Thursday, March 24, 2005

Nordic World Cup: the season's over

The cross-country skiing World Cup ended this weekend with pursuit and relay races in Falun, Sweden. In the women's 2 x 7.5km pursuit, superstar Marit Bjorgen completed perhaps the most dominant season ever, winning the race by 15 seconds over Katerina Neumannova and Julija Tchepalova. Bjorgen's win put the cherry on the cherry on top of her fabulous season, in which she swept all three WC titles - overall, distance, and sprints. She must be the odds-on favorite for next year's cup and for a stunning performance at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy.

On the men's side, things were much tighter. Going into the last race, cup leader Axel Teichmann of Germany held a narrow lead over Frenchman Vincent Vittoz, but the latter could have won the overall title by finishing first in the 2 x 15km pursuit and seeing Teichmann falter. A gargantuan pack of fifteen skiers hung together for much of the race, which concluded in a field sprint and a six-way photo finish. Russian Yevgeny Dementiev ended up in first, a millimeter ahead of Tobias Angerer (Germany) and Martin Bajcicak (Slovakia). Numerous skiers collapsed or fell immediately after crossing the line, but Teichmann finished seventh to win the overall and distance World Cup titles.

On Sunday, the World Cup season ended with men's and women's relays. On the women's side, Finland handily won the 4 x 5km race, outdistancing Norway and Russia by 17 seconds. Those two teams' anchor skiers - Bjorgen and Tchepalova - had to sprint for the silver, with Norway taking it by a half second. The 4 X 10km men's race, again, was much tighter. Five teams were still together halfway through the final leg, and only a break by Norwegian Tore-Ruud Hofstad and Italian Giorgio Di Centa fractured the group. Hofstad outsprinted Di Centa by four tenths of a second to win; Mathias Fredriksson of Sweden gave his country the bronze.

All in all - as these reviews of the women's and the men's seasons indicate - racing was remarkably even and varied (despite Bjorgen). This bodes very well for a competitive 2005-2006 season and exciting Olympic Games in Torino.


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