FIS point of 157.57. Simbo was 18.8 seconds behind the fastest male qualifier Eligius Tambornino (SUI), and not so satisfied with his race. Right at the start of the race he had problems with nerves, a phenomena which has happened previously only a very few times. The A-finals were won by Robin Bryntesson (SWE) and Vesna Fabjan (SLO).

Tomorrow are the junior individual classic races. Alex Almoukov and Callum Watson have start numbers 71 and 78 out of the junior men's field of 104 athletes. Unfortunately this afternoon Callum had a stomach upset and then threw up this evening. We are still hoping that this is a short-term upset and that Callum will recover quickly and be able to race tomorrow, or at least that he will be right for the 20km next Wednesday.

Ben Sim coming over the hill towards the stadium, Sprint Freestyle

February 25 - Not Quite Race Day Three

No Australians made it to the start line today. After spending half the night vomiting Callum Watson wasn't quite up for racing. Alex Almoukov felt ill this morning, though not as violently as Callum, and went through the motions of warming up and testing his skis before deciding not to race about 10 minutes before his start time. Hans Christer Holund (NOR) won the men's 10km Classic just 8 seconds ahead of Alex Harvey (CAN), who lead at all split points throughout the race until the final one. Therese Johaug (NOR) won the women's 5km Classic 4.5 seconds ahead of her team-mate Ingvild Flugstad Ostberg. This afternoon Callum is still feeling ill, though he has managed to keep drinking fluids all day and hold everything down. Alex hasn't been hit that bad, and has kept his appetite. Both boys will need to be feeling good tomorrow if they are to have a chance of starting the 20km Freestyle the day after.

Ben Sim and Aimee Watson (both still healthy, touch wood) both have start number 34 tomorrow. There are 73 men and 52 women on the start list, with the best ranked skiers starting first. If either Ben or Aimee were able to crack into the top 30 it would be a good result.

February 26 - Race Day Four

Today for the first time ever an Australian cross country skier finished with a top 20 place at a open, junior or U23 World Championship. Ben Sim stormed home in the World U23 Championship 15km Classic event to take 19th place, 7.5% behind the winner Martin Jaks (CZE). He was ahead of all the Swiss, all the Italians, all the North Americans, was just pipped by 3 seconds by the first German, and quite satisfyingly knocked off a couple of Norwegians and a couple of Swedes as well. Not a bad day's work from start number 34 on a track that got wetter and softer as the race went on. Aimee Watson also put in a great performance to take 39th place in the women's 10km Classic despite being a little under waxed. Aimee was about 10% behind the winner Olga Tiagai (RUS), and 33 seconds outside of the top 30. Both Australians finished well - Simbo posted the 14th fastest last lap, and Aimee the 30th fastest last lap. The men did three 5km loops and the women two. Right from the first hill Aimee said to herself "we should have gone warmer", but she kept her head together and fought hard for a good result. There were others with worse wax - the number one ranked skier Julia Ivanova of Russia finished in 45th place.

Meanwhile Callum Watson is now back from the dead. He was a changed person this morning, his appetite was back, his smirk was back, and most of all he wasn't sitting with his head in his hands moaning. Alex still had a slight headache for most of the day, but he is ready to go also. Alex and Callum have start numbers 69 and 73 out of 97 athletes, and they'll be skiing four laps of the 5km loop. Hopefully "Operation Cram Callum Full Of Food" will be successful and he will have enough energy to last the distance.

February 27 - Race Day Five

Alex Almoukov and Callum Watson dug deep today in the men's 20km Freestyle to post respectable results after their illness. Alex was 57th and Callum 71st from the field of 97 athletes. There was some chaos at the start and Callum went down, but he wasn't caught in the major pile up and didn't break poles or skis like half a dozen skiers did. Alex made a good initial start but then lost most of his advantage on the inside of a switchback corner where he had to double pole and almost stopped before rounding the corner. He missed the main packs and after the first 5km was in 71st place nearly one minute off the pace. He moved up to 64th place by 10km, stayed fairly steady the third lap, then posted the 35th fastest time on the last lap to move up to 57th, 4:45 behind the winner Phillipp Marschall of Germany. Callum felt crap on his first lap, back in 87th place and losing one and a half minutes after 5km, however after taking his first drink at about 3.5km he began to feel better. On the second lap and half of the third lap Callum was cranking, catching skiers then moving onto the next. But then on the last lap he ran out of juice and lost two and a half minutes to end up 7:10 behind the winner, though still overtook one Czech skier up the last big hill. It would have been nice to see how Alex and Callum could have done with a healthy lead-in; regardless they skied well today.

Tomorrow is our last race day and Aimee and Simbo have a good chance to put another good result on the board. Aimee has been skating well all this season and though she is a slow starter she has 15km to work her way up the field. Simbo will be trying to get into the lead pack from the start and hang on as long as possible.

Alex Almoukov in 20km Freestyle

February 28 - Race Day Six

The World U23 Championship finished up well for the Australian team with two top 30 results. Aimee Watson had her best race of the season to finish 24th in the women's 15km Freestyle, while Ben Sim fought back from misfortune at the the start of the men's 30km Freestyle to take 25th place. It was a fitting way to cap off a great season for Aimee, as she and brother Callum are flying back to Australia tomorrow.

Aimee stayed out of trouble in the mass start, and already after 3km was up into 33nd place out of the field of 50 athletes. On the second 5km lap she cranked, moving up to 26th place and onto the back of a pack that went up to 20th place. Aimee continued to climb steadily on the last lap, and near the top of the course was clear in 20th place, however unfortunately four skiers caught and outsprinted her to the line. The result was still fantastic - PB FIS points of 94.68 (in a mass start race also!), 5% behind the winner Olga Tiaga (RUS), and plenty of scalps of higher ranked skiers including three Swedes, both Canadians and the sole German. If she'd held on to be 5 seconds quicker Aimee would have knocked off all the Finns, Czechs, and Austrians as well.

Simbo was less fortunate in his start. A Czech skier stepped on his ski in the first 300m, bringing him down and also entangling US skier Michael Sinnot. From pretty much dead last Simbo skied up to the mid 40's on the first 5km lap, and was back within 25 seconds of the leaders. The next lap he held the main group steady, even closing to within 20 seconds and joining the back of the main pack. However when the pack started to up the pace Simbo was off the back together with two Germans and a Japanese skier, with whom he skied until the last lap. On the last lap they caught several skiers who dropped off the main bunch, but in the last kilometre the Germans got away and in then in the finish straight Simbo was outsprinted by a Kazak skier. Another great result for Simbo - under 4% behind the winner Dario Cologna (SUI) - however it's hard not to think of what might have been without the fall at the start. Though as Simbo said after the race, maybe he would have blown up trying to go with the leaders, who knows.

So that's it for the championship week at Schlinig. There were some great performances from all four Australian athletes. Congratulations everyone! Now FIS just needs to sort out where the championships will be next year - preferably somewhere with reliable snow or at least a definite back up venue. No more postponed championships please!

Aimee Watson moving up through the pack, 15km freestyle

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