Wednesday, March 16, 2005

World Cup Nordic Skiing - The Home Stretch

Pending today's sprint races in Goteborg, Sweden, the nordic skiing world cup has just one more event remaining. Last weekend saw two of the most well-known races on the circuit: the distance events on the famous Holmenkollen course in Oslo. Racing in front of the Norwegian royal family, native daughter Marit Bjorgen capped her World Cup-winning campaign in style. Down to Czech Katarina Neumannova by 13 seconds at the halfway point of the 30km freestyle race, Bjorgen time-trialed back into contention and then into the lead, beating Neumannova by 27.6 seconds - a 41-second gain over the last 15km of the race. Though Bjorgen had already won the women's WC, the second and third overall positions were shaken up by the race. After an abysmal race, Estonian Krista Smigun, who had been in second place, plummeted into fourth, while Neumannova climbed up into overall second and Virpi Kuitunen (who finished third in the race) moved into overall third.

A 50km monster, the race men's ranks as one of the most prestigious in the world, and Norway's 50km World Champion Frode Estil had high hopes for success. But Estonian Andrus Veerpalu won by racing steadily over the first half of the race, then holding off some challenges in the second half. Veerpalu was well prepared to overcome the trials of the marathon. Thanks to a strong start, he held a 9.1 second lead at 30km. Over the next 10km, he faded badly, surrendering all of that cushion. But he called on his 2003 win at Holmenkollen to revive at the 40km mark and build up enough pace to finish 27.9 seconds up on Jens Filbrich of Germany and 28.4 seconds up on Odd-Bjorn Hjelmset of Norway. The overall men's WC standings did not change: German Axel Teichmann, a middle-distance specialist, holds a sizable but not insurmountable lead over Norwegian sprinter Tor Arne Hetland.

The ski jumpers also competed at Holmenkollen, and Finn Matti Hautamaki continued his streak of consecutive wins with a dominant performance on the HS128 hill. With jumps of 127.5 and 128 meters (the latter earning a bevy of 19.5 style scores), Hautamaki led the entire competition, defeating Norwegian Bjoern Einar Romoeren and German Michael Uhrmann. Many of the best jumpers in the field finished far back of Hautamaki, including WC champion Janne Ahonen (18th), Roar Ljokelsoy (8th), Jakub Janda (16th), and Martin Hollwarth (17th). This weekend, the jumpers become flyers, taking on the massive HS215 slide at Planica, Slovenia.


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