FIS World Cup XC Ski Pre­view Who's Hot and Who's Not this Olympic Sea­son

SkiTrax - - International Comp - By Julie Me­lan­son, Karen Mes­sen­ger and Peter Graves

With the Pyeongchang Olympic Games just around the cor­ner, the heat is on in the FIS (In­ter­na­tional Ski Fed­er­a­tion) World Cup cross-coun­try-ski cir­cuit this year. Who will be du­el­ing it out in the men and women’s races, and which skiers have done the prep work to shine on the podium in South Korea?

If we look back to last sea­son, the Nor­we­gians took top hon­ours, with Martin John­srud Sundby lead­ing the men’s World Cup stand­ings and Heidi Weng top­ping the women’s field. The Nor­we­gians have dom­i­nated the World Cup leader­board for the past four years, with Sundby re­lin­quish­ing the crown to Dario Cologna of Switzer­land in 2015. Be­fore Weng worked her way to the top, the po­si­tion was held by Therese Jo­haug, with Marit Bjo­er­gen tak­ing the triple – all three Globes – for the sec­ond time in 2015.

All the star Nor­we­gian men are back this sea­son, in­clud­ing top sprint­ers Eirik Brands­dal, Paal Gol­berg, Sin­dre Bjo­ernes­tad Skar, Son­dre Tur­voll Fossli, Haavard So­laas Taug­boel and new sen­sa­tion Jo­hannes Hoes­flot Klaebo. All-rounders for the men in­clude Sundby, Nik­las Dyrhaug, Sjur Roethe, Hans Chris­ter Hol­und, Finn Haa­gen Krogh, Didrik Toenseth, Emil Iversen and Si­men Hegstad Krueger, with leg­endary Pet­ter Northug on the come­back trail.

Northug will miss the start of the sea­son due to ill­ness, tak­ing it easy in Trond­heim, Nor­way, while Dyrhaug, the bronze medal­ist in the 15km Clas­sic at Lahti2017, will de­lay the start of his ski sea­son un­til Nor­way’s Lille­ham­mer week­end due to a lower-back in­jury. Sundby had a great off-sea­son and is very fit and fo­cused. He man­aged to stay healthy this sum­mer while tak­ing part in high-al­ti­tude ses­sions.

For the women, it’s Bjo­er­gen, Weng, Maiken Caspersen Falla, Ingvild Flugstad Oest­berg, Astrid Uhren­holdt Ja­cob­sen, Ragn­hild Haga, Kathrine Harsem and Kari Oeyre Slind.

Jo­haug will be on the side­lines this year af­ter re­ceiv­ing a 13-month dop­ing ban for us­ing a lip cream con­tain­ing a pro­hib­ited steroid, while Bjo­er­gen is mak­ing a strong come­back af­ter tak­ing off the 2016 sea­son to have a baby. Weng, who was the top wo­man last sea­son, is look­ing to de­fend her ti­tle and will be­gin to do that at Nor­way’s sea­son kick-off in Beitostoe­len.

Sergey Ustiu­gov leads a be­lea­guered Rus­sian squad, as six of its mem­bers, Alexan­der Legkov, Maxim Vylegzhanin, Alexey Pe­tukhov, Evgeny Belov, Ju­lia Ivanova and Ev­ge­nia Shapo­val­ova, were pro­vi­sion­ally sus­pended by the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee (IOC) un­til Oct. 31. But the IOC'S ju­ris­dic­tion is re­stricted to the Olympic Games, so the FIS Dop­ing Panel must rule on their sta­tus for the up­com­ing World Cup sea­son. The big­ger ques­tion is whether the en­tire team will be banned from the Pyeongchang 2018 Games.

The Swiss team com­pleted a train­ing stint in Davos, Switzer­land, and it is re­ported that its star Cologna, who can never be dis­counted, is ex­cited to be on the snow and look­ing for­ward to putting on a race bib. Cur­din Perl will re­tire come spring next year, and to com­mem­o­rate his fi­nal sea­son, he chal­lenged him­self to climb on cross-coun­try skis the 3,900-me­tre-high sum­mit of Piz Palü moun­tain in the Bern­ina Range of the Alps, lo­cated be­tween Switzer­land and Italy. Perl will open his sea­son at Round Three in Davos.

