Saturday, May 15, 2010

World Cup Review

After spending the last 5 months or so focused on the World Cup, this past week has been tough. No longer do I have a World Cup weekend in Otepaa, Falun, Dusseldorf or Prague to look forward too. No more debates over whether Petter Northug is a goon or the real deal. No more rooting for Andy Newell to get to the next level of sprinting, and turn in consistent heat results. No more getting up at ridiculously early hours to watch some grainy live feed in a language I don’t understand, just to see Justyna Kowalcyzk win by a minute. Again.

But as a sendoff to the 2009/2010 World Cup season, I have prepared some quick hits on what I liked, didn’t like, and thought was off-the-charts-bullsh*t (that falls under ‘ugly’)

The Good

World Cup Mass Start Distance Races

Mass starts are supposed to be exciting for the spectators, fun for the participants, and a completely different beast from the Individual Start slog-fests that the sport of cross-country skiing is most known for. But mass-start pack racing is not actually all that exciting. It rarely matters who is leading at the 10km mark of a 30km Pursuit. The pack pace is often slow enough that upwards of 40 people can hang around until the last few km. Enter pure boredom for the fans, and pure annoyance for the racers, who are sick of Northug not doing any work, and then humiliating them in the last 500 meters (see Axel Teichmann, pg. 1-1 million). But beginning last year, that changed.
And this year, those changes were awesome. Sure, bonus points and ski exchanges seem a little gimmicky, but they really shake things up. I mean, Nishikawa scored some World Cup points in Russia on one of the bonus sprints, and got one hell of a cool experience up at the front of a World Cup pack, and actually had something to show for it. The ski exchange brings in some extra variables, like making sure your wax tech takes the ski ties off before you hop on the new boards, or gives statheads another set of numbers to look at on the FIS post-race PDF. That’s right, you can now look at lap times, split times, AND ski exchange times. Sure, Christian Zorzi finished in 45th place, but his ski exchange time was, like, 3 seconds faster than Petter Northug’s. If that’s not success, I don’t know what is.
To me, mass start racing is exciting, and the bonus seconds and ski exchanges have only made it more awesome. Throw in some multi-car pileups like in Falun last weekend, and I can’t understand why you wouldn’t want to hustle out of bed at 4 AM EST. (If you haven’t seen the clip I am referring to, check out the CCC homepage, it’s on there somewhere. Take note of Teodor Peterson (SWE – white suit) doing his most amazing flying slide tackle on Brian Gregg (USA – red suit). Trust me, you’ll understand when you see it)

The Bad

World Cup Sprint Races

I know, I know, you’re shocked at me of all people saying this. I love sprinting, I think it’s probably the best race format on the World Cup. Sprinters are flippin’ awesome fast, there are crashes galore, anything can happen, etc. etc. But some of the magic was ruined this year. I should clarify – it’s not the sprint races themselves which let me down, but the courses.
With the exceptions of most of the city sprints (Dusseldorf, Drammen, Stockholm), the sprint courses this year were mostly all unnecessarily long. I have watched a fair amount of sprints this year, and the most have not been what I consider to be the ‘sprint’ distance of about 1.2 km. They have all been getting longer, in the range of 1.5km to even a 1.8km, which is basically a prologue. Both Chandra Crawford and Devon Kershaw have brought up this point in their blogs, and lay the blame at the feet of Vegard Ulvang, who seems to think long sprint courses are the way to go. For those who don’t know Ulvang is a Norwegian cross country legend with 3 Olympic medals, among other accolades. However, these days he is chairman of the executive board of FIS’s cross country committee, as well as the organizer and creator of the Tour de Ski. Basically, e holds a lot of power in the international ski community, and if he says that sprints need to be longer, than it happens.
What this does is to make life harder for the true sprinters. It turns the sprint race into an endurance event. At 1.8km, it is no longer sprinting, just fast skiing. Possibly a contentions claim, I know, but watch the videos.
My point here is, you have to be an all-around good skier to win the World Cup. If you are good distance skier who gets decent sprint points just because you’re in good shape and can manage to qualify for the heats, it defeats the purpose. This is more of a problem on the female side, where certain high-powered women end up being classified as ‘all-around skiers’ just because they happen to be strong enough on long sprint courses.
Regardless of World Cup points, long sprint races don’t do anything for anyone. The heats are more spread out, reducing the excitement of the racing. Racers get more tired, reducing the speed of the racing. Extra terrain has to be found, and needless features have to be put in, changing the tactics from ‘make attack here, slow pack here, this is my strength, etc’ to ‘ohgodihavetojusthangonout

End result: Kieran thought it was unnecessary, Vegard, please shorten the sprint courses for next year.

The second problem I have with sprint race course design is the downhill finishes. Canmore, Rybinsk and most recently, Oslo, spring to mind. What is the point of finishing a sprint at the bottom of a steep, fast downhill?? I don’t want the speed of a racers ski to determine who wins. I want it to be a factor, but not the only factor. In Canmore, it was the big downhill followed by an excessively long double-pole suffer-fest that ground my gears. I have no problem with double-poling, I think it’s a great technique, and you have to be a monster to be good at it, but make the finish a combo (see Drammen or Stockholm sprint).
Oslo was a skate sprint, but suffered the same problem. Speedy downhill into the finish, where most skiers free-skate most of the way down the finish chute before throwing in a few quick one-skates. If I wanted to watch people free skate across a finish line, I would go to a biathlon race, because they seem to think it’s faster. In this type of finish, 99.99999% of the time, the two people in the front make it into the next round. At that high rate of speed, it is next to impossible to close and pass, even if the skier behind is way better. End result – if you’re near the front at the top of the last uphill, you do well. Gosh, that makes the final stretch exciting.

Real End Result: Consult Kieran before designing your next sprint course. There is a good chance it will be way better.

The Ugly

Believe it or not, there is a 3-way tie for ‘ugly’ this season. I will try to keep it brief, but there was a lot of ugly that needs mentioning. Some of you may think you know where this is going – you will not be disappointed.

