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Salt Lake City 2002
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Feb 24 - Feb 23 - Feb 21 - Feb 19 - Feb 17 - Feb 15 - Feb 14 - Feb 12 - Feb 9

February 24 - XC Competition Day Nine - Women 30km Classic

The final event. Lets forget all about doping for a while and report just what happened in the race today. Falling snow through the race caused tricky waxing conditions, some skiers slipping and others waxing too warm and icing up. Swiss skiers Rochat and Leonardi with start numbers 19 and 22 posted to past early times, and though Rochat dropped back Leonardi continued to ski an impressive race. However already at 2km Lazutina from Russia showed that she meant business, clocking a time 10 seconds faster than all others, with Moen from Norway in second and Skari from Norway in third. At 7.2km Lazutina was out to 25 seconds ahead, with the places changing quite a lot behind. Italians Paruzzi and Belmondo moved into second and third, no problems at all with their skis, while Skari dropped back to 5th 46 seconds behind Lazutina. Up to 11km and Lazutina overtook then dropped Skari, and nearly had Danilova as well. Paruzzi settled comfortably into second, 33.8 seconds behind Lazutina, and Belmondo held a 4 second lead over Moen who was minute behind the Russian. Skari still 5th, Danilova 6th, Shevchenko from Ukraine 7th and Bauer from Germany 8th.

Half way, and plenty of passengers behind train drivers. Skofterud from Norway perhaps the only to hang with Lazutina (though on an easier section of the track), Danilova on the back of Skari, Moen with Smigun in tow. Paruzzi, Belmondo, Moen and Skari skiing about the same pace in positions 2 to 5, Lazutina now 50 seconds clear of Paruzzi. Then some shaking of the tree up to 20.5km, as Paruzzi caught Moen from 1 minute behind, and Skari moved into 4th 5 seconds ahead of her team-mate. In the next 6km Skari continued to pick up time, gaining 7 seconds even on Lazutina. But Belmondo was moving fastest of all, bringing the gap up to Paruzzi down to 11 seconds.

No threat to Lazutina however, and in the last 3.5km the Russian blew out the time gap to everyone again, despite plenty of air-punching and celebrating in the last 500m. The 36 year old from Moscow took her third medal and first gold of these games, taking her life-time Olympic medal count to nine. Now the battle was on for silver and bronze between the two Italians. Belmondo was steadily picking off seconds, but Paruzzi behind on the track was getting all the splits and digging deep. With 4.5s to spare Paruzzi took the silver, Belmondo looking not unhappy at all with her bronze and her team-mates success. Skari pipped Moen by about a second for 4th, and unfortunately the Swedish TV cut off before the rest of the standings were posted. Fill out the top ten with probably Shevchenko, Danilova, Smigun, Bauer and Skofterud.

That's it for the race reports at these Olympics. For those who haven't had the good fortune to see any of the coverage, hopefully these summaries have filled in some of the details.

Sunday night European time, and Swedish TV has announced that two skiers in the 30km have posted positive doping tests, but no names have been released yet.

February 23 - XC Competition Day Eight - Men 50km Classic

The last race for the men at this olympic games. The big names tossed around before the start were Estonian Veerpalu, Spanish/German Muhlegg, all the Norwegians, and perhaps only the Swedes still had high hopes of Elofsson.

Imai from Japan with start number 9 became the rabbit for the rest to follow. The seeded group started with numbers 24-39. The only two to squeeze under Imai's time at the first split at 2km were Jevne and Muhlegg (of course 2km is very early). The 7.1km splits were perhaps a bit more telling of what was to come: Ivanov from Russia in the lead, Muhlegg 5 seconds back, and Botvinov from Austria, Hjelmeset from Norway, and Veerpalu all within about 9-11 seconds. Jevne dropped back to 18 seconds off the pace, and the biggest slump was perhaps Elofsson over 45 seconds behind. These first five continued to hold the top spots at 13.1km, and Jevne and Elfosson continued to fall back.

At 18.7km Schluetter from Germany with start number 13 took over from Imai as the rabbit. Such names as Hjelmeset and Bauer from Czech failed to beat Schluetter's split, and after all had passed the German was in 4th. The start draw started to come more into play, with Botvinov catching and overtaking Veerpalu. Muhlegg had already dragged Jevne along for while then dropped him. Ivanov extended his lead to 21 seconds over Muhlegg, with Botvinov also taking a few seconds on "Giovanni". At about 25km Ivanov overtook Hjelmeset, and Botivinov added Aukland to his train. Muhlegg lost another 10s to Ivanov. Somewhere a little later on Jevne picked up Batory from Slovakia to join Elofsson on his tail.

Into the stadium for the second time (33.4km) and Veerpalu decided that Botvinov wasn't driving fast enough and spat both the Austrian and Aukland. Hjelmeset hanging onto Ivanov rode all the way back up 4th place, only 4 seconds behind Botvinov. Ivanov's lead over Muhlegg was nearly 40 seconds, and yet another Norwegian fell to a skier from behind, Estil jumping in behind Muhlegg (but not lasting there very long).

Up towards the 40.2km split and Hjelmeset's ride towards bronze was over, having been dropped by Ivanov and losing time quickly perhaps from trying to hang on for too long. Schluetter was back to within 5 seconds of the Norwegian. Ivanov for the first time was starting to suffer, it was hard to tell as he always has a grimace, but anyway his technique started to look a bit ragged. Veerpalu had left Botvinov for dead and launched himself up into 3rd place, 1:26 behind Ivanov. Then Muhlegg came through, bottom lip hanging, and suddenly the fight for the gold medal was back on - the deficit to Ivanov reduced to 16 seconds!