The French squad held its roller­ski Na­tion­als in Au­trans in late Au­gust. In the sprint events, Mar­ion Buil­let took the women’s hon­ours, while Lu­cas Chana­vat won the men’s event. In a Freestyle Pur­suit, both Mar­ion Colin and Robin Duvil­lard took top hon­ours. Vet­eran Mau­rice Man­i­fi­cat was sec­ond in the men’s race. Last sea­son, France made huge ad­vances with its sprint squad, which spent time in the ski tun­nel at Ober­hof, Ger­many as part of their train­ing.

The French team has an­nounced their 2017/18 dis­tance team, with Duvil­lard, Man­i­fi­cat and Jean-marc Gail­lard on the “A” squad. The men’s Team sprint squad in­cludes Chana­vat, Bap­tiste Gros, Re­naud Jay and Richard Jouve, while the women’s sprint squad will in­clude Anouk Faivre Pi­con and Co­ra­line Hugue.

Ital­ian Fed­erico Pel­le­grino, World sprint cham­pion and for­mer World Cup sprint se­ries cham­pion, is fo­cused on the Tour de Ski and the Team sprint at the Games with team­mate Di­et­mar Nöck­ler.

Flo­rian Notz and Thomas Bing had sim­i­lar re­sults last sea­son and hope to re­peat.

Cana­dian Alex Har­vey and Amer­i­can Jessie Dig­gins lead the North Amer­i­cans, who are demon­strat­ing that they’re ready to take on the Euro­peans on any turf. Har­vey’s tremen­dous sea­son last year with his 50km FR vic­tory at Lahti2017 is the tip of that spear. Har­vey’s coach, Louis Bouchard, says he’s pro­gress­ing well: “Alex had a re­ally good sum­mer train­ing and is en route for a strong sea­son this Olympic year.” Har­vey and Len Val­jas won Team sprint gold last sea­son, while the re­lay squad that in­cluded Devon Ker­shaw and Knute Johns­gaard took home a his­toric bronze last year. Look for more fire­works from Team Canada, in­clud­ing the women’s squad, who con­tinue to de­velop with Emily Nishikawa head­ing up an ea­ger crew that in­cludes Dahria Beatty, Cen­drine Browne and Kather­ine Ste­wart-jones.

The U.S. women’s team is loaded with tal­ent. Dig­gins spent some of her sum­mer train­ing on snow at the Snow Farm in New Zealand. In ad­di­tion to Dig­gins, there’s Sadie Bjornsen, who landed on the podium last year, as did Kikkan Ran­dall, Liz Stephen and Ida Sar­gent. Simi Hamil­ton re­mains hun­gry for more, while Erik Bjornsen too is mak­ing solid gains. Andy Newell, who mar­ried Erika Flow­ers this past sum­mer, hopes to land on the podium again. Scott Pat­ter­son is also climb­ing up the lad­der, while Noah Hoff­man can also strike at any time as well.

Af­ter the first World Cup in Ruka, Fin­land, the car­a­van heads to Lille­ham­mer, Davos and Toblach, Italy in De­cem­ber. The 11th Tour de Ski will be­gin in Len­z­er­heide, Switzer­land on Dec. 30 with stops in Ober­st­dorf, Ger­many and Val di Fiemme, Italy, fin­ish­ing on Jan. 6, 2018. The World Cup picks up again in Dres­den, Ger­many with stops in Plan­ica, Slove­nia and Seefeld, Aus­tria be­fore the Pyeongchang 2018 Games from Feb. 9-25. The World Cup sea­son re­sumes in Lahti, Fin­land and then moves to Nor­way for stops in Dram­men and Oslo, with the fi­nals in Falun on March 16-18.

A dras­tic loss in fund­ing this spring, re­sult­ing in bud­get cuts and staff re­struc­tur­ing, forced the Cana­dian biathlon team to go back to the ba­sics. Most of the sum­mer train­ing took place at home in Can­more, Alta., which al­lowed for bet­ter re­cov­ery and more time with sup­port­ive friends and fam­ily mem­bers.

