• Alex 50km Lahti Champion
    • Pursuit with a break at the Olympics of 1992

      March 29, 2011

      Dear Ski friends,

      This article is written with the impressions of the World Cup finals in Falun this year still on my mind and thinking of the 1991 WSC in Val di Fiemme where we had to take the pursuit start out of the programme due to the athletes’ demonstrations.

      ”The leading athlete should not be the hare hunted by the competitors.” Let’s take a look back to history!

      Season 1989/90

      The winter season 1989/90 will be remembered for its poor snow situation and even the following winter let us wait for snow. The World Cup competitions were to start in Ramsau but were moved to Tauplitzalm nearby. Our rules at that time did not prescribe how such transfers should be treated, and there were no obligations for the original organizer to assist the move. The situation was further complicated by the fact that cars could not drive within the village and all transports were carried out by snowmobiles. The season kicked off with both ladies’ and men’s competitions on 8 December 1990 and the men had the pursuit start the following day. Please don’t forget that men had only one result list based on the second day. No points and no money for the first day’s competition.

      The first day went smoothly. In the morning of 9 December it was sunny and cold but I still remember all the butterflies in my stomach before the start, as this competition was so important for the future of this race format. Everything went perfect and the Technical Delegate, Hans Enqvist SWE, could sign a result list with Torgny Mogren as the winner before Vladimir Smirnov. Vegard Ulvang was fifth. Sweden had five athletes within the top eight. I especially remember the new Swiss generation with the whole team getting WC points.

      The next pursuit start was carried out in Les Saisies, the upcoming Olympic resort. Ladies also had the same system as men in Tauplitzalm; two days competition and one result list. Also here the competition went well with a normal result list; Välbe before Belmondo and Egorova.

      At that time I tested all the tracks on skis and I remember how I met Gunde Svan on the track and how he told me that he would not participate in these tracks in the OWG 1992. He was a minus variant in the altitude, confirmed by results in Tauplitzalm and now in Les Saisies, and after the season 1991 he retired at an age of 30.

      Season 1991/92

      Now we are moving to the Olympic season 1991/92. The new format for pursuit start means that there are two different competitions with one separate result list the first day and even with a medal. The second day’s start will be calculated on the results from the first day. We had also decided that the first day should always be carried out in the classical technique. Why? There were still some opinions that the classical technique should be taken out of the programme. Let us take an example. In case of free technique the first day, the winner who also had got a medal probably would say “No I will not start tomorrow as I do not like the old fashioned classical skiing. This technique is too old and lousy for me”. With a classical race the first we forced athletes learn and train the basic classic technique. Clever?

      The World cup started in Canada and all the competitions in December were carried out in Silver Star and Thunder Bay. The Norwegian paper Aftenposten wrote about the “hidden” World Cup and recommended introducing fixed resorts in the World Cup calendar. Of course that sounds very clever today but it was not so at back then. Every nation having a World Cup race could propose a resort. As and example let us look at the Italian distribution of the main events:

      1987 Cogne

      1988 Castelrotto and Toblach

      1989 Val di Sole

      1990 Val di Fiemme

      Silver Star pursuit start Dec 9 1991: Ladies; smooth no problems. Men; it started snowing, in spite of snowfall Vegard Ulvang could win and even increase his lead. Vegard commented to Swedish Ski sport “the snow did nothing to me - the double amount of snow could have come and I still would have won”.

      The Swedes, however, said to the same paper “the pursuit start is only shit; now you can see how unfair it is. It is much easier for athletes coming behind”.

      Olympic Games 1992

      Now we are in Les Saisies and the Olympic games. Marjut Luukarinen FIN and Vegard Ulvang NOR were the winners on the first day. It was snowing and especially in the men’s race it was a disadvantage to start early. Athletes were divided into four groups and it was up to the nations to decide on the names in the groups. Kristen Skjeldal started as number 3 and he even passed the forerunners. You can imagine the strong irritation in the Norwegian team and its new coach Inge Braten.

      The second day (two days later). I remember that there were some pillows of snow and the Russian Head coach Viktor Ivanov came to me pointing at them and said “ Schnego (snow) no pursuit – but interval start”. The jury said no and the medalists were Egorova, Belmondo and Välbe.

      During the season Dählie and Ulvang were winners in 11 out of 12 races evaluated for the World Cup. Torgny Mogren was the exception. Back to the competition: Ivanov was partly right; there was some snow between the end of the ladies and the beginning of the men’s competition. The jury decided that the competition should be carried out as normal. Technically the competition went well. Results were Dählie before Ulvang and Vanzetta IT

      A little later the international press conference started in the local sub press center and was to be seen live in the different press centers. Vegard Ulvang took the floor and explained his opinion on the pursuit start. He did not speak as a bad loser, but from the bottom of his heart about how he disliked this kind of competition. After a while Björn Dählie was asked his opinion and his answer was “what can I say, I did win”. In the next competition with pursuit start (which means December 1992 in Ramsau) where Dählie bet Ulvang again, the opinion from Ulvang was even stronger.

      A heavy snow really started and persons like the chairman of the World Cup committee Stig Roland Bergqvist said that the system with individual start should have been used. You are much wiser afterwards.

      As a summary, is it easy to say that the weather at different resorts was definitely not friendly to the introduction of pursuit competitions in Cross-Country skiing. Have you ever heard remarks on the competition format from Biathlon or Nordic Combined?

      Let us now to Falun and see the following in youtube Björn Daehlie vs Smirnov photo finish. Pursuit start can be so exciting and that was the goal!