January 16, 2023
Friday through Sunday this last weekend, Falun hosted the FIS Scandinavian XC Cup. Falun is a perfect place for World Cup events. World Cup races have been held there for over 75 years. The terrain is hilly making the course one of the toughest on the World Cup circuit. The altitude is low so no high-altitude breathing problems. I was born in the US but at age two I moved to Sweden and grew up just 30 miles from Falun. For me, it’s a very special place.
Since the grueling Tour de Ski just finished on January 8th, I was not surprised that none of those skiers entered the Scandinavian Cup. Nevertheless, some of the world’s best skiers were there, including former World Sprint champion Linn Svahn. In February of 2021 she and another skier collided during a race, and she injured her shoulder. At first the doctors felt she might recover with physical therapy, but the damage was more severe than expected and she needed two shoulder operations.
Linn began racing again in December of 2022, the first time she had raced in over 600 days. She won her first Sprint race, but to qualify for the World Championships in February she had to show that in World Cup races she was still competitive. During the sprint races it was snowing, and Linn’s wax technician must have missed the wax, or she picked the wrong pair of skis for the snow conditions. She finished 11th in the qualifier and made it to the semifinals. Experts who were watching the race said her skis were visibly slower than some of the other competitors. Despite her slow skis she finished 9th out of 43 entries. Still, the former Sprint Champion must now be among the top six in the few remaining World Cup races before the World Championships or she might not qualify for the National Team.
Ebba Andersson, one of the World’s best distance skiers, got Covid in early December 2022 and was not able to compete in Tour de Ski. To be on the National Team for the World Championships, she, just like Linn Svahn, had to prove that she has recovered.
Ebba totally dominated the Scandinavian Cup. She won the 10 KM race on Friday by 33 seconds. She is normally not a great sprinter, but on Saturday she finished 2nd in the Sprint Finals and on Sunday won the 30 KM race by an unbelievable 2 minutes and 26 seconds. A group of five skiers, three Norwegians and two Swedes, tried to catch Ebba. Race history shows it is very difficult to pull away when skiing by yourself in a mass start race. When you ski behind someone the energy required to maintain the same speed as the person in front is substantially lower and your pulse will drop by as much as 5 to 10 beats per minute. That’s why when skiing in a pack the person in front will drop back and let someone else lead for a while. Even though Ebba skied by herself she was five seconds faster per kilometer than the pack behind her.
As I mentioned earlier, Falun is a very special place for me. When in 5th grade another skier and I got entangled in a ski race and I injured my ankle. I was transported by car to the hospital in Falun. After an Xray my foot was put in a cast. In 1993 I attended the World Nordic Championships in Falun and while there Vladimir Smirnov’s business manager asked me if I would like to have dinner with Vladimir and his family. Smirnov had rented a very nice apartment for the ten-day long Championship. At dinner I met Vladimir’s wife Valentina and their daughter Anna. That was the beginning of a long friendship with the Smirnov family. Vladimir, Valentina and daughters Anna and Karolina stayed at our house in New Hampshire for a week and Anita and I visited them twice at their house in Sundsvall, Sweden.