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Australian Team Reports 2008/2009
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World Championship Special
World Junior/U23 Championship Special
IPC World Championship Report

March 23 - World Cup Season Over
March 21 - One Day Remains
March 20 - World Cup Final
March 15 - Fun In Trondheim
March 10 - More From Lahti
March 7 - Lahti WC Sprint
February 26 - World Uni Games Update
February 15 - Pre-Worlds Races
February 10 - Koasalauf
February 1 - Assorted Races
January 29 - Swiss Champ Finale
January 22 - Swiss Championship - VDP Under 120
January 20 - Marathons and Relays
January 17 - Missed Opportunities
January 11 - Grimmer Goes Under 100
January 7 - North American Racing
December 31 - Campra Swiss Cup
December 25 - Merry Christmas
December 24 - Racing Catch-Up
December 15 - Davos World Cup
December 7 - Callum Watson In Form
November 30 - Ruka World Cup
November 27 - Final Preparations
November 23 - Season Opening


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Australian Team Reports 2008/2009

March 23 - World Cup Season Over

World Cup Final Stage 4 - Falun 15km Pursuit, Sweden, March 22
The last day of the World Cup Final was better for Ben Sim though not without incident. Sim finished 75th on in the final 15km Pursuit, with a time 3:14 behind the fastest skier Shiriaev of Russia, which moved him up into 79th place in the overall standings. Starting in a mass start of 27 athletes five minutes behind the leader Sim was active at the front of a chasing group and looking strong in a pack which included among othersTeichmann of Germany who started just ahead of the mass start. Unfortunately just after bridging a gap to a small break Sim took a fall on a fast downhill, winding himself as he hit a protective mattress. Losing about 30 seconds almost directly Sim was then skiing by himself off the back of the pack and ahead of about 10 skiers who had already lost contact. He fought hard all the way to the end, but was caught by three skiers in the last kilometre and out-sprinted to the finish line. Disappointed about his fall, at least it was better to finish the World Cup season with a better performance. The skiers that Sim was skiing with before his fall finished around 60th.

While the season is over now for almost all the team it isn't quite over for Sim. He is heading now to Alaska for the last races of the USA Championship in Fairbanks.

March 21 - One Day Remains

World Cup Final Stage 3 - Falun Double-Pursuit, Sweden, March 21
There was no turn around in form for Ben Sim today in the 20km Pursuit in Falun, and he finished 81st out of 83 starters. Before the start Sim said he felt like he had no energy, and though he made a good start for the first kilometre he lost contact with the pack before the first drink station. At the end of the classic leg he was with Novoselki from Lithuania, and though the skate leg was slightly better and he skied away from Novoselki there was no-one close in front to try and catch. It's apparent now that the good form that Sim had at the World Championship in Czech last month is long gone - he ended up 9:37 behind the winner Cologna of Switzerland, around 17% behind which is about as far back as Sim has ever been in a World Cup. The good news...? There's only one race left and then the World Cup season is over. Tomorrow the race is a traditional Pursuit event, with the World Cup Final leader starting first. Sim will start five minutes behind Cologna in a mass start with 27 other athletes.

March 20 - World Cup Final

World Cup Final Stage 1 - Stockholm Sprint, Sweden, March 18
Paul Murray had his best World Cup in two years on Wednesday, finishing 42nd in the Classic Sprint around the King's Castle in the centre of Stockholm. Murray was 8.8 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Hattestad of Norway, and 1.8 seconds outside of qualifying for the finals. The other two Australians Ben Sim and Esther Bottomley didn't have great races, finishing 95th /97 and 66th / 72 respectively. Sim was scrambling on the first uphill and tripped and fell, ending up 25 seconds off the pace. Bottomley was 27 seconds behind the fastest female qualifier Muranen of Finland, understandable considering she had been sick for a week but not where she was hoping to be.

This was the first stage of the World Cup Final, which has three more events coming up in Falun. Sim will be the only competitor in the remaining events, as Bottomley and Murray are already on their way back to Australia. There was no point in Bottomley racing in her current state of health, and though Murray just found some form there is a big difference in being in good shape for a 2-3 minute sprint and three tough distance races in three days.

World Cup Final Stage 2 - Falun Hill Climb Prologue, Sweden, March 20
Ben Sim was 84th today in the men's 3.3km Freestyle Prologue, 59 seconds behind the day's winner Axel Teichmann of Germany. It was a tough race for only 3.3km, climbing one and a half times up the Murder-Bakken and taking 8:33 for the winner. Sim said that he pushed as hard as he could and was completely lactic at the end of the race, possibly having started a little hard. With a couple of skiers knocked out because of the time-limits and several athletes already withdrawn Sim is holding up the rear of the field. That should hopefully change tomorrow with the 10-10km Pursuit event.

March 15 - Fun In Trondheim

Trondheim World Cup, Norway, March 12-14
The even ts in Trondheim this week were both classic but that's where the similarity ends. Four Australians contested on the Classic Sprint on Thursday and just one started the 50km Classic on Saturday. Paul Murray was the best of the guys in the sprint, finishing 67th /72, 13 seconds behind th fastest qualifier Dahl of Norway. This was Murray's best sprint since Kuusamo back in November, and he seems to be on his way back into better form. Nick Grimmer and Ben Sim were 69th and 70th, Grimmer scoring his best ever sprint points and Sim his best points since his last World Junior Championship back in 2005. Esther Bottomley was 52nd in the women's sprint, scoring her best classic sprint points on World Cup on a long course. The field however was stacked with a very strong national group (in a classic sprint in Norway, who would have thought it?) and she signed the list. Bottomley is sick again now, her throat started getting sore on the morning of the sprint and she has gone downhill since then.

Ben Sim started the 50km Classic however pulled out after about 12km. He wasn't feeling good and decided there was no point to flog himself for another two hours just to finish. It was a tough decision to make and Sim was regretting it immediately after pulling his number off, but with four more world cup races coming up next week it was probably the best thing to do.

The next race is a Classic Sprint in Stockholm on Wednesday, followed by three races in Falun from Friday to Sunday. The four events make up a mini tour, and include a hill climb up the "Murder-Hill" in Falun.

March 10 - More From Lahti

Lahti World Cup, Finland, March 7-8
Aimee Watson finished her season last Sunday with arguably her best World Cup result ever. Watson was 54th / 61 in the 10km Freestyle in Lahti, just 3:15 or 13.1% behind the winner Kowalczyk of Poland. After the first split Watson was back in 60th place, however she steadily moved up during the race and posted the 48th fastest last 3.5km to jump up into 54th. In the 15km Freestyle Ben Sim and Nick Grimmer finished 75th and 91st / 92, 9.9% and 21.9% behind the winner Legkov of Russia. Both guys started fast then lost some places through the middle of the race. Sim was 66th at the first split, dropped to 78th at the 11.5km mark, then rallied at the end to climb up a few places. Grimmer in his debut distance World Cup was 84th at the first split and then was in danger of signing the list with 2.5km to go, but he dug deep at the end to hold off New Zealand's Nat Anglem by 20 seconds and also outsprint Sim to the line (in case of confusion it was an interval start).