To the last split at 46.5km, and Imai was holding his own against Schluetter, the two front-runners now in 5th and 7th place, with Botvinov in between. Next through was Hjelmeset, recovering perhaps from the pace of Ivanov and fortifying his 4th place. Veerpalu continued to look strong and reduced the gap to a very tired but battling on Ivanov to 51 seconds. And Muhlegg grunted his way into 1st place, 3 seconds up on Ivanov. The camera switched back to Ivanov's last couple of kms, and the Russian was giving absolutely everything and also the impression that perhaps he wouldn't even remember the end of the race. He took the lead from Schluetter at the finish (all the rest of the seede group still out on the track), and collapsed in a heap. Veerpalu picked up more time to finish in second place only 24 seconds behind Ivanov, and when the cameras went back out to Muhlegg again any hopes of a Russian gold were dashed. Muhlegg pounded into the stadium and up the finish straight to win his third gold medal of the games, 14.9 seconds ahead of Ivanov. Bronze to Veerpalu, 4th to Hjelmeset, 5th to Schluetter a great result for the Germans, 6th Botvinov and 7th a very impressive Imai. Tough for Ivanov to lead from 7km to 46km and end up with the silver, but its a tough sport.

One event to go.

February 21 - XC Competition Day Seven - Women's Relay

The action began even before the start of the relay today, when odds-on favourite Russia and Ukraine were denied starts after a skier from each team recorded too high haemoglobin values in the pre-race blood tests. Lazutina and Terelia were the skiers in question. There was some debate about whether the teams could start with other skiers, but apparently the rules were clear. This sensation laid the ground work for a completely different race - one without the Russian team dictating the pace from the word go.

1st Leg.
Andersson from Sweden and Bjoergen from Norway lead out of the stadium, and that was just about the full extent of Sweden's impact on the race. Majdic from Slovenia soon came forward and cracked the whip, and to great surprise the only teams to follow were Germany, Norway, Switzerland, and Canada. Italy even fell (literally) off the back of the second pack and struggled to get back in contact. Majdic and Henkel from Germany kept the pace up, and Norway and Canada (Renner) started to lose some ground. Henkel broke from Majdic on the last hill, and the Slovenian started to pay for her hard work and dropped back to Huber from Switzerland. Bjoergen pulled away from Renner on the downhill with much faster skis. Into the changeover after 5km and the placings were:

1 GER 0.0
2 SUI 6.4 seconds back
3 SLO 10.9
4 NOR 14.1
5 CAN 18.0
6 CZE 31.8
7 JAP 33.9
8 BLR 43.3
9 FIN 46.7
10 KAZ 52.1
11 USA 1:01
12 SWE 1:07
13 ITA 1:12

2nd Leg
Bauer from Germany opened well and kept the break over the danger woman, Skari from Norway. Rochat also maintained Switzerland's position in second place, while Slovenia worked their way back. Skari caught Rochat at about 3km, but Bauer still looked strong. At 3.7km Bauer's lead was about 10 seconds, with Rochat still hanging onto Skari's heels. Into the Muhlegg hill and Skari started to shake a leg, dropping Rochat and hauling in Bauer. The German still had a handy lead coming down to the stadium, but then the Norwegian caught her in a tuck like she was standing still. Back behind Nageijkina from Belarus and Salonen from Finland blazed through the rest of the field into 4th and 5th place, gaining on everyone but Skari. The times at the change:

1 NOR 0.0
2 GER 2.7
3 SUI 13.8
4 BLR 35.9
5 FIN 36.2
6 CZE 1:01
7 JAP 1:01
8 CAN 1:02
9 SLO 1:19
10 KAZ 1:20
11 ITA 1:30
12 SWE 1:49
13 USA 1:56

3rd Leg
The players on the first skating leg: Pedersen for Norway, Kuenzel for Germany, Albrecht for Switzerland, Neumannova for Czech, Lassila for Finland. Kuenzel lead Pedersen, with Albrecht gaining slightly behind. Then Pedersen decided it was time to go, took the lead and gained ground quickly. At 1.7km Norway lead by 7.4 seconds to Germany, with Switzerland less than another 3 seconds back. At the same point Neumannova gained an incredible 24 seconds to up into 4th place and only 37 seconds behind. Albrecht caught and overtook Kuenzel, which seemed good for the German as it gave her a chance to rest behind the Swiss and stop losing time to Pedersen. Approaching the 3.4km mark and Kuenzel got a second wind and set off after Pedersen again. The gap at 3.4km was back to 3.1 seconds, but this blew out again over the top of the Muhlegg hill. There was no net gain from Neumannova from 1.7 to 3.4km, so perhaps the Czech went out a bit hard. Italy with Valbusa moved up from 11th to 8th, but with no real time gain so Belmondo's ask for the last leg seemed a bit roo much. To the change and:

