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