In ad­di­tion, the Cana­dian com­mu­nity suf­fered a huge loss with the tragic pass­ing of biathlon coach Richard Boruta. “We’ll never be able to re­place Richard; he was an amaz­ing coach and fa­ther fig­ure,” com­mented Roddy Ward, who is cur­rently ful­fill­ing the roles of both Biathlon Canada high-per­for­mance di­rec­tor and Na­tional Team coach. Head­ing into this im­por­tant Olympic sea­son, Ward said re­as­sur­ingly that many in­di­vid­u­als have stepped up to en­sure that the ath­letes are taken care of. The team has ral­lied to­gether and is ris­ing to the chal­lenges. “The ath­letes and staff are very mo­ti­vated and this has al­ready shown in im­prove­ments in our test­ing. We are def­i­nitely on a great path towards win­ter suc­cess.”

Cana­dian Na­tional se­nior team mem­bers in­clude Ran­som, Lun­der, Craw­ford, broth­ers Chris­tian and Scott Gow, Bren­dan Green, Nathan Smith, Me­gan Tandy and Macx Davies. Poised to make the leap to the next level are Team “B” and “Z” mem­bers that in­clude Bankes, Sarah Beaudry, Jules Burnotte and Carsen Camp­bell, along with Na­tional ju­nior team mem­bers Grand­bois, Adam Run­nalls, Na­dia Moser and Emily Dick­son.

Amer­i­can biath­letes will be join­ing the Cana­dian team again in Can­more this fall for World Cup tri­als as well as an on-snow camp be­fore both teams head over to Oster­sund, Swe­den for the first World Cup of the 2017-2018 sea­son. Craw­ford, Ran­som and Scott Gow have pre-qual­i­fied for the Olympics, while Dun­klee and Bailey were the first Amer­i­cans to pre-qual­ify for the Games. Biath­letes who qual­ify for the World Cup can earn a spot on the Olympic team by achiev­ing a top30 re­sult or through the tri­als races prior to Pyeongchang.

Fol­low­ing the World Cup opener in Swe­den, biath­letes will head to Hochfilzen, Aus­tria, site of last year’s World Cham­pi­onships. An­necy-le Grand Bor­nand, France will host the fi­nal World Cup of 2017. Af­ter the hol­i­day break, biath­letes will com­pete in World Cups in Ober­hof and Ruh­pold­ing, Ger­many. The fi­nal World Cup be­fore the Olympics will take place in An­tholz-an­ter­selva, Italy.

From Feb. 9-25, the 2018 Win­ter Olympics will take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Since host­ing a World Cup in 2008 and the World Cham­pi­onships in 2009, the Alpen­sia Biathlon Cen­tre has had up­grades and ren­o­va­tions that should prove it to be a chal­leng­ing, ex­cit­ing race venue.

Post-olympics, the World Cup re­sumes in March in Kon­ti­o­lahti, Fin­land, fol­lowed by the penul­ti­mate World Cup in leg­endary Oslo-hol­menkollen, Nor­way. The fi­nal World Cup event of the 2017-2018 will see the IBU re­turn to Rus­sia. The na­tion gave up host­ing biathlon events the pre­vi­ous sea­son due find­ings re­leased in the Mclaren Re­port, how­ever it is set to host World Cup #9 in Tyu­men, Rus­sia.

With up­com­ing Olympic and World Cup ac­tion, the 2017-2018 sea­son prom­ises to be an ex­cit­ing one! Let the Games be­gin. - KM

er (who are very fast cross-coun­try skiers), could be within strik­ing dis­tance of an Olympic medal come Fe­bru­ary. “There is a group of hun­gry young up-and-com­ers who will be right on their heels,” said Bayer. It is likely that Jasper Good and Ben Berend will be among those push­ing the pace for the Amer­i­cans. Oth­ers in­clude Adam and Ben Loomis and “C” team mem­ber Stephen Schu­mann. The team is cer­tainly on the up­swing.