1 NOR 0.0
2 GER 9.4
3 SUI 16.1
4 CZE 46.5
5 FIN 1:04
6 BLR 1:06
7 SLO 1:29
8 ITA 1:30
9 CAN 1:31
10 KAZ 1:43
11 JAP 1:47

4th Leg
Moen for Norway, Sachenbacher for Germany, Leonardi-Cortesi for Switzerland, Hanusova for Czech, Varis for Finland, Belmondo for Italy, Scott for Canada. Unknown for Belarus (apologies). Sachenbacher started working on the gap to Moen right from the start, gaining 3-4 seconds already into the first hill. Switzerland lost time also, but the gap back to 4th place was quite big. Sachenbacher picked up more seconds and suddenly the young German was right on Moen's tail. "What the heck, I'm on a roll" she thought (maybe anyway), and went straight to the front at about 1.8km. Time check back behind, and though Italy is gaining there is no real threat to Switzerland in the bronze medal position. Discussion turns to the sprinting abilities of the front two skiers, and neither is lacking - we are looking at the silver and bronze medal winners from the 1.5km sprint two days ago. Sachenbacher keeps the pace up for a while, and then drops it right up. Moen stands up in the track behind on the downhills, rather than overtake. Not quite as theatrical as Zorzi and Alsgaard in the men's relay, but no-one is keen to lead just the same. Into the last hill and Sachenbacher gives it a shot and Moen follows. Over the top and the German has a tiny break, but Moen gets into the slipstream on the downhill and sucks right up. And then past with some speed, and it looks as though it could be the decisive move. Sachenbacher works very hard not to lose contact, and somehow manages to come into the final straight only a few metres behind. They straighten up, side by side, it is very close, and then Sachenbacher starts to pull away. The finish line closes, Moen gives up, and Germany win the gold medal. But it is hard to say who is more jubilant, the Germans with the gold or the Swiss with the bronze. Fantastic for the sport. Czech finishes 4th, Belarus 5th, Italy 6th.

2 NOR ?? perhaps a second or so
3 SUI 33.0
4 CZE 1:04
5 BLR 1:07
6 ITA 1:08
7 FIN 1:14
8 CAN 1:19
9 SLO 1:49
10 JAP 2:05
11 KAZ 2:21
12 SWE 3:09
13 USA 3:52

February 19 - XC Competition Day Six - Women and Men 1.5km Sprint Freestyle

Oooof, very exciting sprint finals, lots of action and controversy and close finishes. The word is out that the sprint finals will be shown on Australian television, so to leave everyone in suspense the summary will be left until tomorrow night. (Also the telecast was delayed on Swedish TV and it's very late for people catching trains tomorrow morning.) To whet the appetite, at long last some of the Swedes have learned to lunge, some of the favourites took early exits, and this reporter thinks that FIS have got some thinking to do about their treatment of disqualifications in the finals.

Okay, now to the details:

Women's 1.5km Sprint
1.5km time trial, the top 16 progressing to the quarter finals. The fastest qualifier was Neumannova from the Czech Republic, who won the test event in SLC last year and the last sprint World Cup of this season in Val di Fiemme, with a time of 3:12.76. Second was Tchepalova from Russia, 0.27 sec off the pace, with Sachenbacher from Germany in third. The last skier to qualify was Tatumi of Japan, just over six seconds behind. Some names to miss out included 2001 World Championship sprint silver medalist Sundquist, finalist Valbusa, and semi-finalist Gavriljuk. Two Canadians made the cut, Scott in 5th place and Renner in 14th, but no-one from the USA. The Germans were the most successful team, managing to put a skier into each quarter final.

Quarter Finals

QF 1
1 Neumannova, CZE
8 Paruzzi, ITA
9 Kuenzel, GER
16 Natumi, JAP

QF 2
4 Moen, NOR
5 Scott, CAN
12 Buruhina, RUS
13 Reschwamm-Schultz, GER

QF 3
2 Tchepalova, RUS
7 Mali, SLO
10 Henkel, GER
15 Egorova, RUS

QF 4
3 Sachenbacher, GER
6 Pienimaki, FIN
11 Sorkmo, NOR
14 Renner, CAN

QF 1: Neumannova lead out quite fast, but didn't quite break away like she did in Val di Fiemme in the last sprint World Cup at the start of January. The Czech lead all the way into the last downhill before the track swung around into the straight, and then things started to happen. Natumi glided up on the outside and Kuenzel on the inside, and then all of a sudden Kunzel lead into the straight and Neummanova was in fourth. Kuenzel and Paruzzi pulled away and into the next round, the number 1 qualifier last and booted out in the first round.
QF2: Scott took the lead early on, then was challenged by Buruhina. But the Russian's skis sucked on the downhill and she went back to fourth place. Reschwamm-Schultz glided past Scott as they approached the straight, and lead in to choose the first lane. Scott took the third lane, then Moen came from behind Reschwamm to make it a three way sprint. Scott edges ahead and then Moen outlunges the German, and Scott and Moen are through to the next round.
QF3: Egorova goes to the front ahead of Tchepalova, Mali, and Henkel, and this stays roughly the order until the last uphill. Then Tchepalova puts the foot down and gets a very small break, with Mali moving into second. Tchepalova is first into the straight with Mali just ahead of Egorova, but then Mali finishes very fast and overtakes Tchepalova as the latter eases up, both progressing.
QF4: Unlike the other three quarter-finals, the pace is leisurely in the last. It stays that way all the way until the last hill, and then Renner takes the lead and picks it up a little. Pienimaki pulled up onto the Canadian's right shoulder, but then kaos strikes as the Finn looks back over her left shoulder to see what is happening behind. Pienimaki tangles slightly with Renner, spins around, and is collected by Sorkmo from right behind. The two try to tango for a while, and Sachenbacher and Renner go well clear. Sorkmo tries to hunt them down but it is no use, and the Sachenbacher and Renner go through to the semi-finals. However... The jury decides that Sorkmo was unfairly treated and add her through to the semi-final as well. More on this later.