The World Cup moves now to Trondheim in Norway, where Paul Murray will join the team for the Classic Sprint coming up on Thursday March 12. Ben Sim will be the only Australian in the distance races on March 14, when he takes on his first 50km Classic.

March 7 - Lahti World Cup Sprint

Lahti World Cup, Finland, March 7-8
Three Australians raced in the World Cup Sprint races in Lahti today in Finland. Esther Bottomley was 54th / 61 in the women's 1.3km Sprint, 15.2 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Muranen of Finland. Nick Grimmer and Ben Sim were 80th and 82nd / 85 in the men's 1.5km Sprint, 16.4 and 17.8 seconds behind Brandsdal of Norway. Grimmer and Sim both scored their best sprint FIS points of the season, while Bottomley scored her best FIS points [correction, 2nd best, the best was in Dusseldorf in December] on World Cup for the season (and beat a Norwegian, which is always good). Tomorrow Sim and Grimmer will race the 15km Freestyle event, and Aimee Watson will race the 10km Freestyle.

February 26 - World University Games Update

World Universiade Winter Games, Harbin, China, February 18-28
Two Australian cross count ry skiers are in China for the WUWG this month, Ewan Watson and Simon Flower. It sounds like it has been an interesting event, with crazy tight security. Simon's bags arrived late so he was only able to ski the day before the races started. So far there have been three competitions for the guys; the 10km Freestyle, the Sprint, and the Pursuit. Here are some details from Ewan about the races so far:

It is quite cold here averaging around -22 each night, and -16 during the day. However there are 30-60 km winds most of the time, so it feels much colder. The Canadians are great, helping us out heaps. They are preparing all our skis and going to all team captains' meetings for us.

Race 1. Today was the 10 km Skate. It snowed last night making the snow much slower than what it had been in the previous days. Simon was in the first unseeded group starting 3rd and I was further back with 43 of 99. Simon caught bibs 1 and 2 and lapped around with starting skiers. I felt a bit too nervous and fatigued before the start, however I went out hard on the first of the 2.5 km loops. The course was made up of two independent 2.5 km courses. Then found a steady pace and worked hard on all the uphills, and finished hard on the last 2.5km. Not sure if it was actually that fast but it hurt quite a bit.

Of a field of 97 starters, Simon came 82nd with 203.13 FIS points and I came 53rd with 117.89. We are happy with these results and preparing for long cold sprint tomorrow, with colder temperatures, more wind predicted, and a sprint course of 1.39 km long.

Race 2. The sprint went ok, it was faster and warmed up unexpectedly. Simon finished 76rd and I was 60th out of 86. We have the 15km Pursuit tomorrow so see what happens there.

Race 3. The pursuit was hard. There was a large crash on first downhill corner 300m after the start, somehow I got around the chaos and was in a reasonable position. The pace was super fast but the pack was holding together. I didn't feel very good at all during the first 2 laps. I tried to stay with the lead group but I think I dug a little deep, and paid for it during the 3rd lap. The change over was also reasonable, however I had a small fumble. On the last lap I felt much better than I had the whole race, and was able to pick up around 6 places in the last 3.75km. I finished 63rd out of 89 starters. Simon opted not to start.

The last event for the Australians is the 30km Classic on February 27. More details about the WUWG in China are available on the official website.

February 15 - Pre-Worlds Races

World Cup, Valdidentro, ITA, February 13-14
Five members of Australia's World Championship team travelled down to Italy for the last World Cup before the beginning of the circus in Liberec and three raced in the Freestyle Sprint on February 13. Esther Bottomley finished 59th out of 63 starters in the women's 1.4km sprint, while Andrew Mock and Paul Murray were 74th and 75th out of 79 in the men's 1.7km event. Bottomley was 17.8 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Muranen of Finland, and didn't feel like she was really firing throughout the event. Mock and Murray both went a bit lactic over the top of the longest climb and struggled a little on the second climb. They ended up 22.1 and 24.9 seconds behind Bransdal of Norway the fastest qualifier.

The next day in the 15km Classic Ben Sim and Andrew Mock finished 72nd and 76th out of 78 starters. Sim didn't have quite as much grip as he'd like and lost some time towards the end of the race to end up 4:24 or 12.2% behind the winner Sodergren of Sweden. Mock was reasonable happy with his first ever distance World Cup and was just over one minute behind Sim and 14.2% behind Sodergren.

Aimee Watson unfortunately had to pull out of the 10km Classic before the start due to lower back pain from a fall earlier in the week. Aimee completed her warm-up and her race skis were all ready to go when she pulled the pin. Her injury seems to be just soft tissue and hopefully she will be right for the World Championship 10km this coming week.

OPA Continental Cup, Zwiesel, GER, February 14-15
The rest of the World Championship team was in Zwiesel this weekend. On Saturday February 14 Callum Watson made a great return to form in the 15km Classic, finishing 53rd and cracking under the 100 FIS point barrier for the first time. Mark van der Ploeg was the next Australian in 59th, also scoring personal best distance FIS points of 116, with Nick Grimmer 65th, Chris Darlington 69th and Andrew 70th in the field of 72 athletes.

Paul Murray and Esther Bottomley made a dash after the World Cup in Italy on Friday and joined in for the Sunday sprint event. Bottomley qualified in 9th place in the open women's class,2.5 seconds behind Nicole Fessel of Germany, scoring 66.1 FIS points her best of the season. In the quarter-final Bottomley made a good start but her skis weren't running fast on the main downhill and she dropped back and was eliminated, ending up 23rd overall. Murray was the fastest of the Australian men in 35th place, 10.6 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Waldmeier of Switzerland, with Mark van der Ploeg another 1.6 seconds back in 43rd place and Nick Grimmer another 1.7 seconds back from that in 48th. Chris Darlington and Andrew Wynd were 53rd and 54th, 0.7 of a second apart.

World Championship Team Announced
The Australian Team for the 2009 World Championship in Liberec was recently finalised. Eleven athletes have been selected to compete, backed up by a team of seven support staff. This is the largest ever Australian Team to compete at a FIS World Championship, including several specialists within the team who may only compete in 1-2 events. The most experienced member of the team is 31 year old Paul Murray, who will be competing in his fifth World Championship. Murray's 31st place in the Classic Sprint in Oberstdorf 2005 is Australia's best ever at the cross country skiing World Championship. Esther Bottomley and Ben Sim have also competed in three World Championships each and have been competing regularly on World Cup since 2004. Six athletes will make their World Championship debut in Liberec - Nick Grimmer, Chris Darlington, Aimee Watson, Mark Raymond, Mark van der Ploeg, and the youngest member of the team 19 year old Callum Watson. It will be Andrew Mock's third World Championship and Andrew Wynd's second.