1. The Finnish Men’s team. – Wow. At this point, that is all I can say. A tough season for what has traditionally been a super power in men’s cross country. Two bright spots, and both are not all that bright. One the distance squad Matti Heikkinen’s early season prowess (which crashed HARD roughly at the end of the Tour de Ski) was impressive, but the epic meltdown was heartbreaking for his owners in Fantasy Nordic (namely, me). If they handed out awards for biggest flop, Sami Jauhojaervi (one of my favourite skiers last season) would have won the voting by Christmas. Ville Nousiainen, while not touted to be anything great, also stunk. The second bright spot was the men’s sprint team. Kalle Lassilla skied surprisingly well, and when you have a guy with the nickname ‘The Hammer’ aka Lasse Paakkonen, who makes the qualifying cut 5 times, that’s not all bad. But it sure isn’t good either, because no Fin man ever made a sprint podium. Heck, even Andy Newell managed to nail one down.

2. The Russian Doping Saga. – I know, the Russians are perpetually involved in some sort of doping mess, but this seasons edition was just frustrating. It started with a petition by coaches from fellow countries making overtures that the Russian system was rife with doping. Followed by Alena Sidko being cut from Russia’s Olympic team because of being ‘overweight’ (I kid you not) and then testing positive and getting a ban. Finally, the Russian sprinters crushed the Olympics, which created a bit of a stinky smell, just because they are Russkie’s. It’s sad when it comes to the point where anytime a Russian does well, they’re automatically suspect, but hey, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it probably is a duck.

3. Justyna Kowalczyk – Yes, folks, I did go there, for about the 1000th time this season. I have been called a Kowalczyk-hater, Justyna-basher, and bitter (I may have traded Kowalczyk for $700 and Virpi Kuitinen at the start of the Fantasy Nordic season – hindsight is 20/20), among other things, which could be true, but hear me out. My ‘ugly’ judgement is based on quite a few things, namely; domination of the World Cup field, race attendance, technique, and obviously, looks. Domination – she won the World Cup outright by 700 points. She ended up with points in every single World Cup she raced. That’s pretty exciting. If you think Justyna Kowalczyk is exciting, which you shouldn’t because she is not. Race attendance – she won basically because she did 22 of 24 World Cup races. While it is impressive that she managed to be so good for the entire season, it also reeks. I can’t help but be suspicious of a girl who never gets tired, especially when… Technique – her technique sucks as much as it does. I will admit, it is better than last year, but that’s not saying much. She still looks like she could be skiing on the OUA some days, and that’s not a shot at the OUA, just at Justyna. It’s not pretty. Looks – speaking of not pretty, Google>Image Justyna Kowalczyk, and I guarantee you will be disappointed. While this has may have nothing to do with her skiing, it is worth mentioning. Oh, and if you feel like you need a pick-me-up after that Google of Grandmotherly-Justyna, give Therese Johaug a shot. It should make you feel better.

So that’s the World Cup from Kieran’s desk. Yes, it is quite biased, but you take what you can get in a field where the dedication to get up early to sit in front of your computer screen is limited. Just think, only another 8 months until the show starts up again! And hopefully by World Champs in Oslo next year, they will have changed the sprint course.

Jones OUT.

Australia: No Spiders Were Harmed in the Creation of This Post

Australia - B+
One World Cup point! A great year! A bunch of hero’s! Well, at least one hero. Australia had the dubious distinction of being the only country to record one (1) World Cup point this season, good enough for 24th on the Nations Cup list. Ben Sim managed the race of his life, and at the first race of the season in Beitlostoelen, ended up 30th. Unfortunately things went downhill from there, but good on him for getting the Aussies on the board! And the B+!

Watch out For: Ben Sim again. They have a few other lads and ladies in the pipeline, but Sim is the main man.

Estonia: Small, Old, and Awesome-Named

Estonia – B+

If I was asked to describe Estonia in one word, it would be – geriatric (that’s a fancy word for old, just so you don’t have to reach for the dictionary). While the Estonians ended in 14th on the Nations Cup, with roughly 800 points (I say roughly because the last available data is for March 7th) they did so because the average age of their top point getters is about a million, or for the accurate type, 33.75.
Kristina Smigun-Vaehi (hereafter referred to as Smigun) made a comeback this season after taking the last 3 years off, and did so quite nicely. My main gripe with her season was her decision to make her last name unnecessarily long and therefore causing LiveBloggers and ski fans such as myself to either to ignore the second part of it when mentioning her, or bitch every time she came up, because of the stupid hyphen. I don’t blame the dude who married her – if I married a successful skier as Smigun, I would also want to stamp my name all over that shit. Therese Johaug-Jones, I think so. But back to skiing, Smigun romped to 259 WC points, or 32nd overall, surprising quite a few people with her heroics, including a silver medal at the Olympics, making tying her with none other than Andrus Veerpalu for most decorated Estonian Olympic athlete in history. Her backup on the World Cup came in the form of Kaija Udras and a couple of others, who basically accomplished nothing. Not terrible, but the Estonian women, aside from Smigun, underwhelmed.

On the men’s side, Andrus Veerpalu and Jaak Mae are still trucking. They scored 188 and 61 points respectively, which, considering the fact that they would be better suited to a nursing home, is pretty impressive. The disappointment came in the form of Aivar Rehmaa, who collected 244 points last year, yet only 35 this season. His Fantasy Skier owner (one Derek Hartman) was less than enthused. The surprise came from Kein Einaste (pronounced EN-ASS-TEE), who collected 63 sprints points, a whopping 60 more than last year. The main problem with Estonia, as many may have gathered, is the age. The B+ reflects the success of Smigun, as well as the rise of Einaste and the sheer determination of Veerpalu and Mae. Veerpalu embodied the season to me when I saw him on the start line of a sprint heat in the World Cup Final, and then promptly never saw him again. The old guard, while somewhat effective, is still old. Unfortunately for this former skiing powerhouse things are going to be tough next season.

Watch out for: Timo Simonlatser. I am convinced that Estonians have some sort of legislation forcing them to give their kids the most epic names. I chose Simonlatser instead of his equally epic-named teammates Kaspar Kokk and Algo Karp because he’s relatively young, has a few World Cup starts, and I have a soft spot for sprinters. Mostly because they can make big gains in a year, while distance guys have to be built up consistently season by season, so I look better picking sprinters.

Czech Republic: So Much Better Without Those Pesky Slovaks

Czech Republic – A

Lukas Bauer had an epic comeback year. Full stop. The 08-09 season the Czech superstar scored 612 WC points, finishing 9th in the overall, disappointing probably everyone, including his mother. That happens when you amass over 1400 points and win the World Cup 07-08 (the season before). This year, Bauer showed that despite his age and growing bald spot, he is still one mean dude. He was the only man on the World Cup that showed he could consistently be better than Northug by winning the Tour by 40 seconds. His 1021 WC points this season was bested only by Petter, despite the fact that Luke ‘I have no fast-twitch muscle’ Bauer secured points in, count ‘em, ZERO sprints. Bauer even collected two bronze medals at the Olympics, one in the 15km free, the other in the 4x10 Relay. Which brings me to my second point, and secures the Czechs an A rating. His supporting cast wasn’t half bad.