4 Moen, NOR
5 Scott, CAN
8 Paruzzi, ITA
9 Kuenzel, GER

2 Tchepalova, RUS
3 Sachenbacher, GER
7 Mali, SLO
14 Renner, CAN
*11 Sorkmo, NOR

SF1: No real hot pace in the first semi, Moen and Paruzzi side by side lead Scott and Kuenzel. Scott goes to the front and cracks the whip a little, and then Paruzzi takes over the pace-making. Into the last hill and Scott goes hard again, leading Paruzzi, Moen, and Kuenzel into the downhill. Unfortunately for the Canadian, the other three come out from her slipstream and pounce as the come towards the straight. Moen and Kuenzel have the advantage, the others work hard but to no avail, and the Norwegian and German go through to the final.
SF2: Five skiers in this semi-final, which doesn't really seem fair on those on this side of the draw. Nothing exciting early on, and then Tchepalova makes her break again on the last hill. The Russian goes clear, and Sorkmo leads Sachenbacher, Mali, and Renner to the straight. Sachenbacher goes like the clappers down the straight and joins Tchepalova in the final , Sorkmo and Mali go the B-final, and Renner gets to put up the skis for the day with a final 9th place.


2 Tchepalova, RUS
3 Sachenbacher, GER
4 Moen, NOR
9 Kuenzel, GER

5 Scott, CAN
7 Mali, SLO
8 Paruzzi, ITA
11 Sorkmo, NOR

The B-Final wasn't televised on Swedish TV, but the news was the Scott won it and 5th place for the overall event, her third top 6 position from three races.

The A-Final. Tchepalova goes immediately to the front and goes hard out of the stadium. To the surprise of most she makes an early break, and then stretches it out further. Then a tell-tale, Moen leading the other three starts to look around, and they basically give up on thoughts of gold. Sachenbacher goes hard into the last hill, nad as they go over the top she too gets a small break, Moen leading Kuenzel behind. Tchepalova has the gold in her pocket, then it is apparent that Sachenbacher is not going to be challenged for the silver, Moen leads Kuenzel into the straight and takes bronze. Not such a dramatic final but impressive all the same.

Men's 1.5km Sprint
Bjerkeli from Norway skied the fastest time trial in 2:50.07. Zorzi from Italy was no surprise with the second fastest time, but Krezoluk from Poland was a bit of a wild card in third (Krezoluk was the unlucky skier who dead-heated for 16th place in Lahti 2001 with Alsgaard from Norway, and missed out due to FIS point rankings). With 28 skiers in the finish, Fredriksson from Sweden was sitting precariously in 16th place, but then for while it looked as if he might hold on. Then number 58 Novikov from Russia knocked the Swede out, before he too was knocked out by Manninnen from Finland, who already had a gold medal from these championships from the Nordic Combined. Skiers had to be within 3.8 seconds to make the top 16 and the finals. No USA skiers made the grade, despite big hopes on Swenson and Koos, who ended up 31st and 37th. [Special note: Paul Murray, who missed out on qualification to SLC for Australia, was only 1 second behind Koos in the World Cup in Cogne; and Zsolt from Rumania, who Paul was ahead of in all sprint World Cups this season, finished in 47th place out of 71]

Quarter Finals

QF 1
1 Bjerkeli, NOR
8 Koukal, CZE
9 Lind, SWE
16 Manninen, FIN

QF 2
4 Iversen, NOR
5 Schlickenrieder, GER
12 Elden, NOR
13 Soklic, SLO

QF 3
2 Zorzi, ITA
7 Fauner, ITA
10 Angerer, GER
15 Hasler, LIE

QF 4
3 Krezoluk, POL
6 Hetland, NOR
11 Schweinbacher, ITA
14 Larsson, SWE

QF1: Manninen (yes brother to Pirjo Manninen, sprint World Champion of 2001 who has missed this entire season due to injury) took the lead and kept it all the way into the downhill before the stadium. Lind glided up from 4th place, then got caught behind Manninen as Bjerkeli came on the other side, and the Swede ended up third into the straight. Bjerkeli took the far lane, and started to close on Manninen before he stepped on his own pole and broke it. With Bjerkeli slowing quickly Lind closed a little on Manninen, and though he didn't really need to Lind demonstrated that he has been practising his lunges. Manninen and Lind through to the semis.
QF2: Iversen drove the train, with Schlickenrieder watching all the time and sitting on the back of his skis (but not literally). Iversen went hard up the last hill, and so too did Soklic who pulled alongside and into the lead. On the downhill, Schlickenrieder pulls out and glides all the way into the lead, even gets a small gap. The 1994 Kangaroo Hoppet winner doesn't look back, and extends his lead in the straight. Iversen and Soklic go head to head, and Iversen wins through.
QF3: The third quarter final is fast with Zorzi in the lead. It is Zorzi, Hasler, Fauner, Angerer up the last hill, and then on the down Angerer does a Schlickenreider (yes, all the Germans seemed to have very fast skis), and ends up leading Zorzi into the straight. These two pull away and into the next round.
QF4: Pace down a bit with Schweinbacher in front. Schweinbacher leads Larsson over the last hill, apparently something else happened here but it didn't seem significant enough to note. Schweinbacher gets a small break, and then Hetland overtakes Larsson, and so it goes into the straight. Hetland gets the inside lane and mows down Schweinbacher, Larsson takes the outside lane and draws level with the Italian. These two lunge, both quite well, and Larsson squeezes past to progress along with Hetland. Who has been teaching these Swedes to lunge?