Team Reports from the championship will be posted in the World Championship Special section.

The Australian Team for Liberec 2009:

Athletes - Esther Bottomley, Chris Darlington, Nick Grimmer, Andrew Mock, Paul Murray, Mark Raymond, Ben Sim, Mark van der Ploeg, Aimee Watson, Callum Watson, Andrew Wynd
Manager - Brian Keeble
Coach - Finn Marsland
Service Team - Robert Bergmann (SWE), Jeff Ellis (CAN), Cameron Dickinson, Robert Fischer (GER)
Team Doctor - Jane Fitzpatrick
Physiotherapist - Andrew Wynd

February 10 - Koasalauf

Last weekend was the Koasalauf, the second largest cross country ski race in Austria after the Dolomitenlauf. On Saturday February 7, four Australians competed in the 20km Classic event. Chris Darlington was the first home in 6th place, with Andrew Mock in 8th, Ewan Watson in 11th, and Andrew Wynd in 25th after a shocking run of luck that will be reported elsewhere (here) soon. The race was won by Lukas Hechl of Austria, who incidently was one of two athletes who jumped the gun at the start of the race. The full results can be found on the Koasalauf website.

World Junior / U23 Championship Praz de Lys, FRA, January 28 - February 5
The World Junior / U23 Championships finished up earlier this week, with Alex Almoukov making the top half of the field in the 10km Freestyle in 46th place and Georgia Merritt recording Australia's best ever distance result for a junior female in the 5km Freestyle. See the event special page for more details.

February 1 - Assorted Races

Konig Ludwig Lauf, Oberammergau, GER, January 31 - February 1
On Saturday in the Freestyle events at the Konig Ludwig Lauf in Germany there were. In the 50km Freestyle Andrew Mock finished 5th, just 1:21 behind the winner Marcus Enders of Germany. Chris Darlington finished 14th, nine minutes off the pace, with Mark van der Ploeg back in 52nd after breaking a pole right at the start of the race. Lescinska Fackerell was 9th woman across the line, 13 minutes behind Pia Sundstedt of Finland. In the women's 20km Freestyle Esther Bottomley finished second, 46 seconds behind Nadine Horchler of Germany, with Felice Beitzel another five minutes back in 8th place. Ben Sim was at the front of the men's pack for part of the 20km Freestyle, and ended up 4th in a 6-way sprint finish which was won by Harald Schuler of Germany ahead of 2008 Kangaroo Hoppet runner-up Viktor Novotny from Czech. Andrew Wynd was 18th in his first race since arriving in Europe at the start of the week.

In the Classic events the next day Nick Grimmer was the sole National Team member in the 50km Classic, the main Worldloppet event of the weekend. Grimmer finished in 64th place, with Stanislav Rezac of Czech (Hoppet winner from 1999?) taking the win. Sim made the podium in the 20km Classic, outsprinted for first place by Harald Schuler by just 0.1 of a second this time. Darlington was sixth, apparently both Australians double poled without wax on the flat course. Bottomley took second place for the second day in a row, this time behind 25 seconds behind Marie Blaner of Germany, with Beitzel taking 6th place. Did we miss anyone? [Afternote: Grimmer was leading the second main pack and just outside the top 20 after 25km, then went to the lead to try and catch the main pack, then his arms ran out of juice at the 37km mark and he dropped back towards the end.]

More details from the Konig Ludwig Lauf are expected tomorrow. [Or not. Sorry to build up expectations.]

Swedish Championship, Sundsvall, SWE, January 31 - February 1
Paul Murray qualified in 18th place in the Swedish Championship sprint on Saturday January 31, on a long classic sprint course that had the leaders posting times up towards four minutes. In the quarter finals Murray was up in contention for the first half, then was stuck behind in the wrong lane when a break was made and ran out of legs on the last hill to end up in 6th place. Leon Spiller was 66th in the qualification time trial.

On Sunday Murray and Spiller were 76th and 81st in the 15km Freestyle, 6:51 and 7:32 behind the winner Anders Sodergren of Sweden. Murray aparently fell in the first kilometre, the action caught live on Swedish TV and replayed in slow motion to run salt in the wound. With the last chance of qualifying for the World Championship now gone Spiller is beginning Vasaloppet training with a classic marathon in Sweden next weekend, while Murray will start to reduce volume and increase intensity to find form before the World Championship sprint in just over three weeks' time.

World Junior / U23 Championship Sprint Races, Praz de Lys, FRA, February 1
Callum Watson, Alex Almoukov, Aimee Watson and Georgia Merritt raced today in the sprint events at the World Junior / U23 Championship in Praz de Lys. See the event special page for more details.

January 29 - Swiss Champs Finale

Swiss Championship, Trun, January 21-25
The news is a few days old but the Swiss Championship finished up last Sunday with the relays events. The Pursuit events were on Saturday, with a slightly reduced Australian field thanks to some illness, some tiredness, and a night sprint that evening an hour or so away. Aimee Watson was the highest placed Australian in the Pursuit, finishing 6th in the 10km event after posting the 4th fastest skate time. Only 56 seconds behind the winner, Watson scored her best FIS points of the season, 96.4. Georgia Merritt also was stronger on the skate leg, skiing the 14th fastest time and ending up 20th in the U20 class. In the men's 20km event Ben Sim was 8th overall, with the next Australian Ewan Watson in 18th place. Chris Darlington and Leon Spiller finished in 21st and 22nd place.

In the women's 3x5km relay the team of Aimee Watson, Georgia Merritt, and Esther Bottomley were 6th overall. Watson changed over the first classic leg in 4th place, Merritt dropped some places on the second classic leg, then Bottomley skied the team back into 6th on the freestyle leg. Juliette Booth, Felice Beitzell, and Lescinska Fackerell finished in 10th place. The men's relaye teams were reshuffled after Callum Watson decided not to race for the second day in a row (just to be on the safe side). Ben Sim, Nick Grimmer and Andrew Mock were in the hunt for the podium on the last leg but just fell short, finishing 4th just over a minute behind first place. Leon Spiller, Chris Darlington and Ewan Watson were 10th, with the make-up team of Andrew Pohl (New Zealand junior), Finn Marsland and Mark van der Ploeg being outsprinted for 13th out of 15 teams.

Some more details from the Swiss Championship appear in the 5th installment of Andrew Mock's reports, which has been recently posted.