On the men’s team, Martin Koukal racked up an impressive 130 points, mostly sprinting his face off, while Dusan Kozisek managed to collect 52, also in sprinting. The double K boys even put together a 6th place sprint relay at the Olympics! How about that! Beyond them, even Jiri Magal chipped in with 34 WC points. The women… well, let’s just say they didn’t blow anybodies socks off, but were fairly effective. Kamila Rajdlova quietly had a solid season, posting 97 points, followed closely by Ivana Janeckova at 80 and Eva Nyvltova at 76. Sure, not many people recognize those names, but they helped the Czech Republic to an 11th place Nations Cup finish, one spot ahead of Canada. Bastards.

Watch out for: Ales Razym. He didn’t score a single WC point this year. He raced the sprint at the Olympics, and came 44th. But trust me, this 24 year-old will make some noise next season. His specialty is the skate sprint, so in a year when he can train specifically for that event in Oslo at World Champs, he will make some noise. You heard it here first.

China: Not So Communist Now, Bitch

China – C+

You may find this shocking, but as a perennial nobody in cross-country skiing, the Chinese really pulled up their socks this year. Sure, they sucked on the World Cup, scoring a whole 20 points, good enough for 22nd on the Nations Cup rankings, but they have been getting better. For the women, Hongxue Li bagged a solid 12 points, all in a 10 km classic in Otepaa. Not fantastic, but when you only start three World Cups a year and you get points in one, it’s not terrible. But the real shock here was one Qinghai Sun (proud owner of 4 WC points), who qualified for the men’s sprint at the Olympics.
I know, it’s one course, roughly 3 and a half minutes, but the fact that he was in good enough shape to be competitive pretty much earns the Chinese the C. Otherwise, they would be an automatic D- with Mexico, Iran, and every other country that thinks Canada has 10 months of winter and 2 months of shitty skiing.

Watch out for: Qinghai Sun, obviously. I cannot guarantee he will start on the World Cup next year, and you really shouldn’t pick him up in your Fantasy League unless it’s 100 people deep, but the 22 year-old knocked out a 35th and a 27th in the two World Cup starts he had this year in addition to his 12th place qualifying at the Olympics. Not too shabby, coming from a country that is better known for human rights abuses and 10 year-old gymnastics girls.

Finland AKA "Wow I'm Glad That's Over" The Sami Jauhojaervi Story

Finland – D+

A quick glance at the Nations Cup rankings will lead you to believe Finland was half-decent. A solid 5th place, just ahead of Germany. Not bad, you say to yourself, they beat Canada, the US, the Poland-Justyna-Kowalczyks,
and France. Furthermore, you notice that 10 women and 13 men scored World Cup points. But that’s where you stop, and come read my analysis. Buckle your seatbelts, because this is going to be a ride. Those who know me know what is coming. Yes, Neil, Finland is about to get eviscerated (and I like the choice of words).
Dear entire team Finland. Please buy Aino-Kaisa Saarinen a pile of drinks the next time you get clobbered, because she is the only reason you received a D+ instead of an F. On second thought, you probably shouldn’t be drinking, but training, because for the most part, you guys stunk.

A team that has the depth on both the men’s and women’s side that Finland had to begin this season should not end in 5th, but should be a perennial podium contender. Sure, there are fluctuations every year, but everyone can agree, Virpi Kuitinen dropping to 317 this seasons from 1100 WC points last season isn’t a ‘fluctuation’ but a meltdown. I know, she’s retiring, she was sick, she was tapering for the Olympics, blah blah blah, but for one of the all-around best and most consistent skiers on the World Cup for the last 4 years, it is unacceptable. 317 is the lowest point total she has had since 2001, when she was 25! Virpi, I know you’re retiring, but grow a pair, put the boards back on next season and kick some Polish ass!

But Finland’s woes were not all a product of Kuitinen. Her ever-useful teammate (or at least was her two previous seasons) Pirjo Muranen also took the opportunity to shit the bed in an Olympic year. She contributed a whole 260 WC points to the total after chipping in just under 1000 last season. Muranen had more WC points by Christmas of last year than she scored all this season. Jeez, if Muranen was a nation, she wouldn’t even have beaten Belarus. I wish I could pinpoint exactly what happened, tell you the TSN turning point, and give Pirjo a good excuse, but I could not find one. Let’s just say she had tuberculosis.

Moving through the team roster, we come to Riita-Liisa Roponen. Her FIS profile picture shows her to be kind of cute (no Johaug, but really, who is) and even better, shows that she in fact earned about 100 MORE WC points than last season, up to 788 from 695. Hey, not all of the Finnish women sucked afterall! Roponen was consistent, didn’t bomb at the Olympics (even got a bronze medal!), finished 6th in the Tour and skied a strong World Cup Final. Nothing wrong with that at all, congrats! Too bad you didn’t pick up a few more points to help the rest of your squad out of the doghouse.

Another non-goat from the women’s squad was Riikka Sarasoja. Her 294 points were up from 170 the previous year, and she was a very consistent sprint qualifier. She didn’t light any heats on fire with her blazing speed, and she never made a final, but consistent qualifying matched with the occasional good distance race is good enough to get you some kudos on the Finnish women’s team this season.

While there are a few other girls on the team doing that skiing thing, we’ll skip ahead to someone who really matters, Aino-Kaisa Saarinen. Aino-Kaisa Saarinen is without a doubt the most intimidating women who I have ever had the pleasure of standing 2 feet away from. We didn’t exchange words or looks (well, maybe we did, but with those MASSIVE glasses covering her entire face prevented me from knowing) but trust me, she is one hell of a monster. And it showed all season, as she crushed races left right and center. Sure, she did drop to a measly 1123 WC points from 1463 last season, but that can easily be explained by the Polish trainwreck. It doesn’t matter what the distance or style, Saarinen can never really be counted out. She is a force to be reckoned with, and barring a Kuitinen-esque nosedive, will challenge for the World Cup overall again next season.