Then. All of a sudden just before the semi-finals start it was announced that Larsson was disqualified from the fourth quarter, and that both Krezoluk and Schweinbacher would compete in the final. The Swedish commentators were not happy, the incident looked trivial almost, and also Schweinbacher had false started without any penalty. But even if it was legitimate, it seemed crazy to include both the other two in the final. More on this later.


4 Iversen, NOR
5 Schlickenrieder, GER
9 Lind, SWE
16 Manninen, FIN

2 Zorzi, ITA
6 Hetland, NOR
10 Angerer, GER
*3 Krezoluk, POL
*11 Schweinbacher, ITA

SF1: All four ease out of the stadium, Manninen at the head. Manninen picks up the tempo up the last hill, Schlickenrieder second and Iversen third. Schlickenrieder again glides past as they approach the stadium, and Lind goes on the inside up to second place. Schlickenrieder pulls away, he is in good from, Iversen closes then edges ahead of Lind. Then Lind pulls out the lunge of the season (not bad as he also had the worst lunge of the season in Val di Fiemme - 10m short of the line!) to pip Iversen by a couple of centimetres.
SF2: The Italians Zorzi and Schweinbacher take the front and lead this pack of five just about the entire lap. Angerer is in third over the last hill, but then Hetland begins to move up. Zorzi leads Schweinbacher and Hetland into the straight, then Hetland begins to wind it up and closes even on Zorzi. Schweinbacher is out of it, and Zorzi lunges ahead of Hetland possibly to take the psychological advantage into the final.


2 Zorzi, ITA
5 Schlickenrieder, GER
6 Hetland, NOR
9 Lind, SWE

4 Iversen, NOR
10 Angerer, GER
11 Schweinbacher, ITA
16 Manninen, FIN

Again the B-Final not televised, Schweinbacher won ahead of Iversen.

The A-Final. Zorzi leads out yet again while Lind takes up the rear. Schlickenrieder is second, the pace is not slow but not flat out either. Zorzi gets a tiny break but Schlickenrieder glides it back. Down towards the stadium and Schlickenrieder can't glide past as Zorzi goes that way as well, meanwhile Hetland comes on the other side. Into the straight and Zorzi leads Hetland, goes across to the third lane while Hetland takes the first. Schlickenrieder sits behind Hetland then pulls across onto his shoulder in the second lane. It is close between these three, then Hetland holds his own against Schlickenrieder's challenge and Zorzi fades slightly. Linf too far back in the far lane and out of it. Gold to Hetland, silver to Schlickenrieder, bronze to Zorzi, everyone seems pretty happy except for Lind.

Postscript on Jury Decisions...
This is the second event this season that the jury has decided to include 5 persons in the finals (the other was the sprints in Val di Fiemme). This editor thinks that these are strange decisions. It is not fair for the 2 skiers progressing from the other finals to go up against 3 more (OK, we did it in Australia in 2000, but that was without the benefit of replays and was probably a wrong decision anyway). And as for both Krezoluk and Schweinbacher progressing when Larsson was disqualified, that is just wrong. If Larsson did something wrong and is booted out, then the next best should go through. Not both. As for the other incident with Sorkmo, it is up to the competitors to stay clear of trouble. If they get caught up it is their bad luck. Tough perhaps, but what do they do in other sports? In boarder-cross, if someone falls and then the competitor behind cant avoid the trouble, so it is. In short track speed skating, are those who fall inadvertently given the same result of those who stay on their feet? At any rate, these rules need to be clarified this summer.

Whether or not there should be five persons in the finals or not, the disqualification of Peter Larsson seems to be bizarre. Swedish new sites have reported that Larsson was informed of the ruling only minutes before the semi-finals, to his complete surprise. The decision was apparently made by one jury member without consideration from the entire jury, or consulting the relevant team coaches. The Swedes were given no chance to protest in return. On replay, the incident seemed to be nothing special, and it seemed even as though it could have been Krezoluk (who protested) who was in the wrong. In the same event Schweinbacher jumped the start without penalty. Swedes not very happy.

February 17 - XC Competition Day Five - Men Relay

Despite rumours to the contrary, Bjorndalen wasn't included in Norway's relay team, however Sweden came to the starting line as expected without Elofsson or Ingesson due to illness. On paper Norway still had clearly the strongest team, followed by Italy and Russia. Estonia, Austria and Germany also seemed to have fair chances if their weaker skiers performed well.

1st Leg:
Virolainen led out for Belarus for half of the first lap, with all the rest of the pack together behind except for Japan who broke a pole. Then Aukland picked up the pace for Norway and forced a small break as they came back into the stadium a, with Italy, Russia, USA, Germany, and Kazhakstan in contact. At 5km these six were within a couple of seconds, and of other big names Austria was 14 seconds back in 11th place, and Sweden in 14th place 21 seconds back. Golovko from Kazhakstan came forward to share the lead with Aukland, and at 6.9km all six teams were still together. Aukland surged forward again, Novikov from Russia was the first to lose contact and then Aukland was clear and extending a lead over the rest. Novikov really hit the wall hard and proceded to work his way back to 10th place, underlining the dangers of skiing outside one's self at altitude. Into the change and the placings were:

1 NOR 0.0
2 ITA + 8.4 seconds behind
3 KAZ + 11.8
4 GER + 12.5
5 USA + 13.5
6 FRA + 29.9
7 CZE + 40.4
8 AUT + 47.6
9 EST + 49.3
10 RUS + 50.2