The large team from the Swiss Championship has now split, with the younger contingent now in Praz de Lys in France for the World Junior/U23 Championship and the more seasoned campaigners undertaking a training block in Seefeld in Austria. Details from Praz de Lys will be posted in the World Junior/U23 Championship special section.

January 22 - Swiss Championship - VDP Under 120

Swiss Championship, Trun, January 21-25
Fourteen Australian athletes are on site for the 2009 Swiss Championship in Trun. With two days of racing down the highlight so far has been Mark van der Ploeg's 7th place in the finals of the Classic Sprint, with strong performances also by Ben Sim, Andrew Mock, and Ewan Watson in the 15km Freestyle, by Callum Watson in the junior men's 10km Freestyle and by Aimee Watson and Esther Bottomley in the 10km Freestyle.

Waxing was tricky for the sprint, with variable conditions and skiers racing either on no-wax skis or klister combinations. Van der Ploeg skied a smoking time trial to finish in 6th place, seven seconds behind Swiss sprint specialist Eligius Tambornino, scoring 107 FIS points and qualifying for the 2009 World Championship in the process. Andrew Mock and Ben Sim also qualifed for the men's finals in 13th and 14th place, with Chris Darlington just missing out on the finals in 17th place. Mock lost time early on in his quarter final and was knocked out. Switching from klister to Anthony Evans' rocket crowns for the finals Sim was in contention in the last quarter-final, hitting the finish straight on the heels of van der Ploeg and alongside Swiss sprinter Gaudenz Flury, however van der Ploeg was too strong in the closing double pole and out-lunged Flury for second place and the last semi-final position. Knocked out in the semi-final and gapped at the start of the B-final van der Ploeg rallied at the end to take third place and 7th overall. In the junior men's time trial Callum Watson skied well to qualify in 9th place with a time between that of Mock and Sim. The junior men were very strong, posting two of the top three open times in the time trial. Watson looked good in the quarter-final but finished third and missed out on the semi-finals.

Esther Bottomley qualified for the women's finals in 11th place, 19 seconds off the pace after struggling with grip in the time trial (along with most of the Australian females). Lescinska Fackerell was 13th and Felice Beitzel 14th. Also using the rocket crowns in the quarter-finals Bottomley looked much better up the hills and was close behind the third ranked qualifier, however finished third in her heat and was knocked out along with Beitzel. Georgia Merrit qualified 12th in the junior women's time trial and also skied better in the quarter-finals but didn't make it through. Booth who finished 13th and Fackerell opted not to the contest the finals.

Conditions were a lot colder on the morning of the individual freestyle races than expected, resulting in some last minute rewaxing at the tracks. In the women's 10km Freestyle Aimee Watson struggled to ski well on hard packed snow that was a little "sketchy" but still managed to finish in 10th place, 1:57 behind the winner Denise Hermann of Germany, with FIS points of 121. Bottomley skied one of her best distance races in Europe to take 11th place and 129 FIS points, 22 seconds behind Watson. Lescinska Fackerell and Felice Beitzel were further down the list in 19th and 21st place. Former Australian KT Calder now skiing for New Zealand took third place, only 3 seconds behind Hermann. Georgia Merritt was very happy with her race, finishing 18th in the junior women's 5km Freestyle with FIS points of 192, 1:20 behind the winner Carmen Emmenegger, while Juliette Booth was two minutes further back in 30th place.

Sim finished 8th in the men's 15km Freestyle, 2:22 behind the winner Remo Fischer . Sim felt that his form was still not quite there and that he died on the last 5km lap. Mock was 12th, 3:27 off the pace and under 100 FIS points for the second time in his career. The surprise of the day was Ewan Watson, who was the next Australian in 18th place with 132 FIS points, just under five minutes behind.Watson was behind Nick Grimmer and Chris Darlington after the first lap but finished well to be well clear of his older team-mates. Mark Van der Ploeg and Darlington ended up four seconds apart in 23rd and 24th place, while Grimmer was another 16 seconds back in 26th place, 11 seconds ahead of Leon Spiller in 27th. Callum Watson was 10th in the junior men's 10km Freestyle, 1:28 behind the winner with FIS points of 115. Watson said he felt great during the race but lost valuable time with a fall on a fast downhill. New Zealand junior Andrew Pohl (who is staying with the Australian Team until the World Junior Championship) was 11th just 3 seconds behind Watson.

The next races are the pursuit events on Saturday, followed by relays on Sunday. Some team-members may opt to skip the pursuit in favour of a freestyle sprint a couple of hours away.

Mark VDP leading Gaudenz Flury (SUI) and Ben Sim into the final straight

January 20 - Marathons and Relays

World Cup, Whistler Olympic Park, Canada, January 18
Ben Sim and Paul Murray teamed up to finish 16th in the freestyle Team Sprint at the Whistler Olympic Park in Canada, with Esther Bottomley and Aimee Watson finishing 19th. Sim and Murray looked comfortable in the pack for the first three laps, then lost contact with the leaders at the end of Murray's second leg. Sim looked strong on his last leg, skiing the 7th fastest time and coming in ahead of two Canadian skiers. On Murray's last leg he really started to tire and was overtaken by Canadians Babikov and Butler, but then unexpectedly caught them in the stadium after they took a wrong turn and missed the finish lane. Murray fought hard to the line but was beaten by Babikov by a metre. Bottomley made a good start and was up into third place on the first hill, then was in the middle of the pack in 7th place as she passed off to Watson at the first change. Unfortunately Watson was unable to match the pace of the group and lost contact, and both skiers skied a solo race to the finish on each leg from there on.

Watson, Sim, and Bottomley head to Europe now to join most of the rest of the Australian Team at the Swiss Championship, while Murray will go to his training base in Sweden.

Dolomitenlauf, Lienz, Austria, January 17-18
Andrew Mock and Chris Darlington took on the 60km Freestyle Dolomitenlauf in Austria on January 18. Mock was 20th and Darlington 28th in the main event at the Austrian Worldloppet race. Mock lost contact with the main pack at the 30km mark then skied back to join the leaders again together with Vasaloppet winner Daniel Tynell of Sweden, only to lose contact again with 5km to go. At the end he was 1:50 behind the winner, not a bad effort over 60km. Darlington in his first race after arriving from Australia a week ago was just over 10 minutes off the pace. Darlo said his skis were slow in the colder snow at the start of the race

The previous day in the 20km Classic event Mark van der Ploeg finished 4th, just two seconds from the podium. Thanks to bad seeding from the race organisers van der Ploeg had to ski up through punters, and by the team he made it through the main group (together with the 42km skiers) was gone. He caught one skier who dropped off the back and skied the latter part of the race with him before being outsprinted for the podium spot.