So with the women roundly chastised, we get to move onto the men. Who, if possible, fared even worse. But after quick inspection, it would not appear so. Matti Heikkinen, you see, scored 443 WC points, just about double his total last year. Not bad, especially in the competitive men’s field. Then you glance one name further down the list, see Ville Nousainen, and the trouble begins…
Not that Ville is bad, or had a bad season. In fact, quite the opposite, as he scored over 150 points more than the previous year. Similarly, Matthias Strandvall doubled his total, while Lasse Paakkonen (that’s a lot of double letters) went more 11 to 87 points. Kalle Lassila was strong but not spectacular all year on the sprint front. A few other young lads scored some respectable points, and Jesse ‘I have 6 ‘e’s’ Vaeaenaenen made a respectable comeback after a serious illness.

Now, before you get the impression that Matti is a hero, or the Finns actually did do well, hold up. Heikkinen skied spectacularly at the start of the season. Maybe he thought the World Cup ends at Chistmas, because that is about when it was over for him. While he did finish 12th on the Tour de Ski, he was clearly running on fumes, as the chump didn’t even get back into the top 30 until the World Cup Final. It may seem like I am being unfairly harsh on a young skier who just suffered from a few inconsistencies (71st in a 15km C then 1st in a 15 km skate 2 weeks later), but really, he comes from a premiere skiing country in the World, who should have this kind of thing figured out. Of course, it didn’t help that I had him on my Fantasy squad, a squad which was not particularly deep with distance males.

And speaking of Fantasy Skiing, this brings me to Sami Jauhojaervi. One of my favourite skiers last
season, because he’s a small guy who consistently cranks out good classic races, the most notably being a sprint last year where he qualified 30th and managed to battle his way to the final. That’s the Sami I love, and wanted desperately on my team. As it turns out, he was snaked, and despite attempting to trade for him up until about Christmas, his owner was not biting. Which was quite awesome, because he was the biggest flop of the 2009-2010 season. Oh Stevenson, how you thought I was trying to screw you over. Turns out you should have taken Torin Koos, Yuichi Onda and Chandra Crawford for Sami, they would have done better. Anyways, Sami stunk because he ended his season with 127 WC points, a massive drop from his 784 last year. He and Kuitinen must have had a bet going about who could disappoint the most or something, because he was BAD. Congratulations Sami, you won!

I wish I could stop here, as the Finns have taken an epic thrashing so far. Unfortunately, we have not reached the worst part. I would say roughly 80% of the above could have been forgotten had the Finn’s kicked tail at the Big Show. But that didn’t happen. Instead, they set a record for futility and number of DNF’s by top skiers. Let’s take a quick look at individual performances. Heikkinen: 39th, DNF. Nousainen: 13th, DNF, 37th. Sami: 12th, DNF, 20th. Sure, the DNF’s all came in the pursuit, which, my detractors will argue, was due to bad skis. I agree, that could be a large part of it, but the fact is, when your top male placing is 12th, you have a problem. Your country expects medals, not Top-15’s. The silver lining of the entire Finnish Olympic experience could be the 4-by relays. The women finally woke up and scored a bronze medal (the ONLY Finnish cross-country medal of the Olympics) and the men were 5th, which is far higher than their individual placing indicate they could do.

So, in conclusion, the Finnish women (except AK Saar, Roponen and Sarasoja who were mediocre) sucked. There is no word to describe what happened to the Finnish men. For a Nordic power to pull off a stunt this epic is unbelievable. They even lost the ‘Best Nickname’ Award, as while Paakkonen is known as ‘The Hammer’ the Norwegians decided to bring their own, one Martin Hammer. His name actually IS Hammer, not just a nickname. But I digress. In Finland, I bet heads are rolling, and while I can’t speak Finnish, my coaching certification is limited, and I DNS’ed as many races as the Fin lands DNF’ed at the Olympics, I would like to toss my hat in the ring for Head Coach. Or failing that, I would settle for Head of Criticism. And maybe sprint coach.

You will notice that once again there are fewer countries than you had hoped. If you want to count, this Finland post is over 1500 words. I have written less for assignments worth 60% of my overall mark. As I do not want to deprive you of valuable information which I have no problem denying my professors, France and Germany will have to wait.

She eats human hearts for feeds. I wish I was kidding. She had two while I was watching the Olympic 30 km. The gigantic glasses are to protect her face from Justyna's poles in mass start events, because JK occasionally forgets she has them on, and in her attempt to win, flails around promptly poking everything. She should probably be arrested for assault with a deadly weapon, otherwise known as herself.

France: Now With 100% Less Sneer

France – A-

France, the perennial whipping boy of the first world, managed a respectable if not fantastic 9th place on the Nations Cup, squeaking in just ahead of the Swiss. While an A- may seem quite generous, especially because as a historian I am compelled to mention France’s love for surrender and general all-around ineffectiveness, in my opinion, their skiers for the most part skied as expected, or in a few specific cases, blew my proverbial socks off.

But let’s start with the women. At best, France’s females could be described as ‘met expectations’. French women have not been powerhouses for quite a few years, and this season was no different. The best of the lot, Karine Laurent Philippot quietly skied her way to 278 WC points, good enough for 29th overall, which is exactly the same place she finished last season. Next up is Aurore Cuinet at 103 WC points, which is well above her 08-09 total of 25, but still not exactly causing Marit Bjoergen to shake in her sports bra. Furthermore, 88 of those points came from sprints, where she never made a final round. After that, the women tail off pretty hard, with 5 other women scoring double digit points, but nothing above 30 or so. The best thing you can say about the French chicks is that they are all pretty young, and could get better. But I’m not holding my breath.

As for the men, they also cannot be trashed too much. The French big guns (just gun, actually, Vittoz) have been aging and declining in quality as time has passed, so dropping points consistently every year is not considered a disappointment, but an expectation. The venerable Vincent Vittoz, who is now 35, racked up 515 WC points, down from 589 the previous season. As has been stated earlier, while Vittoz is a red-wine drinking, cheese dummying surrender-monkey, the slight drop in points counts as consistent rather than damning.

His good buddy Jean Marc Gaillard, who in his 8th season on the World Cup is now 30, also dropped some points, roughly 200, as he earned 474 this year as opposed to 671 in 08-09. This is a bit more atrocious of a drop, I will admit. However, I hesitate to condemn Gaillard because his point total suffered most notably from a DNF in the World Cup Final in the 20 km Pursuit. Jean Marc was battling at the front with Northug for most of the race, and even picked up a pile of bonus seconds, before being given a dishonourable DSQ for skating in the classic portion. I know, you’re asking yourself why I would let him off the hook for this transgression; the one thing Kieran NEVER does is let people off the hook for bonehead moves (see Belarus for more details). But I am looking at the bigger picture here. Namely, Kowalczyk skated significantly more blatantly at the pursuit in the Olympics than Gaillard did, and she was not DSQ’ed. All I want is at least a little consistency in jury decisions, or at best an outright disqualification and utter humiliation of Justyna.