2nd Leg:
Estil looked to open comfortably, and extended his lead by a few seconds over second place in the first few kilometres. However back in the third pack were three very strong classic skiers - Botvinov for Austria, Veerpalu for Estonia, and Ivanov for Russia - who gained already 10 seconds by 1.9km. At 3.7km the pack of Germany, Italy, Kazhakstan and USA were back to 17 seconds behind Norway, with Estonia, Austria and Russia up to 30 seconds. At the end of the first lap these two packs came together, stretching from 19 to 23 seconds behind Estil. Veerpalu went to the front of the chasing pack, and Kazhakstan were the first to drop off. Schluetter was skiing well for Germany and jumped in behind Estil, and soon Di Centa from Italy was the only other skier left in contact. Botvinov really started to struggle and began to lose a lot of time, and then Ivanov also lost contact, perhaps these two skiers paying for the chase they made with Veerpalu. Into the second change and Veepalu had taken 38 seconds off Estil to change only 11 seconds behind together with Schluetter. Di Centa dropped off these two and changed in 4th, just ahead of Freeman for the USA.

1 NOR 0.0
2 GER + 11.0 seconds behind
3 EST + 11.6
4 ITA + 23.9
5 USA + 23.9
6 RUS + 41.6
7 AUT + 46.8

3rd Leg:
The first skating leg and the players were Skjeldal for Norway, Angerer for Germany, Mae for Estonia, Piller Cottrer for Italy, Wadsworth for USA, Denisov for Russia, and Urain for Austria. Piller Cottrer made a quick jump across to join Germany and Estonia, leaving Wadsworth in no-mans land ahead of Russia and Austria. At 1.7km the Norwegian lead was out to 17 seconds from the pack of three, then Piller Cottrer took the lead just before 3.7km and started to bring the time back down. Wadsworth held his own against Denisov and Urain. Into the stadium and Piller Cottrer elected to sit back behind Mae and Angerer, the gap stayed the same to Norway, USA were 40 seconds off the pace and just 11 seconds clear of Austria and Russia. At 6km Piller Cottrer took the lead again and really put the foot down. Mae was the first to lose contact, and Skjeldals' lead started to look fragile. At 6.7km the gap was only 3.6 seconds and then Piller Cottrer was suddenly there and past the Norwegian. Angerer dropped back to Estonia and then a little further. Skjeldal hung on well as Piller Cottrer put everything in, and the two went into together to the final change. Estonia third, Germany fourth, and then the USA just ahead of Austria in fifth.

1 NOR 0.0
2 ITA + 0.6 seconds behind
3 EST + 9.1
4 GER + 12.9
5 USA + 55.7
6 RUS + 56.1
7 AUT + 1:05
8 CZE + 1:07 (a great ski by Bauer)

4th Leg:
Now Swedish commentators started talking about the Olympic relays fo '94 and '98, when Italy and Norway had such great sprint finishes for the gold and silver medals. Anything other than talk about Sweden's performance back in 11th place. Alsgaard was on the anchor leg for Norway and Zorzi for Italy, both sprinters of no small talent. Would Alsgaard try to break Zorzi early, or would he back himself like he did in '98 and '99 (winning over Fauner in the former and losing to Hoffmann in the latter). Alsgaard led out with Zorzi as his shadow, never seeming to really go for it but gaining time on all the other teams just the same. Estonia dropped off as Sommerfeldt established Germany firmly in third place. Russia, Austria, and the USA, with Bolshakov, Hoffmann, and Swenson skiing for their teams respectively, got together after 5km to debate on 4th to 6th place as they gained quickly on Estonia.

Up the front Alsgaard kept the lead, and not until the "Muhlegg Hill" did he seem to to pick up the pace slightly. Zorzi stumbled and dropped a few metres, but then tested out his legs with a sprint up and alongside Alsgaard as the neared the top of the hill. And then, like Daehlie and Fauner in Lillehammer in '94, both stopped to let the other take the lead. This discussion took quite a while before finally Alsgaard took the lead again. Then Zorzi changed his mind before they came into the last corner, and took the lead with a short burst. Now both were winding up to speed, and Zorzi may even have cut Alsgaard off slightly before they rounded into the final straight. Zorzi chose the middle lane and Alsgaard went wider, and now the contest was on. Zorzi had a couple of metres, but Alsgaard drew level and then edged ahead. Down to the line and Alsgaard takes Norway to the gold medal by 0.3 of a second. 2-1 to Norway from the last three Olympic relays. Germany wins the bronze, and then Austria and the USA sprint it out for fourth place! Hoffmann is too strong for Swenson, but in any case the USA have smoked for their best place in an Olympic relay, one better than Bill Koch's team in 1976. Is this the start of new era for USA cross country skiing? Or just a great team performance on home snow? Time will tell.

1 NOR 0.0
2 ITA + 0.3 seconds behind
3 GER + 49.0
4 AUT + 1:19.4
5 USA + 1:20.0
6 RUS + 2:04.6
7 CZE + 2:45.8
8 FRA + 3:05.3
9 EST, 10 SUI, 11 FIN, 12 JAP, 13 SWE, 14 KAZ, 15 BLR

February 15 - XC Competition Day Four - Women 5km/5km Pursuit

Bronze Medal to Beckie Scott!

Classic leg:
The surprise leader early on in the classic leg of the pursuit was Petra Majdic from Slovenia. Starting number 50, she posted the fastest time at the finish and only Danilova and Lazutina from Russia were able to clear her time, and then only by 7 seconds. Classic queen Skari from Norway could only manage 4th place, 13 seconds behind. Viola Bauer from Germany also pulled out a great race in 5th place, just ahead of Canadian Beckie Scott who equalled her placing from the 10km classic. Other favourites Neumannova and Tchepalova finished 8th and 9th, around 30 seconds off the pace. A disappointing start for Italian Belmondo, who finished 19th, 52 seconds out and effectively out of medal contention.

