• Alex 50km Lahti Champion
    • Introduction of pursuit with a break

      January 25, 2011

      We are approaching the next step in the development of modern skiing - the Pursuit start or the Gundersen start. This starting format was named after Gunder Gundersen, former medalist in Nordic Combined in the mid fifties.

      I myself remember the years in Sweden when I was announcer in Nordic Combined and Cross Country at the Ski games in Falun; how I had to construct an unofficial cross-country winning time in order to get the rankings. Gunder created a system, which made it possible to get a starting order for the cross-country portion based on the jumping results. Easy!!!!! The first to finish was the champion.

      The first winner of Championships was “Glagutten” (the happy boy) from Mjösa, Torbjörn Lökken, in 1987.

      His celebration after this win was also the end of his career. He did not even try to defend his title in the coming Championships.

      Back to Cross-Country

      In 1988, the question of the two ski techniques was more or less settled. It had however started a kind of specialization (keep in mind that in 1987, the GDR did not participate in classical competitions). The ski industry worked hard and earned money to produce skis for both techniques to the public. There was a risk that some developing nations had to choose one of the two techniques for economical reasons.

      In the minutes from the Congress of 1988 you can read the following about the future of Cross-Country skiing: “the door should be left open for future development in regard to combined events e.g. two days competition with both techniques - that tests with the Gundersen method, should be carried out within the World Cup and other individual events “.

      I still remember when the Secretary General, his assistant Ms. Roser and I were sitting in the office in Guemligen to elaborate details on the minutes from the congress. At times like these, the Secretary General would be highly concentrated. After a while he asked me “did we not discuss the Gundersen method in Cross- Country?” I said yes and the result you can see in the sentence above.

      First pursuit

      Our dynamic Professor Doctor Dietrich Martin formulated the rules for the Cross-Country combined and already in December 1988 it became part of the World Cup programme.

      The resort was Val di Sole in Italy. Vladimir Pacl, our former Cross- Country President, lived there and the daily business was handled by Pietro Scaramella and Signora Anna. Madonna di Campiglio, the famous alpine resort, is a neighboring village. Our arena had the proud name of Campo Carlomagnio. We had however one problem - the tracks were too narrow.

      We therefore decided to have the first part carried out in free technique and the pursuit in classical technique. I would like to point out to you that this was a competition with only one result list based on the finishing results.

      I still remember all the butterflies in my stomach at the first pursuit start. We had trained the starting personnel (4 rows) time and again. One lesson we learnt immediately was to keep the spectators well away from the start.

      The completion was very exciting and Gunde Svan won close before Torgny Mogren.

      The subcommittee for the World Cup had a meeting in Val di Sole and the chairman, Stig Roland Bergqvist, reported to the FIS bulletin: “A very successful competition. Cross-Country skiing has passed an historical bridge”. For me it was fantastic to read Christoph Schmids´ article in Sport Zuerich under the headline “Cross-Country newly invented”.

      What did the winner Gunde Svan say? ”I am very critical and I do not like this competition at all!”

      The ladies had their first Pursuit start in Holmenkollen. Marja Liisa Kirvesniemi was the winner. However, a number of broken poles in the last major downhill pointed to some problems.

      Bright future for pursuit?

      The future looked bright for the Pursuit start and the organizers of 1991 WSC in Val di Fiemme and the organizers of the OWG in Albertville wanted to have it included in their programmes.

      We left for Dubrovnik and the spring meetings of 1989 in a very good mood.

      The ladies committee had already had an early meeting upon our arrival and told us that 11 of the ladies did not want the Pursuit start in the upcoming Championships. Only Barbara Broger, SUI, did.

      Odd Martinsen opened the meeting and asked the members to keep in mind that all had agreed to introduce a programme, which would make it possible to introduce the Pursuit start already in 1991 in Val di Fiemme. The discussion took two hours and then we took a vote. The chairmans´ proposal was supported by NOR, SUI and FRG. All the other six nations voted against. What to do?

      Odd Martinsen later had a long discussion with Gian Franco Kasper and informed him that some members had changed their minds after the meeting. Therefore Martinsen asked to have his proposal brought to the Council.

      Two weeks later at the Councils meeting in Venice, the proposal was accepted with four votes against. Guess which nations were opposed? Right answer: SWE, FIN, SOV and the GDR.

      In the discussions on the two techniques it was said that the Cross-Country was behind the development. What to say now?

      In Dubrovnik and in the discussion on the WC programme 89/90 CAN reported that a sponsor would cover the costs for a TV transmission of the 50 k race under the condition that the start be carried out in waves with 5 athletes every second minute. Odd Martinsen was strongly opposed to this proposal and even Stig Roland Bergqwist was opposed. The other members however outvoted them.

      Which were the consequences? Until now (Dec 1st, 1989) only two competitions (one per sex) had been realized with the Pursuit start.

      New World Cup Season

      The WC season started in Salt Lake city. As usual, at the first team captains´ meeting for the season, I presented the news for the season. The coaches had only one question: “Is the Pursuit start still on the programme??” The answer was: “Yes!”

      A few days later, I was with the male athletes in Canmore and I got a note from the male athletes. (You can get a copy of this note from me if you like). Excerpt: “If the FIS refuses to put this issue on their agenda we will NOT race the second day on every hunting start race. We want to discuss the hunting start with FIS members. We suggest 23rd Feb 1990 in Reit im Winkl to discuss this.”

      In Canmore we had the wave start on the programme. The coaches, and above all Allesandro Vanoi, ITA, were very busy whether to ”boycott or not”. In my opinion, the action was not against the starting form itself, it was more of a demonstration of strength and unity among the athletes to show their discontent with the Pursuit start.

      At the team captains meeting SWE, FIN, NOR, SUI and TCH withdrew their entries. SOV started with one athlete. The Italians however were all entered. Vanoi said: ”FISI forced me to participate.”

      The competition was a fiasco. Jochen Behle was the winner and all others and above all the sport itself were losers.

      Sigge Bergman the former General Secretary of FIS, who did not know anything about the true facts, wrote in his chronicle: “The head of the Nordic office and the Chairman of the World Cup committee are Swedes. The Chairman of the Cross-Country committee is a Norwegian. Do these guys have any idea what they are doing?”

      Some days could have been better.

      Back to Europe and Cavalese

      February 20th 1990 was the meeting in the Press office. Gian Franco Kasper and Erich Demetz represented the FIS council. The Cross-Country Committee, many of the coaches and above all, most of the athletes were present.

      Odd Martinsen opened the meeting and related to all proposals he had received from the athletes during the years. For example, in 1983, the athletes did not want to support the introduction of WSC every second year because it took away the glamour of the individual medal.

      He also presented the names of the athletes´ representatives: Aleksej Prokurorov, Marco Albarello, Trude Dybendaland and Leslie Thompson.

      What did the FIS General Secretary Gian Franco Kasper say? He informed that the new period for the Olympic Games, which included three weekends, would give FIS the possibility to introduce a medal even for the first day of the Pursuit start.

      There was a long discussion with speakers like Vegard Ulvang and Vladimir Smirnov. I think, however, that the Italian athlete Christian Saurer made the best conclusion when he said “Listening to you, I think that the FIS and we athletes are living on two different planets.”

      That was all for today. In the next “corner” you will be able read about the following:

      • What happened in Pursuit start nr 3 in Lahti (men) and 4 in Vang (women)?

      • What did the FIS congress decide on the programme for Val di Fiemme 1991?

      • OWG 1992 in Les Saisies?