• Alex 50km Lahti Champion
    • First years of split techniques

      December 2, 2010

      The FIS congress decided that the season 1985/86 should be a year where the two techniques classical and free should be tested at the highest level. World Cup and Junior World Championships should be carried out in a 50-50% division of competitions.

      Odd Martinsen and a small working group were to evaluate the tests and come up with a proposal to the FIS council for further decisions. The principal was agreed upon by the Council and now we are going to the next phase –The WSC in Oberstdorf 1987.

      WSC Oberstdorf
      Oberstdorf was the first place for WSC since 1936 within the two Germanies where the WSC or OWG was carried out since 1936 in Garmisch Partenkirchen. I want to mention two important things that influenced cross-country skiing. In GDR, Biathlon was integrated in the Ski-Federation (Deutsche Skiläuefer Verband des DDR).The technical official for the international Biathlon Union was Kurt Hinze GDR who took part in the discussion with FIS (Cross-Country and Nordic Combined) in April 1985. Biathlon and Nordic Combined decided in summer 1985 that the free technique, only, is a part of their future.

      In GDR only the Olympic Disciplines were promoted by the government and only Olympic medals were indicated quality of the sport. In the discussions with Odd Martinsen and Barbara Petzold-Beyer we agreed to carry out two techniques but her signature was rejected by her association of GDR.
      The entries from the nations came to OC Oberstdorf in due time but surprisingly GDR did not enter any classical event! At this time the classical events were carried out in the first half of the championships and after that the free technique competitions took place. The press, the spectators etc waited for the GDR team and they came – in tight uniforms with hoods just to eliminate the air resistance.

      Men 4x10 km was the first performance. Two loops of 5km. The traditionally strong teams came to the stadium after 5 km but no GDR. At last they came at rank 16 and the last relay Denmark was only 50 m behind. I went to my good friend Ekkehard Becker GDR and asked him “Do you take a bet that the Dane is before your man at the exchange?”. His only answer was "KATASTROPHE!" So it went on. No medals for GDR – and a new General Secretary was appointed.  I spoke with Thomas Wassberg about the situation and he said if you do not train classical technique you are not getting the optimal load capacity.

      Italy against classic technique
      There was another country where the classical technique was not the first option: Italy. The new coach Allesandro Vanoi put all efforts in 1985 before Seefeld to train the free technique. Maurilio de Zolt took two individual medals and the team was second in the relay. In the congress later on, Italy was the only association that voted against the division of the program into two techniques. They did not want to keep the classical technique - but in Oberstdorf Marco Albarello became the champion over 15 km classical and then this technique was OK also for ITA.

      We had the possibility to see some later highly respected FIS officials in Oberstdorf. Vegard Ulvang with two individual ranks (5 and 6) and a bronze in the relay and also the Race Director Juerg Capol made an interesting start and was ranked within the 30 best on 30 km Classic.

      Mass Start in 1987
      During the 1987 season a mass start for ladies was carried out in Falun 1987 and Anette Böe was the winner. The reactions were mixed. Why did we make such an experiment? The Cross-Country was popular in Scandinavia and Russia with a great number of spectators who were informed by good speakers in the stadium and at home by good TV production. That was not the case in rest of the world and it was impossible to make the competitions dramatic. We said let us try to do the competitions easier to understand by mass start. We had spoken about mass start in Falun and at the end of the seventies we had also had a mass start for men in Lahti over 50 km.

      FIS Structure in the 80's
      I think that it is important to take a look at the FIS Nordic organization at this time. I was head of the Nordic Office and covered all the three disciplines. I had no race directors or other employed personnel. In Nordic Combined the chairman Helmuth Weinbuch who was General Secretary of the German Ski federation did the planning with assistance of his secretaries. Working language German.
      In ski jumping the working Secretary was the legend Emmerich “Putzi” Pepeunig who also was Director of the hill Berg Isel in Innsbruck. Working language German.

      In Cross-Country we had Odd Martinsen as Chairman and he was very well informed and took care of part of the planning. He was supported by the vice Chairman Professor Dietrich Martin who made a great work in the rules committee. He also planned for the ever first seminar for technical delegates that was carried out in about 1980. By exception of the competitions in Scandinavia and Russia the World Cup competitions were carried out separately for men and women. At my disposal I had another legend who called himself the Father of the World Cup; Werner Kirchhofer, and in the weekends with two separate weekends he took care of either ladies or men.
      We had very few summer controls as the National Ski Association were responsible for the organization and education of volunteers.

      Race that should be forgotten
      Men’s 30 km free technique mass start in Castelrotto (Kastelruth) Suedtirol ITA. I personally came to Castelrotto one day after the opening in La Clusaz, more or less directly to the team’s captains meeting. I understood that the preparations were not the best when we came to the item “Weather forecast”. The Chief of Competition said to one of his men “Herbert, can you open the door, look out and then tell us what the weather will be tomorrow?”

      The TD came with wife and a little baby in his rucksack. He did an inspection and said that everything was correct. This was not the case and after less than 1 km there was one pass. The first racers could get through but then all others had to stop and wait for a free passage. Many took off their skis and started to run in the deep snow. The chaos was perfect. Torgny Mogren in the newly introduced yellow bib won before Gunde Svan. The time keeping got paralyzed by the yellow bib without a number. The situation was saved by the Italian journalist Pepi Aussersdorfer who made his own list with the yellow bib as number 1. After the competition Thomas Wassberg came to me, knocked quite hard on my head and said “Bengtsson do not do any such competition again!“

      Olympic Games in Calgary
      During the OWG in Calgary I had to work more in the Olympic Hill as we had immense problems with high temperatures and snow. Besides my work as Nordic chief I was also responsible for the measuring of the jumping suits as I also was secretary in the competition equipment committee. The chairman was Ludwig Schröder GDR - he was really tough looking but had a heart of gold. Back to our two Officials. Vegard took two individual Olympic medals and Juerg got a 4th place in the men’s relay.

      In the next article we will come to the hardest conflict we ever had between athletes and deciding persons.