In late sum­mer, Bill De­mong, USA Nordic Sport ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, agreed, adding that “Bryan and Tay­lor will con­tinue to lead U.S. hopes, and Ben Berend is re­ally show­ing a high level on the jump­ing side. He jumped to a sec­ond place in Chaux Neuve, and he is a sta­ble 10- to 20-spot jumper and his cross-coun­try speed is re­ally im­prov­ing as well. I see a great fight be­tween Adam [Loomis] and Ben [Berend], Jasper [Good] and the young­ster Stephen Schu­mann, who, at just 16, not only fin­ished top at World Ju­niors, but also qual­i­fied and fin­ished the Hol­menkollen – this is big.” De­mong called the U.S.A.’S for­tunes bright, and noted that, with some luck, there may be some sur­prises at the Win­ter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Canada’s Nordic-com­bined hopes will likely rest on Nathaniel Mah and vet­eran Wes Sav­ill, who has been on the team since 2005.

It’s Olympic sea­son, so get ready to watch and marvel at the ul­ti­mate chal­lenge in the Nordic-com­bined com­pe­ti­tion. - PG

It was no sur­prise that the off-sea­son and the FIS [In­ter­na­tional Ski Fed­er­a­tion] Sum­mer Grand Prix started off as it did, for in this ex­act­ing sport, there are of­ten few sur­prises. In short, the Pol­ish Na­tional team swung back into ac­tion as the pow­er­house squad to beat, along with such na­tions in the tra­di­tional mix as Ger­many, Aus­tria and Slove­nia.

The Pol­ish squad, headed by its head coach, Ste­fan Horn­gacher, opened the Grand Prix in Hin­terzarten, Ger­many with a win by its star David Kubacki. Its depth is stag­ger­ing, with the likes of Four Hills win­ner Kamil Stoch, Ma­cieji Kot and Piotr Zyla. The squad is poised to win many World Cups and the Olympic Team event – not dif­fi­cult pre­dic­tions to make.

The Ger­many pro­gram, un­der long-time trainer and for­mer Aus­tria great Werner Schus­ter, also has con­sid­er­able depth. The team has been one of the squads to beat over the past decade, and is still strong, but opened the off-sea­son with­out its top man, 29-year-old Bavar­ian Sev­erin Fre­und, fol­low­ing a bad ACL tear, with re­ports say­ing he will not com­pete in this vi­tal Olympic sea­son. Ger­many still has a great squad with re­turn­ing Na­tional team’ers Markus Eisen­bich­ler, Richard Fre­itag, Karl Geiger and An­dreas Wank, as well as Stephan Leyhe, who started the sum­mer in ter­rific form and has been very con­sis­tent all sum­mer. Wank was out later in the sum­mer for a few weeks with back prob­lems that he ag­gra­vated at a com­pe­ti­tion in Hin­terzarten. Ger­many also stated that David Siegel, the 2016 FIS World Ju­nior cham­pion, has re­turned to train­ing fol­low­ing an in­jury.

The Ger­man women suf­fered a large set­back in July when Olympic and world cham­pion Ca­rina Vogt sus­tained a se­ri­ous knee in­jury in train­ing, putting her on the side­lines for much of the sum­mer. Vogt had been per­form­ing at a very high level un­til this fall. Team­mate Katha­rina Althaus re­sponded in kind by jump­ing to her first win in the Ladies Grand Prix. With Vogt back later in the fall, they should be a pow­er­ful duo.

Aus­tria is back with its usual line-up, and stud Max­i­m­il­ian Steiner, 21, took his first COC win this sum­mer. Watch for him.

The Fin­nish team has been a big ques­tion mark for many years now, no longer demon­strat­ing the kind of dom­i­nat­ing per­for­mances seen dur­ing the 1970s and 1980s. They have se­lected Aus­trian An­dreas Mit­ter as their top coach. Look for solid jump­ing by Jarkko Maeaet­tae, Antti Aalto, Ville Lar­into and Eetu Nou­si­ainen. Fans are happy to see age­less won­der and na­tional hero Janne Aho­nen re­turn to the fold, as he’s great for the sport. Fin­nish na­tional cham­pion and jump­ing star Nou­si­ainen is head­ing to Turkey to work with a fledg­ling pro­gram.

The French Sum­mer Grand Prix ti­tle went to Paul Brasne, 19, a big sur­prise – watch for him in the next few sea­sons. Sec­ond place went to Vin­cent Descombes Sevoie.