Skate leg:
So the time gaps: Danilova and Lazutina together on zero, Majdic 7 seconds, Skari 13, Bauer 17, Scott 19, Gavriljuk 28, Neumannova 29, Tchepalova 31. Swedish commentators didn't think anyone would catch these two Russians and thought that Lazutina would take gold. Lazutina took the lead straight out of the start and went hard. Up over the top of the big hill before 1.7km Lazutina had a small break, but Danilova closed it up as the course eased off a little. A big group formed behind, taking everyone from 3rd place through to 9th. Tchepalova and Neumannova had made up the most time (even 5-6 seconds on the leading Russians) and went to the front. These two seemed almost to break away, but the group came together again. Back to the leading two, and Danilova had better glide and made a small break. Into the last "Muhlegg hill" and Lazutina came back and tried once more to break Danilova. But to great surprise the former was the one who broke, and Danilova left her team-mate standing with less than a km to go. Lazutina looked tired but her silver medal was still pretty safe. Tchepalova and Neummannova still hadn't managed to break, and then as the pack of maybe 5 or six came together again all of a sudden Scott was in the lead! Cameras switched to the gold and silver medal winners, and then back as the next three came into the straight side by side, Scott, Tcepalova and Neummannova. The Russian dropped back and it was head to head between the Canadian and the Czech. The camera straightened up as they approached the line, neither lunged particularly well, and Beckie Scott won Canada's first ever medal in cross country skiing. Bauer outsprinted Tchepalova for 5th.

February 14 - XC Competition Day Three - Men 10km/10km Pursuit

Classic leg:
Swedish commentary was cheering for Per Elofsson, and things weren't looking too bad at the 2km mark. Estil from Norway lead three seconds ahead of surprise skier Golovko from Kazakhstan with Eloffson another second behind in a group of 5 or so including Muhlegg, Aukland and Sommerfeldt. At 5.8km the big surprise was Leybyuk from Ukraine, who was 10 seconds clear of everyone until the last of the seeded group came through, and even then he was still in 4th place after Muhlegg, Estil, and Botvinov. Yes, Muhlegg was skiing like, well Muhlegg really, in classic technique this time, and the German/Spaniard extended his lead over Estil from 5 seconds at 5.8km to 13 seconds at the finish. The other faster finishers were Norwegian Aukland who skied up to 3rd place and Di Centa from Italy, who squeezed in ahead of Mae from Estonia and Botvinov. Elofsson seemed to fade badly, and the news came through that apparently he had a fall somewhere in the last few km. The Swede ended up in 9th (behind Leybyuk, who finished 32nd in the 15km classic two days ago), 32 seconds behind Muhlegg. 1998 Olympic pursuit champion Thomas Alsgaard behind in 16th place, and the USA performed impressively again with Freeman and Bauer in about 18th and 19th.

Skate leg:
The time gaps: Muhlegg, Estil 13 seconds behind, Aukland 20, Di Centa 23, Mae 24, Denisov 25, Botvinov 25, Elofsson 32, Sommerfeldt 39, Alsgaard 49. Piller Cottrer from Italy in 24th place, under a minute behind. A minute and half out of the start Muhlegg stepped on his own pole and landed on his face, but somehow still managed to extend his lead on the chasing pack to 40 seconds by the 1.7km mark. A pack indeed it was, with the rest of the top 9 excluding Leybyuk coming almost immediately, however chasing perhaps it wasn't, as Muhlegg continued to pull away and no-one (wisely) seemed to have any interest in(or chance of) catching him. But then again perhaps it wasn't so wise, as more skiers caught up from behind, and as they came through to lap after 5km both Alsgaaard and Piller Cottrer were up into contention.

Muhlegg just kept going and it goes almost without saying that he won comfortably, his second gold medal of the games. Now the race was all about the silver and bronze medals. Alsgaard went forward to drive the train, with Botvinov, Elofsson and Denisov (pursuit bronze medalist from Lahti 2001). This four threatened to break away occasionally, however somehow Mae, Aukland, Estil Piller Cottrer and Di Centa managed to stay in contact. Mae even broke and replaced his pole, and was still in there. Up into the last hill (called the Muhlegg hill by the Swedish commentators) Di Centa put his foot down and went to the front. Alsgaard went and Elofsson went, a small gap appeared back to the rest and it looked as if the minor medals would come from these three. And then came Estil. Coming from nowhere and pulling around the side, the Norwegian caught Elofsson sitting in the track and gave him nowhere to go. Turning into the the straight all of a sudden it was Alsgaard and Estil fighting neck and neck, with Elofsson having to go all the way around Di Centa and missing the boat. Alsgaard had it, Estil came closer, Estil almost edged ahead, both lunged, Estil seemed to have it but then Alsgaard's foot pushed just that little bit further and it was.... a photo finish. 10cm before the line it was Estil, 10cm after the line it was Alsgaard, and a dead heat for the silver medal! Elofsson fourth and Sweden with no medals yet from their number one son. Freeman from the USA took 15th place, and all of a sudden the USA is looking a long shot for the relay.