Moving on from the mostly-distance boys, we come to the French sprint squad. The two Cyril’s did most of the work themselves. Cyril Gaillard (yes, he is the younger brother of Jean Marc) did not do much, bagging a measly 18 points, but he is still young. Cyril Miranda, arguably France’s best sprinter collected 85, down just slightly from 94 last year. I was a little disappointed, as I thought someone from France could become a consistent sprint threat, but Miranda was all over the map. In sprinting to really rack up points you have to be a consistent qualifier, and he failed to do so. End result, slightly below expected sprinting.

And now we arrive at what is quite possibly the biggest surprise of the season, Maurice Manificat. While his name is kind of goofy, and too many people think calling him Maurice the Magnificent is clever, he truly had one hell of a season. At 24 years of age, Manificat had been steadily improving the last couple of years, jumping from 7 to 120 to a gigantic 580 points this season. If someone had told me after Beitostolen, Kuusamo, or even Davos (where he came 3rd, his first ever podium) that Manificat would finish 5th in the World Cup Overall and have a wicked Olympics (6th, 26th, 4th in the 4x10) I would have suspected them of heavy drug use. Probably cocaine, but LSD and acid would not have been ruled out. But before we go and give Manificat a knighthood, I will point out he was fairly inconsistent, especially on the Tour where he finished as high as 63rd and as low as 8th. And both of those were sprint races. Where’d the fast twitch muscles go, Maurice?? However, he also crushed the World Cup Final, finishing 23rd, 6th, 11th, 2nd, and having the fastest time on the final day. Not a bad year, and Manificat really helped out the French’s overall score here. He upped his game big time, and France gained a full letter grade.

Watch out for: Robin Duvillard. For a change, I’m not picking a sprinter, but a distance guy. He’s 27, scored 66 points, up from 10 in 2008, someone has to step in to help out Vittoz, and he looks like Adam Sandler. Check it out!
See what I'm talking about? Think Adam Sandler circa Happy Gilmour, not that terrible new movie he was in.

Germany: Like France, but more Boring

Germany – B+

I would classify ze Germans season as solid, but mostly dead boring. Their were few interesting or unexpected highlights. They cruised to 6th on the Nations Cup rankings, ahead of their arch-rivals the French, but at the back of the ‘red group’ skiing nations (Norway, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Italy – you can argue that these are not the ‘red group’, but you would be wrong. It’s not personal, it’s just a fact. Sorry.)

For me the most notable German event was the emergence of Tim Tscharnke as a damn good sprinter and his promotion to permanent anchor leg of the German relay in order to avoid the dreaded ‘Northug effect’ was awesome. The Germans are hoping little Timmy has more guts than Axel, and I tend to think it’s the right decision. Likewise Tom Reichelt had a few good races, and surprised some people, because the German distance men are all big names. Rene Sommerfeldt, Axel Teichmann, Tobias Angerer, even Jens Filbrich to some extent are good all around skiers who gain the most points in distance events, and have been the leaders in that department for quite some time. That another distance man can come up from the minors and make a difference is good news.

Again, ze Germans were led by Teichmann and his goofy goatee. Axel racked up 541 WC points, down about 200 from last season. No word on how many points his goatee got, but it could beat Petter Nothug in a sprint finish either, so it doesn’t really matter. For me, Teichmann is hard to watch. I would say he is probably the least exciting skier on the World Cup, and seems to ski with zero emotion, ever. Also, his awkward classic stride makes my back hurt just looking at him. So really, what I am trying to say here is that Axel drove his team’s score down.

Next on ze German depth chart is a surprising Rene Sommerfeldt. Surprising, because Rene looked like he was cooked at the end of the 08-09 season. 2009 closed with Sommerfeldt scoring 97 points, his lowest total since 1998, when he was 25 years old. When you are 35 and your World Cup points go from 829 to 97, it may be an indication that someone should probably stick a fork in you. However, Rene laced up the boots for one more season, and cranked out 459 WC points. He may not have bagged a medal at Whistler, but his season was way above expected, and a good way to go out.

Just below Sommerfeldt was Tobias Angerer, checking in at 412 WC points. I am not really all that clear on Angerer, despite the fact that everyone seems to continuously have him slated down as a top contender after winning back to back overall titles in 2006 and 2007. His standings in the past three seasons (16th, 15th, 14th ) really are not great, and at 33, I really cannot see him making a charge at the overall again. He will remain a solid distance skier with the ability to ski Tour-type events well, but to me he is no longer in the ‘elite’ tier of men. Yes, I know he knocked back an awesome Olympics (7th, 2nd, 4th) but still, his declining number of starts on the World Cup mean it is more and more difficult for him to compete for the overall. Angerer did not disappoint or shock this season; he just existed.

I mentioned Tom Reichelt as a surprise at the outset – the guy managed to put together a very commendable 166 points, barely down from last seasons’ 175, but seeing as I had never heard of him before Christmas of this year when he managed to finish 17th overall in the Tour, he was respectable. Likewise in the youth department, Tim Tscharnke showed up big time, garnering 119 WC points as a 21 year old, and leading the charge in the German sprint revival. I like Tim, if you had not gathered that fact.

On the whole, the Germans are the most boring World Cup team. They are quiet, consistent, except for Teichmann unremarkable individuals. Which, as a writer of semi-witty prose, is quite annoying. But on to the women.

They had an up and down year on the World Cup, with some individual success, but nothing major. On the Nations Cup, they finished 8th, which is not fantastic. Like the men, the squad is aging, but can still ski effectively, if not amazingly. The big surprise by the German women was a fantastic Olympics. The strong World Cup skiing they did up to the Olympics did not contain very many podiums, but the ladies can throw down when need be.

The team was led by veteran Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle, who is now 30 years old. While she did score 394 World Cup points to lead squad, she failed to hit the podium at the World Cup level until the Team Sprint at the Olympics (I know, ze Germans won the TS in Rybinsk, but I am pretty sure if I was Evi’s partner for the WC in Rybinsk, we still would have won the field stunk so much). Once she got to Vancouver she found out she actually liked the place, knocking down the Team Sprint win, a 2nd place in the 4-by relay, and 4th in the 30km. Impressive for someone who was having trouble cracking the Top 10 consistently earlier in the year. Also, she is still a babe, for anyone keeping track.