Surselva Marathon, Trun, Switzerland, January 18
Ewan Watson skied a good race to finish 13th in the 25km Freestyle Surselva Marathon in Switzerland on Sunday January 18. Watson didn't get a good start and never made it into the lead group which included Swiss World Cup winner and eventual race winner Toni Livers and former Swissloppet champion Pascal Grab, but skied a strong race to be just 7 minutes off the pace at the finish. Lescinska Fackerell and Georgia Merritt were 5th and 6th in the women's 25km event, about 10 and 12 minutes behind the winner Sereina Boner, winning boxed BBQ implements and pepper grinders for their efforts. Leon Spiller was 74th, and without knowing any information at all he most likely skied the race at training pace.

Energia Alpine Nordic Relay, Trun, Switzerland, January 17.
The team of Callum Watson, Ewan Watson, and Nick Grimmer picked up second place and some handy prize money in the night relay at the Surselva Marathon in Switzerland on Saturday evening January 17. Using an unorthodox race format, teams had 30 minutes in which to ski as many laps as possible of a sprint loop in the centre of Sedrun. The Aussie team had the same amount of laps as the race winners Team Rossignol lead by Pascal Grab, and were just 24 seconds behind. There wasn't a female category, but if there was Georgia Merritt, Juliette Booth, and Lescinska Fackerell would have won it, finishing in 13th place overall.

January 17 - Missed Opportunities

World Cup, Whistler Olympic Park, Canada, January 16-18
Four members of the Australian World Cup Team - Paul Murray, Ben Sim, Esther Bottomley and Aimee Watson - are in Canada for the World Cup events at the Whistler Olympic Park. With two out of three competition days down so far it has been a case of missed opportunities. In the men's Classic Sprint on Friday January 16 Murray finished 40th/48, 3.7 seconds outside of the top 30. In the women's Sprint Bottomley was 43rd/58, with distance specialist Watson signing the list in 58th place. Today in the men's 30km Pursuit Sim finished 32nd/36, and while Watson was 36th/42. With small fields in Canada there was a reasonable chance to take World Cup points in each of the events on offer, however unfortunately none of the Australians were able to take advantage of the situation.

Murray's preparation for the sprint was hampered by suspected food poisoning a week before the event and lingering stomach pain up until the day before. Normally around 10-12 seconds off the pace in a classic sprint when in form, Murray ended up 17.1 seconds behind the time trial pace of Emil Jonsson from Sweden, on a day when 14.4 seconds was good enough to be in the finals.

Bottomley's performance in the women's sprint was one of her better classic sprints and certainly her best on World Cup. She was 19.8 seconds behind Alena Prochanzkova of Slovakia and 5.3 seconds outside the finals. Watson, starting the sprint event mostly for more World Cup experience was 33 seconds off the pace. Unusually the women's field was larger than the men's, with good depth as well.

Sim made a good start in the men's Pursuit and was in contact with the lead pack after the first 3.75km lap, just 9 seconds from the leader. However two lap later it was apparent that Sim wasn't able to maintain the pace, and he dropped back to about 34th place at the end of the classic leg. After the race Sim said that he gave it a red hot go at the start of the freestyle leg to see if he was able to ski himself into better form, but it lasted only about 500m and from there it was survival mode to get the finish. He ended up in 33rd place after two German's were disqualified.

Watson skied arguably the best classic race of her life to hit the changeover pits in 31st place, ahead of skiers from Germany, France, Finland, several of the top Canadian and US skiers, and even a Russian. After moving up in the skate leg in the Canada Cup pursuit two weeks ago World Cup points looked a real possibility. This time however fatigue set in, and Watson dropped back to 36th place, rallying in the last kilometre to hold off a late challenge from Fessel of Germany. Although it was disappointing to be so close, it was a very promising performance and Watson's best World Cup result.

Tomorrow is the Team Sprint event in freestyle technique, with Bottomley/Watson teaming up in the first women's semi-final and Sim/Murray lined up for the men's second semi-final. It will several days before the next report is posted here, however look to Paul Murray's website for a report from Paul in the next day or so. The next report on this site will also include results from the Dolomitenlauf in Austria and the Surselve Marathon and Night Sprints in Switzerland.

January 11 - Grimmer Goes Under 100

Swiss Cup, Feutersoey, January 10-11
There were several breakthrough results for the Australians at the Swiss Cup in Feutersoey on the weekend. Nick Grimmer went under 100 FIS points for the first time in the 15km Freestyle on Sunday, while Callum Watson made a clean sweep of the U20 races, winning his first Swiss Cup.

Grimmer was 7th in the 15km Freestyle, 1:55 behind the winner Marco Muhlematter, with 94.7 FIS points. The result qualifies Grimmer for Wold Cup and for the 2009 World Championship in Liberec in February. Ewan Watson also had a PB in the race, finishing in 9th place with 124.2 FIS points, while Leon Spiller was 11th with 148.6 points. The previous day in the 15km Classic mass start Spiller had a good start and was up with the leaders after the first 2km, however felt the effects of racing at altitude after coming down from Sweden and dropped back to 10th at the finish. Ewan Watson and Grimmer skied steadier races and had a sprint finish with each other for 7th place, which Watson won, scoring 133 FIS points for his troubles.

In the U20 Junior events Callum Watson dominated on both days, winning the 10km Classic by 37 seconds and the 10km Freestyle by 53 seconds. As well as being his first Swiss Cup victories these were also Watson's first wins in FIS competition. In the U20 women's 7.5km classic Georgia Merritt finished in 18th place, 3 minutes behind the winner, with Juliette Booth 23 seconds further back in 20th. The next day Booth gave the 5km Freestyle race a miss, while Merritt had a good day to finish in 12th in the junior class, 1:58 behind the winner, with personal best FIS points of 183.4. Merritt was 18th in the open event, while Lescinska Fackerell was 24th another 25 seconds behind.

Pustertaler Marathon, Dobbiaco, ITA, January 11
Andrew Mock finished 24th in the 42km Freestyle Pustertaler Marathon in Italy on the weekend, with Mark van der Ploeg finishing 33rd. Mock was just under 7 minutes behind the winner Christian Zorzi of Italy, with van der Ploeg just over 11 minutes off the pace. Mock went out hard and stayed with the lead pack for the first half of the race, lost contact with the leaders and skied the next 15km solo, then hit the wall with 4km to go and was caught by a chasing pack. Van der Ploeg skied a much more even race. Next weekend the pair head to the Dolomitenlauf Worldloppet event in Austria, along with Chris Darlington who just arrived from Australia.