February 12 - XC Competition Day Two - Women 10km, Men 15km

Again bad timing for reporting on the women's race, due to delayed a flight in Munich. Luckily a short summary was put on Swedish TV later in the evening. Some shorts on the 10km classic:

Bente Skari of Norway was the big favourite to take gold in this event, but at the first split it was Danilova from Russia who had a handy lead. Indeed Skari let Danilova get away to 15 seconds ahead after about 3km, and at the 5.8km mark hadn't managed to pull back anything. Swedish commentators wrote the Norwegian off, and switched their rhetoric to a battle between Danilova and compatriot Tchepalova. Danilova was tiring while Tchepalova was picking up the pace, but the former managed to hold onto a 1.8 second lead across the line. Then from nowhere came Skari skiing like a mad woman, somehow with 500m to go she was only 2 seconds behind. And incredibly, with a double poling frenzy down the finish straight, she won by 2.5 seconds! The first ever individual Winter Olympic gold medal for a Nowegian women in cross country skiing. Danilova silver and Tchepelova bronze, and possibly (though not certain) Belmondo from Italy fourth[Fifth! Lazutina from Russia fourth.]. Looking forward to an exciting women's pursuit on Friday.

Afternote: There was no mention in the Swedish TV summary, but Beckie Scott from Canada pulled out an amazing 6th place, just 3.4 seconds after Belmondo! Team-mates Sara Renner and Milaine Theriault were 15th and 25th.

The first time splits featuring the top seeded skiers in the men's 15km classic started at 7.2km. Magnus Ingesson from Sweden held the lead until 8 or so of the race favourites piled on through. The gold and silver medal winners from the 30km classic at the 2001 World Championships had a small break, with Veerpalu from Estonia about 7-8 seconds up on Estil from Norway. Then there was about 6 skiers within about 5 seconds vying for third, Elofsson just ahead of Norwegians Aukland and Jevne, Russians Denisov and Ivanov, and Mae from Estonia. At 11.5km Veerpalu extended his lead to 23 seconds on Estil, who was in turn 17 seconds up on the trio of Aukland, Mae, and Elofsson. Ivanov had spent his cookies and was fading fast. A big surprise close to the top 10 was John Bauer from the USA, who was within 40 seconds of third place. To the 13.7km mark and Veerpalu's lead was out to 33.5 seconds on Estil. Mae eluded the camera but Elofsson was reported to be just ahead of Aukland in the battle for bronze. Veerpalu showed no signs of slowing and went on to win by 36 seconds. Estil looked safe in second but received a small scare from Mae who closed the gap down to 7 seconds before taking third. Elofsson faded in the last kilometre to finish 5th behind Aukland, but said he felt he is on the way back up and has bigger goals for the pursuit on Thursday.

Afternote: John Bauer finished 12th, reportedly the best USA finish at the Olympics since Bill Koch's 2nd in 1976. Pat Weaver was 16th and Kris Freeman 22nd, making it a very successful day for the USA.

February 9 - XC Competition Day One - Women 15km, Men 30km

Not a great start to the race reporting, as the women's race was missed completely while the Australian team was waxing up for the OPA U23 Championships in Italy. But here is the women's 15km summary as told 3rd hand:

There was a pack of about 15, which was cut down to 11, and then six, containing Lazutina, Belmondo, Neumannova, Varis, Tchepalova, and someone else. On the last hill with just over a km to go, Belmondo and Lazutina broke away. They kept the break, were neck and neck down the finish straight, and Belmondo edged ahead to score the first cross country skiing gold medal of the 2002 Winter Olympics. Pretty poor report I know, for what was described by those who saw it as a fantastic contest, fitting to be decided by a sprint. [More details only second hand: Belmondo broke her right pole with about 2km to go, looked out of it, got a new pole but it was a left, waited for a new right pole, and then incredibly made it back to the pack in time to break with Lazutina.]

For the men's 30km we were lucky to see it live on Austrian TV (in Italy!). The three big favourites - Elofsson, Muhlegg, and Bjorndalen - broke away very early. By 6km Muhlegg - skiing as if it was a 10km race - had a small break on the rest, and Elofsson tried to bridge it before falling back to a chasing group which now also included Piller Cottrer and Botvinov. Just after 8.5km, Hoffmann, Skjeldal, and Lukas Bauer from the Czech republic also made it across. With Muhlegg gaining time up the front, the unthinkable happened. Elofsson blew up! By 11.5km the Swede was back to 18th and losing time rapidly on the leaders. At 15km he pulled out. Muhlegg continued to pull away, a minute and half up at the half way mark, and after three laps of 7.5km was already starting to wave to the crowd. Bjorndalen, Piller Cottrer, and Hoffman had a break on the rest, but at about 25km Hoffmann took the lead and started to play tactics, and Skjeldal and Botvinov made it back into the group. The pace started to pick up again, and Skjeldal looked to be struggling. Yes, Muhlegg just about had his name on the medal by then. Hoffmann went for it with just over 1km to go, and suddenly Bjorndalen who had been looking strong wasn't any longer. Botvinov was the only one to go with Hoffmann, and to everyone's surprise he pulled out and overtook his team-mate just before the finish straight. But Hoffmann still had his finish sprint up his sleeve, and came past comfortably for the silver medal. Skjeldal outsprinted the others for fourth place. Gold to Muhlegg and Spain, two podium places for Austria, what a sensational start to the men's events.

The first from the USA was Andrew Johnson in 22nd place, Carl Swenson was up in the 20's for a while but we didn't get to see his final place. No doubt more details from the other links at the top of this page.

XC is the official website of the Skiing Australia Cross Country Committee. It is produced with the assistance of the Australian Sports Commission, and the Kangaroo Hoppet. The editor can be contacted via info@hoppet.com.au.