Graves on Nordic

SkiTrax - - Contents - by Peter Graves

By now, ev­ery­one is aware of the amaz­ing early-sea­son re­sults had by both U.S. and Cana­dian cross-coun­try skiers. They mark a very, very strong start to the 2018 Olympic sea­son.

What fol­lows here is not in­tended by any means to be Olympic pre­dic­tions, but in­di­cates how well our ath­letes are do­ing in the ramp-up pe­riod to the Games.

For most, the early-sea­son re­sults have been rea­son­ably pre­dictable. Nor­we­gian su­per­star Jo­hannes Hoes­flot Klaebo went on a tear with an im­pres­sive string of vic­to­ries, while the Nor­we­gian women’s team has proven to be a con­stel­la­tion of ex­cel­lence with Heidi Weng, Ragn­hild Haga, Ingvild Flugstad Oest­berg and Maiken Caspersen Falla look­ing pow­er­ful. Swe­den’s Char­lotte Kalla has also been tri­umphant with her first-ever Skiathlon World Cup win, ac­com­pa­nied by Stina Nils­son, who has started with a strong cam­paign as well. Weng again demon­strated her readi­ness for the Olympic Games by be­ing a re­peat win­ner at the Tour de Ski.

Then, of course, there’s Marit Bjo­er­gen, the most dec­o­rated cross-coun­try fe­male skier of all time, who rested and trained dur­ing the Tour de Ski and will be ready to rock Pyeongchang.

Cana­dian su­per­star Alex Har­vey is off to a sen­sa­tional start with his bril­liant per­for­mances. At the team’s pre-olympic train­ing camp in Livi­gno, Italy, Ivan Babikov, the Cana­dian team’s head coach, said, “You can just tell that he [Alex] is com­ing into his op­ti­mal shape for the next pe­riod when he climbs up Alpe Cer­mis with one of the best times of the day. In the past, it used to be one of his hard­est races, and [now he’s] had an his­toric fin­ish on the last day.”

Har­vey’s early-sea­son re­sults in­cluded a fourth in Ruka, Fin­land; sixth in Lille­ham­mer, Nor­way; 10th in Davos, Switzer­land; fourth in Toblach, Italy; fol­lowed by two fourths and his first podium of the sea­son in the men’s 15km Clas­sic at the Tour de Ski, plus a third over­all fin­ish at the Tour – a Cana­dian first. These fine re­sults in­di­cate that Har­vey is in a great space. This has to help the en­tire squad have an op­ti­mistic mind­set.

The U.S. women’s team has also cap­ti­vated the world’s at­ten­tion with their ex­tra­or­di­nary streak of suc­cess.

Re­cently, Chris Grover, U.S. head coach, spoke about the sea­son’s fast start: “I was a bit sur­prised that some of our re­sults were so strong, so early. The fields were in­cred­i­bly deep in Pe­riod One of the World Cup, with some of the men’s fields ex­ceed­ing 100 starters and very strong na­tion’s groups in Fin­land and Nor­way in par­tic­u­lar. The U.S. ath­letes also had a rel­a­tively short pe­riod to ac­cli­mate to the time change and to log time on snow be­fore Ruka, as com­pared to the Scan­di­na­vians and some of the cen­tral Euro­peans. But the U.S. ath­letes stepped up and demon­strated that they had done an ex­cel­lent job pre­par­ing for the sea­son.”

Clearly, it was a great start for the U.S. team. “The ath­letes can have a lot of con­fi­dence in know­ing that their hard work dur­ing the prepa­ra­tion pe­riod is al­ready pay­ing off and will con­tinue to do so as we move closer to the Olympic Games,” he noted.

With skiers such as Jessie Dig­gins, Sadie Bjornsen, So­phie Cald­well and Kikkan Ran­dall’s notch­ing up some stun­ning per­for­mances, Grover ex­pressed his thoughts on this im­pres­sive sur­pris­ing string of podium achieve­ments: “Well, I think there were sev­eral great sur­prises, the big­gest be­ing Sadie’s [Bjornsen] back-to-back podi­ums in the Clas­sic races. We’ve had Clas­sic sprint per­for­mances in the past by Andy [Newell], Kikkan, So­phie and Ida [Sar­gent], but they’ve been in­fre­quent and spo­radic. Sadie’s podi­ums so­lid­ify this event as a pos­si­ble medal event for the U.S.A. at Pyeongchang. Other sur­prises for me in­cluded the strength of the U.S.A. sprint group in Davos, and how well Paddy Cald­well was ski­ing in his first sea­son on the World Cup.”

And the U.S.A. women have im­pres­sive depth – to wit, four Amer­i­can women were in the top 20 in Davos, Switzer­land in the 10km freestyle race.

Dig­gins’ start was per­haps more pre­dictable, with a string of im­pres­sive fin­ishes. She said, “I’m re­ally happy how the start of the sea­son has gone for my­self, but I’m also to­tally wowed by the team over­all – what a great way to get the sea­son rolling. I’m fo­cus­ing my peak of the sea­son to­wards the Olympics, so for the first pe­riod of the World Cup, I felt like I was in good shape, but without that ‘sharp’ feel­ing you get when you are in peak form. This was the plan, so I’m not wor­ried about it, but I am look­ing for­ward to get­ting those feel­ings back as we move closer to the Games and we start to shift my train­ing a bit.”

Dig­gins was equally im­pres­sive on the Tour, tak­ing a bril­liant his­toric third-place over­all – an Amer­i­can first. Sadie Bjornsen, too, capped a stel­lar nine-day Tour de Ski, fin­ish­ing ninth over­all and putting two U.S. skiers in the top 10, also a record.

Rosie Bren­nan also looked im­pres­sive in some of the early World Cups and could well have a break­out sea­son.

Prior to the start of the Tour de Ski, Grover was asked how the men’s team was com­ing to­gether. “The men’s team start has been solid, but it’s still fer­ment­ing and com­ing to­gether. Erik Bjornsen has been im­pres­sive in train­ing all year, so it’s very grat­i­fy­ing to see him ski­ing well in both skate and Clas­sic, dis­tance and sprint. Paddy [Cald­well] has also en­tered his rookie sea­son with a lot of poise and ma­tu­rity. Andy [Newell] and Simi [Hamil­ton] both had rough starts to the first World Cup pe­riod, but were start­ing to come into form in Davos, where they qual­i­fied 10th and 12th re­spec­tively. The next week­end, they dom­i­nated an OPA Cup sprint, with Simi nar­rowly out-lung­ing Andy in the fi­nal for the vic­tory.”

Caitlin Pat­ter­son also shone bril­liantly State­side, as she dom­i­nated the 2018 L.L. Bean US Cross Coun­try Ski Cham­pi­onships at Kin­caid Park in An­chor­age, Alaska by sweep­ing to four straight gold medals. Im­pres­sive in­deed.

The Win­ter Games are on the hori­zon, and the tim­ing of all of this sim­ply couldn’t be bet­ter. Let us hope for the best Olympic Games pos­si­ble, one that cel­e­brates the best in the hu­man spirit and that just might help ease ex­ist­ing po­lit­i­cal ten­sions.

Chris Grover, U.S. head coach

Ivan Babikov, Cana­dian head coach

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