January 7 - North American Racing

Canada Cup and World Junior/U23 Trials, Canmore, January 2-6
Aimee Watson made a good start to her racing season with some fine performances in Canmore. The opening Pursuit race was moved to January 5 because of temperatures below the FIS limit, which meant that Watson's first race was then the 10km Freestyle on January 4. The 21-year old from Cooma finished in 5th place, 1:38 behind the winner Madeleine Williams, with FIS points of 125. The next day in the Pursuit Watson had some problems with grip but still skied to a respectable 9th place, 2:43 behind Milaine Theriault. After the race Watson sent in this report:

Today was the Pursuit and it was a lot warmer - the air temp was about -3 by the time I raced at 1:30. I think I nailed the glide wax, but my grip wasn't so good. Not really sure what happened. When I tested, it seemed OK, but I couldn't test on the race track, I was testing on what I thought was the best resembling track (on the biathlon trails where a lot of other wax techs were testing). So the end result was that the grip could have been a fair bit better - I ended up running up the longest hill. The skate leg felt really good though. I made up some places (came in 12th after the classic and ended up 9th. I was 2:43 behind the leader (Milaine Theriault who was 0.3sec ahead of Brittany Webster) at the finish. I ended up 3rd in U23s.

In the final event the Classic Sprint Watson finished in 15th place in the finals, after qualifying in 19th place and finishing in 3rd place in her quarter-final. Watson now travels to Whistler to join other members of the team in preparation for the World Cup coming up from January 16-18

USA Championship, Anchorage, January 3-8
Ben Sim skied his first race of the season on Monday January 5, finishing 20th in the USA 10km Freestyle Championship in Anchorage. There was no racing on the first two days of the US Championship because of extreme cold temperatures, and the 15km Classic the day after the 10km was also cancelled due to the cold. Sim was satisfied with his first race, where he was 2:16 behind the winner Kris Freeman of the USA (but only 1:26 outside of second place as Freeman smashed the field). Now he is twiddling his thumbs to see if there will be another race or if it will remain too cold for racing. Regardless, Sim will travel to Whistler on Friday to join up with Paul Murray, Aimee Watson, and Esther Bottomley in preparation for the World Cup at the Whistler Olympic Park.

December 31 - Campra

Campra Swiss Cup, Switzerland, December 29-30
Three Australians contested the Swiss Cup races in Campra earlier this week. Nick Grimmer and Mark van der Ploeg raced particularly well in the Classic Sprint on Monday December 29, while Andrew Mock showed better form in the 15km Freestyle the next day.

Grimmer qualified 8th in the open men's 1.3km sprint time trial, just over 10 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Joeri Kindschi, with van der Ploeg two seconds further back in 13th and Mock another two seconds back in 17th. In the finals both Grimmer and van der Ploeg were close to making the semi-finals, finishing third in their respective quarter-finals to end up 9th and 11th overall. Van der Ploeg gave 5th placed qualifier Martin Jaeger a real scare as they crossed the line side by side, Jaeger being awarded second place. Grimmer's FIS points of 124 and van der Ploeg's points of 139 were their best of the season so far.

In the 15km Mock was 12th, 4:06 behind the winner Remo Fischer. Grimmer and van der Ploeg were 22nd and 24th, 5:49 and 6:28 behind Fischer. Mock felt like he was in good shape, able to push the whole way without being in the hurt-box. His FIS points of 106 were also his best since arriving in Europe at the start of the month. KT Calder skiing for New Zealand had another good race, finishing 4th in the women's 5km.

 The next race results and reports will come from North America, where Ben Sim will contest the USA Championships in Anchorage and Aimee Watson will take on the Canadians in Canmore.

December 25 - Merry Christmas From The Australian XC Ski Team

December 24 - Racing Catch-Up

Dusseldorf World Cup, Germany, December 20-21
Esther Bottomley finished 45th/48 in the 0.8km freestyle sprint World Cup in Dusseldorf on December 20, 7.3 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Lina Andersson of Sweden and 2.7 seconds outside the top 30. Though the field was relatively small it was stacked with good sprinters, and many top ranked skiers missed the cut for the finals including amongst others Mischol of Switzerland, Sarasoja and Mahlvaletto of Finland, Gjoemle of Norway, and US #1 and World Cup winner Kikkan Randall. A split taken at the 100m mark had Bottomley in 12th place, showing that her raw speed isn't lacking, and while the end place was short of her aims her FIS points of 80.6 were not shabby at all. In the men's 1.5km sprint Andrew Mock was 69th and Mark van der Ploeg 72nd/73 (in his World Cup debut), 20 and 23 seconds behind Andrew Newell from the USA.

The next day Mock and van der Ploeg paired up for the Team Sprint, three legs each of the same 2-lap course used for the individual sprint. Ranked last on the grid the boys acquitted themselves well, finishing 12th in their semi-final and 24th overall out of 26 teams. Mock was able to sit comfortably in the pack on the first leg, and van der Ploeg only just lost contact on the second leg. Once the gap to the main pack was established the time gaps began to blow out, but the boys did well to fight all the way to the end. The snow was incredibly dirty, with wax remover used to clean skis between rounds.

To make it to Dusseldorf van der Ploeg had to race off against Callum Watson in a simulated team sprint in Davos in the previous week. The team was joined in the interval session by talented British juniors Andrew Musgrave and Andrew Young, who actually topped the times amongst every racing (including Mock who was the fastest Australian). The British duo made their World Cup Team Sprint debut in Dusselfdorf in the same final as our guys and were neck and neck after the first two legs, however unfortunately Andrew Young (who is only 16) blew up on his second leg and the Brits were pulled from the race on the last leg to avoid being lapped. Watch out for these juniors in a couple of years.

Andrew Mock, Team Sprint, Dusseldorf World Cup, December 2008

St Ulrich Continental Cup, Austria, December 18-21
Racing without any team support in St Ulrich, Nick Grimmer, Callum Watson, and Ewan Watson raced put in good performances in challenging conditions. Grimmer had his best result in the Classic Sprint on December 18, double-poling the course to qualify for the finals in 27th place. Here is Grimmer's personal report:

Had a solid race today, nothing special but at least better then last weekend. Double poled the course although it probably wasn't the fastest, no one else I saw did, but the grip waxing was so tricky I still think it was the best option for me, even though I felt slow up the second hill. In the end I was 27th out of 42, roughly 7.5% behind the winner with estimated FIS points of around 168. It was good to make the finals. In my quarter-final one guy false started but was not called despite me and the guy next to me standing up after he left only to hear the gun go. By the end of the straight though I managed to catch up and pulled a bit in front. I was on the far outside going around the long sweeping bend so sat back to slot in behind in equal third. I was able to stick with them to around half way up the hill but then they slowly pulled away throughout the rest of the course.

