VAL DI FIEMME, Italy (Feb. 23 - News Release) - Defending World Cup champion Per Elofsson of Sweden buried a season of frustration Sunday, taking charge in the final 250 meters to win the men's 10+10 skiathlon at the 2003 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships. Norwegian Tore Ruud Hofstad was silver medalist, three-tenths back and Swede Joergen Brink took bronze while Carl Swenson (Boudler, CO) was 11th Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) 14th.
NBC will televise two hours of coverage from the championships next Sunday, March 2, 1-3 p.m. EST.
In the skiathlon - the official name of what once was known as the pursuit, then the double-pursuit, and sometimes the duathlon, athletes ski 10 kilometers in classic technique, then switch in the stadium to new skis and poles for the skating 10-km. Skiers went three times around a 3.3-km loop at the sunny Lago di Tesero course.
Elofsson, fifth behind Germany's Jens Filbrich after the 10-km CL portion of the two-race race, had the third-fastest 10-km skating time and won in 47:42.3. He has battled sickness off and on since summer and after back-to-back World Cup titles, had just one third-place showing for the season. Hofstad, ridiculed in the Norwegian media as a wasted choice for the championships team, was .3 back for silver with Brink another tenth of a second out as the top five skiers in the field of were .6 apart. They were Sweden's first two medals of these Worlds.
COACH: GOOD SKIING, GREAT TEAM EFFORT
Swenson, who has several years of non-World Cup marathon skiing to his credit and who hung through the classic half, had the eight-fastest 10-km free and finished in 47:47.3, Freeman was timed in 47:50.5 with Andrew Johnson (Greensboro, VT) 38th and Justin Wadsworth (Bend, OR) 48th in the field of 83.
"There's room for only one name on the results sheet, U.S. Head Coach Trond Nystad, "but this was, again, a total team effort. The guys skied great but they had outstanding support, too."
Swenson, a two-time Olympian via Dartmouth College, said having a strong classic phase to the race was the key to his 11th, which equaled his 11th in Ramsau, Austria, before the 2002 Olympics.
"A couple of days ago I had a really good classic workout. Of course, I've always been working on it but it just felt really good, reaching up with the leg...It's been good. Trond and the coaches definitely haven't given up on my classic technique and with good reason - it showed out there today...
"It's easy for me to start thinking just skating, but we've been working hard on the classic and today it was right in there," he said.
SWENSON SAYS STAYING CALM IN CHAOS IS BIG PLUS
Swenson, who also has a lot of pack racing experience from his summer pro mountain bike career, said the multitude of crashes emphasized how a lot of skiers were burning energy in negative ways.
"You can see a lot of guys are just wasting energy - people trying to push people out, or yelling, or getting tripped up...and you really have to be careful because everyone wants to be in the same spot and there just isn't room," he said. "You just have to be calm and be aware of skis and pole3s flying all over the place," he said.
Freeman, who jarred the cross country community Friday by finishing fourth, just 2.1 seconds away from the bronze medal in the 15-km classic after sitting out the 30-km CL, led at one point early in the skating portion of the skiathlon.
"I was feeling good and I was just hanging, and there was a tactical game," Freeman said. "I don't have enough experience in the tactical realm up there; I'm so used to skiing in the States where, if I'm in the front, my strategy is 'Hey, I'll just drop these guys' - and it's a little harder over here...
SWENSON AMONG THE LEADERS FIRED-UP FREEMAN
"When I saw Carl with me, I was really psyched. I knew we were going to have some strong results today. I think he beat me today because he's got a lot of experience in a big pack from his marathon skiing. I'm psyched foor both of us."
Freeman, better known for his classic skiing, noted, "I think I'm that level skater but I'm just not that level tactically yet. I just need a few more races. I've still had less than 10 races at this level, so I just need more experience."
Added Nystad, "Kris is a tough guy out there. The nice surprise taoya was Carl kicking ass in the classic race. As he said, there's no reason he shouldn't be winning more of those, and I couldn't agree more. If he has a good classic leg, he's right there."
The women's 4x5-km race will be run Monday but the U.S. foursome will not ski. Aelin Peterson (Fairbanks, AK) is battling a respiratory problem, so the women will take a day off to prepare for the free technique sprints Wednesday and 30-km FR Friday while the men get ready for Tuesday's 4x10-km. Nystad said no decision had been made on who would ski the middle two legs - Freeman running the leadoff 10-km classic, a second classic skier to be named, the opening free technique racer for the third leg, and Swenson skiing anchor.
2003 FIS NORDIC WORLD SKI CHAMPIONSHIPS
Lago di Tesero
Val Di Fiemme, ITA - Feb. 23
Men's Skiathlon (10-km CL+10-km FR)
1. Per Elofsson, Sweden, 47:42.3
2. Tore Ruud Hofstad, Norway, 47:42.6
3. Joergen Brink, Sweden, 47:42.7
4. Markus Hasler, Liechtenstein, 47:42.8
5. Axel Tecihmann, Germany, 47:42.9
11. Carl Swenson, Boulder, CO, 47:47.3
14. Kris Freeman, Andover, NH, 47:50.5
38. Andrew Johnson, Greensboro, VT, 49:19.5
48. Justin Wadsworth, Bend, OR, 49:44.7