Katrin Zeller was the only one to come close to Evi, scoring 311 WC points in being quietly consistent, which seems to be a trait of Germans. She has been a pretty consistent 15-25th spot skier for a few years now, and seems to be slowly rising into Top 10 contention. Zeller was followed by Claudia Nystad, who at 32 is not yet over the hill, but is maddeningly inconsistent. This year the 190 WC points she collected were a massive drop from the 573 she scored the previous year. This was hurt by a brutal Tour, which started out terrible and did not get any better after she pulled the plug on the 4th race. However, it paid off, as she was able to come home from the Olympics with two relay medals. Nystad may be past her prime, but she can still sprint, which is the most surprising part. Usually old people stink at sprinting, but she has proved that to be wrong. Experience is sexy, just like Claudia Nystad.

Speaking of sexy, I would be remiss if I did not mention Stefanie Boehler. I know, her 183 WC points were a vicious drop from 510 in 08-09, and she only cracked the top 10 individually on the World Cup twice, but damn. I saw her up close and personal at the Olympics, and it was worth every second of feeling like a huge creeper. Not as big of a creeper as the guy with the lens as long as my arm taking millions of pictures, but at least he has some pictures now. I think I blacked out, which is why I didn’t get any.

The one surprise was the biathlete Miriam Goessner, who managed to take down 129 cross country world cup points while still competing as a biathlete. She came 5th in the prologue on the Tour. She was part of the German silver medal relay team. And did I mention she is only 20??

Watch out For: You thought I was going to take the easy way out and pick Goessner. Wrong. I have heard that biathlon is in fact the second most popular sport in Germany behind football, so I believe Goessner will go back to shooting guns and skating. I hear it’s easier. Instead, I will pick my good buddy Phil Marschall. Why would I pick a guy who scored 1 World Cup point and who managed to come 74th and 73rd in the Tour before dropping out?? Well, partly because there is a kid at Nakkertok who has the exact same name, which I thought was awesome, and partly because Phil is 22, and was born 6 days after me. I mean, the fact that he could not qualify for Alpen Cup (whatever the hell that is) sprint heats is disconcerting, but hey, neither can I. And you can’t take all easy picks for next years’ surprise stories, because when Phil destroys everyone next season, I can say I picked him first.
Steffy Boehler. Pretty down with that.
Her FIS profile says her occupation is 'Sports Soldier', which i don't really understand. But it also says she likes beer, so let's go with that instead. Cool.

Italy - Mafia, Pizza, and Hip Replacements

Italy – A-

Ahh, the Italians. Home of olive oil, the Mafia and pizza pockets. As for skiing, they are kind of a big deal. Or rather, they were kind of a big deal. Like the Estonians, the Italians are old. When you run the same 4 guys in the relay in Whistler as you did 4 years prior in Torino, and those boys weren’t spring chickens then, you know there is a problem. This is the Olympics, the goal is to win medals, not have some sort of reunion tour. Save that for 10 years down the road and your high school, boys. Somehow, despite a large collection of hip replacements and walkers used by most of the Italian team, the managed to collect 4th spot on the Nations Cup ranking, just ahead of Finland, but let’s not go there again. I suspect it’s the Viagra those Italians have been dummying, because it’s their team’s title sponser.

Leading the charge this season was the 38 year old Giorgio di Centa. Amassing a solid 501 WC points, Giorgio was down a bit from last year, but at 38, it is still damn impressive number. Furthermore I must note that di Centa nailed down his first ever career World Cup win this season. Sure, it was in Canmore, the field might be a little smaller than usual, and it was a climbing course, but still. It is impressive and surprising that a skier as successful as di Centa had not bagged a win in his career. To tell you the truth, I am still on the fence – on one hand, I am stoked that he got a W, on the other; I am shocked that he had not got one before. He is a damn good skier, and it is a little surprising. Maybe even a little sad.

Di Centa was closely followed by his nursing home roommate Pietro Piller Cottrer. At 36, ‘Killer Piller’ as he is known, may not seem completely toast, but his points total would disagree. His 366 WC points this season were less than half of his 775 in 08-09. However, he did show up when it mattered – he was 2nd behind Giorgio in Canmore, then was 2nd in the 15km at the Olympics, 26th in the 50km at the Olympics, then 2nd in the Holmenkollen. Early in the season he stunk, and he cannot sprint, who cares when you can still bag a medal at the Olympics at 36. I know, I thrashed him a little earlier about his drop in points, and I think he will drop harder next season, but never count out Cottrer in a big race. (I’m referring to World Champs in Oslo, specifically the 50 km, just in case you missed that reference)
Next up is Valerio Checchi, a mere 30 years old. Checchi has always been an up and down guy compared to his two higher-profile teammates, and this season was no different. In 08-09 he only brought home 86 points – this season, he chipped in 252. Some might say that’s not bad. I may even be among them, despite the fact that he also cannot sprint. What is up with old Italian men not even being close to all-around skiers??

He is so excited to be skiing on the World Cup this season! And he looks good for his age! Maybe this was taken a while ago...

Roland Clara is the 4th on the men’s depth chart, but his 168 points really are not worth talking about. However, someone near the bottom of the Italian list sure is. One Christian Zorzi, perhaps? Zorzi is possibly the best known Italian skier, despite never really doing much. A former awesome sprinter, character, and anchor leg master, Zorzi is still trucking. Sure, he’s 38, but since when is that a big deal? Only when you’re trying to make a career out of sprinting on the World Cup, that’s when. Christian collected a mere 73 WCP’s this season, raced 4 individual sprints, didn’t make the cut twice, and made the final only once, in the Rybinsk so-called World Cup. Then, the Italians decide to stick him on the Team Sprint in the Olympics, where he blew and came 8th, and then called on him to anchor their 4x10, finishing in an epic 9th place! It’s not often that I lose my crap on people for poor decisions in skiing (okay, that’s a lie) but I think the Italian coach should be canned for this bullshit. I am sorry Christian, but you are no longer a world class sprinter, and you are barely a world class skier. Please, give it up, and let the young sprint boys do their job – there is talent there, and lots of it.