Nor­we­gian coach Alexan­der Stoeckl named seven ath­letes to his team for the com­ing sea­son – six men and one wo­man. They can al­ways pop the big jump at the right time, and new­comer Robert Jo­hans­son has joined the squad. Re­turn­ing from miss­ing the en­tire last sea­son due to a knee in­jury is Ken­neth Gangnes. The lone wo­man on the team, Maren Lundby Stoeckl, will be at the helm of the pro­gram un­til at least 2022, as she has just re­cently had her con­tract re­newed with the Nor­we­gian Ski As­so­ci­a­tion.

One man to watch with in­ter­est is Rus­sian jumper De­nis Kornilov, who placed third in the Sum­mer Grand Prix on the hill in Courchevel, France, where more than 10,000 spec­ta­tors were on hand to cheer the jumpers. “My re­sult was great,” said Kornilov. “But there’s still a lot I want to im­prove on.” He has some valid sup­port in coun­try­man Mikhail Nazarov, who has been im­prov­ing. Rus­sia’s top wo­man will likely be Irina Av­vaku­mova.

Italy has been mak­ing steady gains in the jump sport as well, with solid off-sea­son jump­ing by Da­vide Bre­sadola and the vet­eran Se­bas­tian Col­loredo.

Ja­pan, never far out of the hunt for points, has a strong men’s team. Its Sara Takanashi took a Ladies Grand Prix win, and she might be teamed up with Yuki Ito and Yuka Seto. As for the men, watch broth­ers Jun­shiro and Ry­oyu Kobayashi, who have been very solid as of late.

Slove­nia al­ways puts to­gether a strong team, and Anze Lanisek won the qual­i­fi­ca­tion round at the Grand Prix in France.

The U.S. squad has been mak­ing very ef­fec­tive strides for­ward. Park City, Utah’s Sarah Hen­drick­son, show­ing her come­back prow­ess, has al­ready en­joyed times in­side the top 10 on the Ladies Grand Prix cir­cuit, and there have been some im­prov­ing Grand Prix fin­ishes from Tara Ger­aghty-moats and Abby Ringquist, as well as Nita Englund, the sum­mer Long Hill win­ner in Park City. The women’s team is now in part­ner­ship with USA Nordic to pro­vide a bet­ter foun­da­tion for the pro­gram.

Kevin Bick­ner has made huge progress. In July, he soared to the long­est jump of the day at a COC in Kranj, Slove­nia, and both Will Rhoads and the age­less Mike Glas­der con­tinue to move for­ward, as does Casey Lar­son. Lar­son fin­ished among the top 10 at World Ju­niors last sea­son.

Clint Jones, USA team di­rec­tor and for­mer U.S. Olympian, who has been at the helm of the jump­ing pro­gram since 2010, is bullish on his team’s im­prove­ment this sum­mer, com­ment­ing, “We are re­ally ex­cited about the po­ten­tial of our young team. Most of them are still work­ing to gain ex­pe­ri­ence and con­sis­tency at the World Cup level, but we have seen from guys like Kevin Bick­ner the po­ten­tial for long jumps is al­ways there. We go into the Olympics this win­ter with more prom­ise

and higher ex­pec­ta­tions than in the more re­cent Olympic cy­cles.” At press time, Bick­ner leapt to a sev­enth-place fin­ish in Hakuba, Ja­pan in the Sum­mer Grand Prix, and is look­ing good.

Bill De­mong, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of USA Nordic, also be­lieves that things are on the up­swing: “The depth of the ski-jump­ing team has re­ally im­proved since Sochi, with four ath­letes ca­pa­ble of qual­i­fy­ing in World Cup and also mak­ing the sec­ond round in a Team event in Plan­ica,” said De­mong.

Cana­dian Macken­zie Boyd-clowes con­tin­ues to im­prove along­side Josh Mau­rer, Dusty Korek and Matt Soukup. And the Cana­dian women’s team has some real depth. Lead­ing them off will be Tay­lor Hen­rich and At­suko Tanaka and other four women who have been added to the Na­tional team for the win­ter that in­clude Natasha Bod­nar­chuk, Natalie Eil­ers, Ni­cole Mau­rer and Abby Strate. Watch for both Hen­rich and Mau­rer, both bril­liant at the U.S. Long Hill Na­tion­als in Park City, to shine this Olympic sea­son.- PG

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