On Wednesday, the 2011 Nordic Ski World Championships begin in Oslo, Norway – the city that almost literally invented nordic skiing, and the country that still dominates international elite cross-country skiing.
I’ve been eagerly anticipating the Oslo Worlds since Oslo was named as host a few years ago, and now that they’re (almost) here, I’m practically nuts with excitement. I love the top-level ski racing (12 races in 11 days), but I am also looking forward to the spectacle of ski racing in Oslo’s Holmenkollen park, a massive preserve above the city where Oslo-ites can and do turn out in enormous numbers to ski and to cheer on the racers. Some forecasts predict up to 100,000 spectators will show up for the marquee events, and the crowds for the other races won’t be tiny. And that means that the Norwegian racers will be revved up to perform well in front of their home fans – which, it’s certain, will see at least a few medals awarded to skiers in the famous red suits of Norge.
What’s even better than all that, though, is the fact that for the first in aeons, if not ever, an American is a favorite to win a gold medal, and other Americans have good shots at medals. First and foremost is the ebullient and insanely fast Kikkan Randall:
Kikkan is an Alaskan who won a silver medal at the last World Championships in 2009 and is now the best sprint racer in the world, wearing the red bib of the sprint-points leader and winning the last two sprint races on the World Cup circuit. She’s the favorite to win the very first medal event of the championships, the freestyle sprint held on Thursday. A gold – or any other medal – would probably seal her status as the best-ever American cross country skier.
Along with Kikkan, Andy Newell has an outside shot at a medal in the men’s freestyle sprint (also held on Thursday), while Kris Freeman could place well in any number of distance events. Minnesotans Jessie Diggins and Caitlin Comptom will be competing in a number of events, though they’re unlikely to be in the money.
At any rate, it’s going to be a fun two weeks of ski racing – and I’m somewhat stunned to be able to legitimately say, “Go USA!”