For example, Fabio and Renato Pasini. Brothers, obviously, not really young, but with 134 and 94 points respectively, both skied far better than Zorzi. Or how about David Hofer? He was a bit of a bust this season dropping from 272 WCP’s down to 94, but he is at least 10 years younger than Zorzi. I personally cannot stand Hofer, because of his maddeningly inconsistent skiing, but I think he is a better guy to close out your relay at the Olympics than some old dude who is pretty much only known for having the nickname ‘Zorro’ at one point in his life.

I think it is pretty clear that the Italians have a problem on their team. And it’s called the Grim Reaper. I am glad that they had 11 different males score WCP’s - that’s great! But when only 4 of those are below 30, and only 1 is below 26, you might have some problems in the near future. The average age of the men’s squad who scored more than 15 WCP is 32. I know experience is necessary, but so is youth if you want to have a ski program in a couple of years.

Take the women, for example. They are led by Arianna Follis, who is pretty damn good, at 908 WCP. She’s quite possibly the 2nd best skate sprinter in the world (behind Petra ‘I maul small Scandinvians for fun’ Majdic), and one of the best sprinters period. She is no slouch on the distance course either, turning in consistent Top 10’s and 15’s. Follis is without a dount in the elite group of women in the world, and when there are really only 5 or 6 of those, plus Justyna Kowalczyk, who we’re still not sure is actually a chick, you know you’ve got some talent. Follis finished 3rd in the Tour, and while she came home from Vancouver without any hardware, she was 4th twice. Tough pill to swallow, but not Kristin Stormer Steira territory, so don’t give up on Follis just yet.

Helping out Follis at the top is Marianna Longa. Longa is a bit of a character, going from 155 WCP in 07-08, to over 1000 in the 08-09 season out of nowhere, to back down to 646 this past year. Believe me, when she didn’t get picked in the augural season of Fantasy Nordic and then turned in over 1000 points, people started to pay attention. She’s only 31, but has been skiing quiet strong the past two seasons. I would say she is one of the most consistent 5th to 15th placing skiers on the World Cup, getting in that ball park an astounding 20 times this season in individual events. That kind of consistency is unbelievable, but can only get you so far. Longa only made the podium once this season, on a 10km mass start on the Tour. That hurts. Maybe she needs lunging lessons or something.

On the pure sprint side of things, Magda Geniun is a pretty decent Team Sprint partner for Follis, if Longa doesn’t want to do it. She was able to sprint to 282 WCP and finished 9th on the overall sprint list. The chick can classic AND skate sprint, which is pretty handy, and is rock solid, qualifying in 11 of the 12 sprints she started, including the Olympics. But similar to Longa, she lacks finish. Or Hustle. Or Clutch. Whatever the stat category is that means you can turn in podium performance, Magda seems to be missing it. 11 qualifications at the World Cup level and just 1 medal, a 2nd. Can you guess where she got it? (Hint: It wasn’t in Norway – try somewhere a little more Communist and vodka-filled.)
I am compelled to mention Sabina Valbusa here, because she retired at the age of 38, and seems to be willing to fade into the background, unlike the guys. She did collect 201 WCP, which is not all that bad, but I respect the fact she wants to go out on an okay note. She also skied on the 4th place Olympic relay team, which even on the women’s side seems to be a place to put the dinosaurs.

But they weren’t all dinosaurs! Hands down biggest surprise of my Olympic experience was watching 25 yr old owner of a whopping 73 WCP Silvia Rupil ski in the warm-up. There was a vicious debate raging over who the hell she was. Wax tech? Young coach? Piller Cottrer’s daughter? Just some chick out for a rip in an Italian ski suit? You can’t miss her either – red head with the goofy Italian pompom hat on. But Silvia was out there to throw down, and she sure did, or at least didn’t suck too badly.

So, to wrap this mess up; Italian team coach – put down your parmesan cheese for a minute, and look at the facts. Your men’s relay team with an average age of 35.5 finished 9th, and I will venture mostly due to Zorzi. Your women’s relay team, with an average age of 31.75 (one of whom is retiring) finished in 4th. For those who don’t know, that is one spot out of the medals, which last time I checked is what people want at the Olympics. If I may make one final suggestion, it would be to CHANGE your FLIPPING men’s relay team next year in Oslo. Just a thought. Except for that, the Italians did respectable this year.

Watch out For: Gaia Veurich. She is 19, scored 14 WCP all in sprints (actually, to be precise, one sprint, Dusseldorf) but owned the crap out of the Alpen Cup (not that I or you know what that really means), and came 4th at World Juniors. That resume is good, to be sure, but what really made up my mind was her most recent result. In some random sprint tour in Russia, where the prizes are big bottles of vodka and nuclear weapons at fire-sale rates, Veurich came 2nd in the first stage, edging out none other than Justyna Kowalczyk. I know, this doesn’t mean anything, especially because it was some weird downhill sprint, but anyone who beats Kowalczyk is awesome in my book. I think in Russia they throw you in jail for coming third. Enjoy the gulag, Justyna! But trust me, this chick is the next big thing out of Italy.

Japan: Too Close, Switching to Guns

And Kieran is back at it! Unemployment, rain, and Almonte will do that to you. Today, a post that might not double as an Honours thesis. Under review isJapan and not exactly a skiing powerhouses. And unless you’re Japanese or like World Cup skiing an unhealthy amount you probably don’t give a shit. But because you’re reading this, you probably do not exactly have a lot going on right now, so enjoy!

Japan – C+

If you know a little bit about skiing, you may know that in the 08-09 World Cup season the Japanese ski team made history. A World Cup podium, coupled with two solid females and some above-Japanese average (read: above absolute garbage) men, they made for a surprisingly good World Cup season. Which, to their detriment, resulted in Kieran thinking they might be flippin’ awesome this year.

Masako Ishida was the real deal last season. The above-mentioned medal, consistent distance skiing in a tough female field, and over 200 WCP’s. Pretty damn good for Japan. Too bad she was considerably stinkier this year. She basically had no results to write home about. Other than a 5th at the Olympics. But Vancouver is practically home if you’re Japanese, so no writing needed. She finished in the Top 10 once on the World Cup, and came up with a measly 91 WCP.

To be fair, she did not get much help. Madoka Natsumi, who is supposedly the other hot Japanese talent, basically put her 32 year old ass into cruise control. She is only a sprinter, but that did not really pan out. And Ishida and Natsumi were supposed to combine for a mean sprint relay, but 13th is a little further back than hoped. Not exactly Pearl Harbour, if you know what I mean.