Grimmer ended up in 24th place. The Watson brothers saved themselves for the weekend and raced quite well in the 10km Freestyle. Callum Watson was three minutes behind the winner Remo Fischer of Switzerland, and only 1:15 behind German World Cup skier Tobias Angerer. In his first race of the season Ewan Watson was 3 seconds ahead of Nick Grimmer, both around five and half minutes back. It was an incredibly strong OPA cup field, with the calculated penalty less than the minimum of 15 points. Callum's result put him in 65th place overall and 20th junior, with FIS points of 124.

Sunday's 15km Classic mass start was changed to a 10km interval start because of the weather - rain rain and more rain. Callum and Ewan Watson finished 74th and 88th in the field of 107 starters, about 4:15 and 5:30 off the pace of Roland Clara of Italy, giving them FIS points of 144 and 181. The tracks were rain-softened and Callum reported his poles kept punching through when he was double poling. Grimmer opted not to enter, though was wondering if he'd made a mistake after the race was shortened and changed to interval start. Former Australian athlete KT Calder finished 23rd and 20th in the women's 5km and 10km events, scoring PB FIS points of 68 in the 5km event.

December 15 - Davos World Cup

Davos World Cup, Switzerland, December 13-14
On Saturday December 13 Callum Watson put in a solid performance in his debut World Cup, finishing 78th / 82 in the 15km Classic in Davos. Starting with bib #1 as the highest ranked athlete in the field Watson came home strong on the final lap of 5km to pick up a couple of places and narrow the gap to several others. Watson was 6:46 or about 16.8% behind the winner Johan Olsson of Sweden, with FIS points of 134. To note, Watson was one of three junior skiers in the field, and if he keeps this form for another month he'll be on his way to a good result at the 2009 World Junior Championship in France.

Three Australians took on the Sprint Freestyle World Cup in Davos the next day. Esther Bottomley was aiming for higher but had to settle for 65th / 71 in the women's 1.4km sprint. It was a tough sprint, as demonstrated by the field being strung out - Petra Madic from Slovenia the fastest qualifier and later race winner was a full four seconds clear of second place, and 30th place was over 13 seconds behind. Bottomley was 25.8 seconds off the pace. Former Australian athlete KT Calder was half a second further back in 67th place. The men's sprint was also brutal, 1.7km long, with the first 750m a long gradual uphill ending in a steep climb to the top of the course. Andrew Mock and Nick Grimmer finished 95th and 98th, 22.7 and 30.6 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Dario Cologna from Switzerland. Mock was reasonable happy with the way he skied in his first race of the season, while Grimmer was quite disappointed with his World Cup debut.

Next weekend Bottomley, Mock, and either Mark van der Ploeg or Callum Watson will head up through Germany for the World Cup in Dusseldorf. A team sprint simulation tomorrow will determine which athlete gets the nod for the Dusseldorf sprint and team sprint events.

Callum Watson, Davos World Cup

Skelleftea Sweden Cup, Sweden, December 13-14
In the Sweden Cup 15km Freestyle in Skelleftea last Saturday Leon Spiller finished 54th, 6:36 behind the winner Rikard Andreasson of Sweden, scoring FIS points of 180. After the race Spiller reported that he thought he felt good but the result was terrible. In the Classic Sprint the next day Paul Murray seemed to be having a blinder, hearing feedback over the last hill that he was close to the leader. Unfortunately he then took a bad fall on the downhill into the finish straight, and after getting back to his feet missed out on the finals by 4.6 seconds. Murray ended up in 62nd place out of the massive field of 218 athletes, with Spiller another 9.2 seconds behind Murray in 144th place. More details from Murray are available on his website.

Next weekend Spiller will head across to Norway for more FIS races, while Murray is travelling this week back to Australia. This is the first time in 10 years of competing overseas that Murray has returned to Australia mid-season. At the end of December he will travel to Canada to begin preparation for the World Cup events at the Whistler Olympic Park in mid-January.

Warped Perspective 2008-2009
Andrew Mock has resumed his Warped Perspective series, reporting from his experiences of the world of cross country skiing. Please note that the views expressed in his reports are generally not endorsed by anyone.

December 7 - Callum Watson In Form

 Ulrichen Swiss Cup, Switzerland, December 6-7
Junior Team member Callum Watson was the Australian in form this weekend, finishing 4th in the U20 Swiss Cup 10km Classic in Ulrichen on Saturday. Watson scored personal best FIS points of 112, his first time under the World Cup qualification standard of 120 points. Aiming for the U20 podium in the 10km Freestyle the next day Watson was leading the pack after 2km when he fell, and had to work hard to climb back up to 9th place. Nevertheless both races showed that the 19 year old from Cooma is in good shape, and it is possible he could get a World Cup start already next weekend in Davos.

Watson was 17th overall in the men's 10km Classic, 2:50 behind the open winner Thomas Diezig of Switzerland. Nick Grimmer opened fast and was up on Watson after the first 3km, however lost significant time at the end to finish 24th overall, 58 seconds behind Watson with FIS points of 141. Mark van der Ploeg was another 20 seconds behind Grimmer, in 28th place out of the field of 55 starters. In the open women's 5km Classic Esther Bottomley finished in 20th place out of 39 starters, 3 minutes behind the winner Olga Tjagay of Russia. Bottomley skied well for the first 3km and was just 1 minute behind Tjagay, but felt the effects of altitude and her first distance event in the latter part of the race and lost time on the last three hills (there were six). Former Australian athlete KT Calder now skiing for New Zealand was 5th.

In the freestyle events the open and junior classes were separated. Watson was ranked 7th on the starting grid in the U20 10km, and skied up into 3rd place 300m after the start. With the pace slow towards the top of the first big hill Watson decided to go to the front and pick it up. As he got there and went for the classic track down the hill his ski caught in the soft snow on the side of the track, and before he could return to his feet and get going again he was at back of the pack. Watson fought hard and climbed back up to 9th place by the end of the first 5km lap, but then his bikkies were spent. He skied most of the rest of the race by himself unable to reel in the leading skiers, before having to sprint it out for 9th with some skiers who caught him just before the finish.

In the open men's 15km Freestyle mass start Grimmer and van der Ploeg made good starts and were in touch with the main pack when they hit the biggest hill at 3km. Van der Ploeg lost contact first, with Grimmer also dropping off the pack as it broke up over the top of the hill. Skiing mostly solo races from then on Grimmer and van der Ploeg ended up in 17th and 19th place respectively out of the field of 23 athletes. Grimmer was reasonable happy with his race and weekend of racing, finishing around 14% behind the winner on both days and feeling much better than he did in the same season opening races last year. Van der Ploeg wasn't so satisfied with his skating performance and feels he needs some more weeks to ski himself into form. The season is early yet!

