Contributing Editor for The Master Skier
Jay Tegeder is a master skier and sports writer from St. Paul, Minnesota.
The last few seasons have ushered in a new era in cross-country skiing at the World Cup level. While interval starts will remain to some extent, they are fast going the way of wooden skis.
Tradition has always been the argument when skiers voiced complaints against new race formats.
Usually led by the Scandi-navians, purists fought skating in the 1980s, pursuit racing in the 1990s and running pursuits in the current decade. Among the changes lately have been the above mentioned running pursuit, mass starts, sprint racing and now sprint relays.
Typically, the running pursuit starts off as a mass start classic race followed by a transition zone where competitors change to skating skis and poles. New “combi” boots enable fast transitions.
While the running pursuit might not be fun if you’re used to interval starts like the pros, it can be a blast for the average skier. Those with a triathlon or duathlon background should appreciate the format.
Sprint races and sprint relays are the “new kids on the block” of Nordic skiing. These have become very popular spectator events in Europe with huge crowds.
Held on a loop under one kilometer, the fans get close to the action and all-out speed. The sprint relay features a two-person team. Sprints are held in both classic and skate techniques.
Interestingly, many of the best cross country skiers lack the top-end speed necessary to win the short events. As a result, national sprint teams have formed with specialists for the event.
The question is, with so much skiing tradition on the line, what is driving the change?
If you think about it, the answer is easy, TV and money. These new formats are all suited to television.
The running pursuit is mass start and the first one to cross the finish line wins. Obviously, the same applies to mass start races. No longer do skiers go off into the woods alone.
Interval starts are hard for the average fan to understand outside of Scandinavia and Middle Europe. Also, the pure excitement of sprint racing at top-speed with results known in a few minutes is hard to beat for television.
Regardless of tradition, these new formats are here to stay. The 2006 Olympics will likely have just one interval start event. The line-up could be something like; Running Pursuit 15K plus 15K, Mass Start 50K, Interval Start event, Sprint, Sprint Relay, Team Relay.
The question for master skiers is how will these changes affect masters racing. The answer is probably not a lot. In fact, mass starts and sprints have already been part of the National Masters. Most citizen skiers race in mass start events.
Basically, the masters are already ahead of the curve when it comes to race formats. For proof, the 2004 National Masters in Marquette, Michigan includes a running pursuit and a sprint relay. I’d suggest staying tuned to the Master Skier and www.masterskier.com for more information.
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