Olympic build up begins with opening race weekend
According to Muzzy, he had a "not so great" weekend performance - coming 13th and 18th is pretty good for "not so great"
Both Norway and Sweden have had snowfall over the past month, but a few warm, wet days followed by very low temperatures last week (-20C in Bruksvallarna) meant that in both Bruksvallarna in Sweden and Beitostoelen in Norway, only the race tracks where the snow had been topped up with artificial snow were still in good condition.
On Friday both venues held classic time trials for the British Nordic seniors with the two home countries’ national squads out in force, as well as the French national squad in Sweden and members of the German and US squads in Norway. The two Andrews, Musgrave and Young, had good races in Norway where there were 200 starters in the men’s race.
Andrew Young was reasonably happy with his 78 FIS points while Andrew Musgrave was pleased with his 13th place (35 points) which was one of his best ever classic results. The race was won by a large margin by Norway’s Johnsrud Sundby who proceeded to dominate the weekend.
Over in Sweden, Fiona Hughes and Posy Musgrave both had good 5km classic races. They were only disappointed that their FIS points didn’t reflect how well they had performed. This was due to the outstanding performance of Sweden’s number 1, Charlotte Kalla, who demolished the field by finishing almost 40 seconds ahead of the second fastest skier.
The men’s 10km race with 180 skiers, produced outstanding British results with Alex Standen finishing with 120 points in spite of a fall during the race, and Callum Smith coming 54th and earning his best ever senior FIS points. Callum has been combining skiing with studying at Edinburgh University the last two years but has taken this year out from uni aiming to qualify for the Olympic Games in February. This race showed just what a difference it makes to an athlete to be able to concentrate 100% on training and puts him well on the way to reaching the qualification standard set by the British Olympic Association.
On Saturday morning the British Nordic juniors were out first in the Swedish freestyle time trials. Sarah Hale had a good race and her 211 points were good enough to qualify her for the World Junior Championships at the end of January. Harry Nicholls, Gregor Young and Duncan Gibb completed their first ever 15km race, which was also Duncan’s first ever FIS race. Gregor and Harry both beat their previous best FIS points by huge amounts, while Duncan came in just ahead of them with a great 230 points. In the Senior women’s race Charlotte Kalla again dominated the field setting a pace that nobody could match. Posy decided to miss the race and save her energy for the next day’s sprint, but Fiona had a good 10km free and had it not been for the Kalla effect (she finished 1 minute ahead of 2nd place) would have got some of her best points for a freestyle race.
Callum Smith again produced the stand-out performance of the day for Britain, finishing 49th and cutting his points again. Alex Standen also had a good day and reduced his points in one of his best freestyle races. Over in Norway in their 15km freestyle time trial, Andrew Young had another good race and improved his position in the field over the previous day to 54th.
Andrew Musgrave had a “not so great” day, finishing 18th in what is normally his favourite race format. However, he commented that the first races of the season often throw up unexpected results - several members of the Norwegian national squad would also have been less than happy with their performance. The final day of the opening weekend was a sprint day in both countries.
In Norway the Andrew’s both missed out on going through to the heats from the prologue - so tight was the field that only 5 seconds separated the 30 qualifiers. In Sweden the weather had turned “Scottish” with a fierce wind and squally snow showers, which according to coach Roy Young, made the hilly section more like an adventure race. First British skier out was Sarah Hale who made it through to the heats, finishing the prologue in 21st place. The boys had a tougher time against the best of Sweden’s juniors but again improved on their previous performances.
In the senior men’s race, Callum and Alex, neither of who would claim to be sprinters, had good races and earned some of their best sprint points. In the women’s race, Fiona did well in her least preferred discipline, while Posy produced the best British result of the weekend when she finished in 14th place in the prologue. Her 99 FIS points put her ever nearer to the qualification standard set by the BOA for a place in the team going to the Olympics. Neither Posy nor Sarah made it through from the quarters to the semi-finals, but nonetheless it was a great finish to the weekend for the British contingent.
All round, it was a great start to the season, with all members of the British team showing improvement over last season. Next week sees them going on to races in Idre in Sweden and Gaalaa in Norway.
Above - Alex Standen and Callum Smith get ready for the start of their classic 10km race
Below: British Nordic Junior Duncan Gibb put in a great 1st race performance to claim his first FIS points.