Andrew Mock unfortunately picked up a minor stomach bug this week and didn't race, but he was back training today and seems to be over it. Bottomley planned only to race once this weekend. All the crew in the Goms travel to Davos tomorrow.

Callum Watson racing the Ulrichen 10km Classic

Sarna/Idre FIS Races, Sweden, December 6-7
Paul Murray and Leon Spiller had tough races in Sweden on the weekend. In the Sarna 10km Classic races the boys finishing 39th and 43rd, 3:12 and 3:57 behind the winner Las Suther. In the Idre 10km Freestyle on Sunday Spiller finished 46th, 3:40 behind the winner Fredrik Karlsson. Murray had this to say about the weekend:

I trained pretty hard this week and with almost two full days of travel I was pretty tired on Saturday for the 10km classic. On a tough course with new snow Spills and I did a good job of waxing our own skis I think as we we both had good glide and grip. I ended up about 3 minutes behind the winner with Spills a further 30 seconds back. Both of us never really hit our straps.

I opted to miss the skate race and train instead, but Spills put in a solid effort to ski 3.40 behind the winner Fredrik Karlsson, who has raced world cup for Sweden. Leon is now training in Jarpen ahead of the Sweden Cup in Skelleftea next weekend while I am training in Borlange. I will skip the 15km skate race on Saturday and put my energy into going fast in the classic sprint on Sunday. Leon is hoping he can go under 120 points on Saturday as there should be a cracker field starting.

For more details from Sweden look to Murray's website: www.paulmurray.cc

November 30 - Ruka World Cup

Paul Murray put in a solid performance on Saturday November 29 to finish 59th/84 in the opening Sprint World Cup in Ruka (Kuusamo) in Finland. In the men's 1.4km time trial Murray was 10.7 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Kalle Lassila of Finland, and 3.8 seconds outside of qualifying for the final 30. This was his best World Cup result since March 2007. Murray was happy with the way he skied and almost relieved to have a decent result on the board after feeling flat for the last week or so. Esther Bottomley was 71st/76 in the women's 1.2km time trial and 15 seconds outside of the top 30. It wasn't a great result for Bottomley, but she also was happy with the way she skied considering her illness earlier this month and having only just arrived in Europe. She is looking forward to the next two World Cups in freestyle technique coming up in December.

Read also Murray's report on his website - www.paulmurray.cc

Murray will stay in Finland to train the next couple of days before returning to his training base in Sweden, while Bottomley heads down to Switzerland tomorrow to join up with other Australian Team members Nick Grimmer, Mark van der Ploeg, Andrew Mock and Callum Watson in preparation for the Swiss Cup competition in the Goms next weekend.

All FIS races on the Australian Team schedule can be found on this Google Calendar link. If you wish to be added to the team email report mailing list please send an email to this address - finn.marsland @ gmail.com - with the words "email report" in the subject.

Paul Murray (right) with physiotherapist Pete Caine (on loan from the Australian freestyle team training in Ruka)

November 27 - Final Preparations

Some words from the Australian Team preparing for the World Cup in Finland coming up on Saturday November 29:

Paul Murray:
Itís awesome being back on World Cup again. We train all year to go fast at this level, so it's fun to be hanging out with the best skiers in the world up near the arctic circle. It took a bit to get here, with 15hrs of travel and a detour via Rovaniemi courtesy of Finnair's incompetance, rather than the 5hr planned trip from Stockholm. On the upside it was nice to see the sights of Rovaneimi and everything in the 250km between Ruka and there from the front seat of a taxi...

Training in Sweden the last three weeks has been good. I've been flat as a tack the last week but Iím confident that I will be right to go on Saturday. Our goal this season is to be in the mix for finals and to get some decent world cup points. Hopefully that starts this weekend.

Esther Bottomley:
After around 25hrs of flying time, 12hrs in transit and an added bonus of 9hrs of delayed flights, I'm six flights down with 15 to go for the season. At this stage I am very happy to be away from planes and airports for the week and back on snow. We are in Ruka in northern Finland - the daylight hours are minimal however the snow is not, and thatís why we're here. A couple of weeks of illness back home led to too much sitting around time, so just being able to train, let along being on snow, is fantastic. The first ski of the season was on the distance world cup track for this coming weekend. With many of the world's finest skiers flying past on a not so easy track and my heart rate too often reaching above 180 it was a nice relief to be pointed to a different set of flatter ski tracks (not quite sure why this wasnít pointed out to me in the morning), away from the world cup course under lights for the afternoon ski.

As for my thoughts on this weekends' raceÖhmmm. I'm here to race as well as I can but I'm not really placing a whole bunch of pressure on this one. It's early in the season, and I'm looking forward to the training and racing to come.

Finn Marsland (coach):
It was a shame my ski bag arrived last night because it was going to be a pretty easy week for me without my test skis. Unfortunately I had to catch up today, zeroing the new test skis I bought last season then skiing up and down hills testing glide wax. It'll be pretty busy from now until Saturday afternoon, when I reckon I'll be up for well earned nap. Most nations have a team of service people looking after ski waxing and testing, and we have just me. Actually it's not too bad, Paul and Esther are experienced at this level of competition and we have a good routine.

Though I know our team budget is limited somehow I've managed to rack up nearly $2,000 already on team wax and equipment. The wax box was a little light on several brands of high fluor powders, and I splurged on some new waxing tables and ski profiles which luckily I wont have to pick up until we are down in Davos in Switzerland next week. I've been lucky with excess baggage so far this trip, but I don't want to push the friendship.

Esther and Paul seem in good spirits, helped by the discovery of wireless internet in our apartment yesterday. It's amazing really how much spare time can be spent in front of a computer. To be fair, Paul has been putting some time into waxing his new skis and Esther has been working on a couple of admin projects I asked her to help me with. It's quite hard to estimate what form each of them are in, but they are definitely coming into this race from different directions. Esther did her first intervals in nearly three weeks yesterday, while Paul has been resting up after some hard training. All I can do now is try to give them some good skis. We will see how it all pans out on Saturday.

November 23 - Season Opening

Next weekend Paul Murray and Esther Bottomley will contest the opening Sprint World Cup event in Kuusamo in Finland. Murray has been in Europe for three weeks, training with Leon Spiller and their Swedish club Falun Borlange at Bruksvallarna in Sweden. Murray and Spiller raced in the Swedish season opener in Bruksvallarna last weekend - details from the race there can be found on Paul Murray's home page. Murray is a little tired after three weeks of solid training, and will ease up a little this week to find form. Bottomley arrived in Helsinki last Friday, and will travel up to Kuusamo tomorrow. After two weeks off from training thanks to a bout of the flu Bottomley may not be in top form, regardless the race will be good experience and good preparation for the other World Cup sprints coming up in December. More words coming from the athletes during the week.