The men were also lackluster. The best of the bunch was Yuichi Onda, with 66 points. As his owner for the majority of the Fantasy Nordic skiing, I had him penciled in for a few more. Classic sprinting is his thing, and in an Olympic classic sprint year, it seemed reasonable to expect some good things. However, his results pre-Olympics were mediocre (best placing was 25th in Canmore). Somehow he did found some extra juice and benefitted from a slightly smaller field, cracking the heats at the Olympics and finishing 17th. He rode that wave to a 5th place in the Classic sprint at Drammen, a brilliant piece of skiing for the 30 year old journeyman.

His two teammates weren’t much help either. Nobu Naruse and Masaaki Kozu collected 24 and 15 WCP points respectively, not exactly shocking the skiing world. However, Naruse is still young, just 25 years old, and Kozu looks like a crazy son of a bitch, so I’m banking on them to turn in some quality next season.

The number one reason not to fuck with Japan. The second is Yudai Nakagawa's sushi rolling skills.

Watch out For: Has to be Nobu Naruse. This past season he was always on the bubble, finishing in the 25th to 40th spot a whopping 10 times. I think he will be able to throw down consistent fast skate sprints, and at least get some experience.
Old post

Friday, May 14, 2010

Austria: Dope Free, For Now

Austria – C

Not expected to produce much, Austria played things safe, ending the year in 20th on the Nations Cup. Austria has been basically non-existent in cross country skiing since getting caught up in the drug scandal in the Torino Olympics, and this year was no different. Their men’s team (Thomas Ebner, Harald Wurm, Manuel Hirner) combined for a grand total of 19 WC points, and the only reason anyone remembers them is because Wurm has a sick last name. The Austrian woman (Katerina Smutna) was much better, collecting 210 WC points, mostly in sprints. Hell, she even made an A-Final. Sure, she got shelled, but Smutna pretty much single-handedly dragged Austria into mediocrity for the entire season. Smutna makes the grade a C rather than a D or a D-.

Watch out for: Katerina Smutna. I can’t see anyone else rising from obscurity to command attention, and with her sprinting as good as it was at the end of this year, she could move up easily.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Canada: A Bunch of Heroes

Canada – A-

Oh Canada. This is a brutally difficult one for me to judge. I have a highly personal stake in it, but I have to face facts. The women, aside from Sara Renner’s out-of-nowhere third place in Canmore and Dasha’s emergence as a regular classic sprint qualifier, did not have a good year. Crawford did not exactly destroy life in her comeback, and although it kills me to say it, Perianne Jones (according to program expectations, country hopes, development continuation, not family, brother, or biggest fan opinion) struggled to find her form. While Renner did have a fairly successful year, garnering 203 WC points in a wide variety of events, her replacements on the distance side are problematic, as with Renner retiring, it leaves a massive vacuum that Madelaine Williams and Brittney Webster have to magically fill within a year. Doubtful, unless Dasha continues her metoric rise to success, in which she managed to scoop up 63 WC points, including a few distance, good enough for 71st overall. While the women were not expected to produce dozens of podiums and top 10’s, I was hoping the return of Chandra Crawford, and Sara Renner closing out her career would blow my mind. My mind my have been blown, but unfortunately it was not by the women, but the men. Basically, the A- primarily comes from the men’s team Olympic performance. While not one of the best teams on the WC this season, the boys did everything at the Olympics short of win a medal. And no one who knows anything about skiing can fault them. The team clearly focused on the Olympics, and rightly so.

However, this hurt the World Cup performances. George Grey’s 31 WC points don’t really do justice to the quality season he had. He had an okay Tour de Ski, except for an injury, and most of his other races were solid, but his season was great because of the Olympics. When your Olympic record reads 29th, 8th, 7th, and 18th when the previous best he had during the season was 17th (Canmore/Oberhof Tour Prologue), it’s a damn good Olympics. If they handed out WC points, he would have racked up 47, or more than twice his end total. His low WC point total also prevented him from attending the World Cup final in Sweden, a bit of a kick in the teeth. His longtime teammate Devon Kershaw also took a dip in WC points, as his 190 WC points are a far cry from last seasons’ 401. But similar to Grey, he saved his best for the Olympics, most notably crushing a 4th and 5th place in the Team Sprint and the 50 km. Kersh also wins some sort of award for awful luck, as he managed to lose his ski in the last 2 km of the Tour de Ski 10 km Classic, an event where he was sitting in the top 5 at the time. Ivan Babikov (295 WCP, up from 167 last season) needs little commentary, because he is not only arguably the toughest guy on the circuit, but crushes Snickers bars on a regular basis. Alex Harvey, in his first full season, skied well, but there were no shocks like last year. While he didn’t score any World Cup medals this season, he earned 167 World Cup points, and same as his teammates, showed up big time at the Olympics. In the depth spots, Canadian men picked it up. Nine different men scored at least 8 WC points, mostly in sprinting, with the exception of Graham Nishikawa, who managed to collect some distance points. It was the Canadian men who contributed most to the 12th Nations Cup ranking, and while it was less spectacular than last season, there were bright spots. In conclusion, because this has become an essay, the Canucks did not destroy the World Cup, but showed that they can compete on the world stage by skiing fantastic at the Olympics, where it matters most. And all without whining. Hear that, Justyna?

Watch out for: I want to say the Men’s Relay at World Champs in Oslo next year, but that would be cheating. Instead, I’m looking at Brent McMurty to jump up and hang with the big boys. He can sprint, he can distance ski, he can grow a mean beard, and was nice enough to put up with me at the Olympics, including taking a picture.

If you hadn’t caught on yet, this is going by alphabetical order. Also, there will be 4 a day for the next however many days it takes me to get through the countries, you get bored, I get bored, or someone finally talks me into doing some schoolwork. Probably not the last one though. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s review, featuring none other than China, the Czech Republic, Estonia, and another essay entitled – How to Suck Big Time: The Finland Story. Hint: Finland doesn’t get an A+.

Note - If you're wondering why you were tagged, it's because you were dumb enough to indicate on the last post you were vaguely interested in this topic. Got you now, sucka!
Ever seen Ivan on a jumbotron? Now you have. He's flippin' scary.

Belarus: Several Belrussians WERE Harmed in the Creation of this Post

Belarus – D-
Similar to Austria, Belarus did not have high hopes placed upon them. Their women created a solid 11 WC points, while Sergei Dolidovich, aided by Leanid Karneyenka, collected over 50 helping them to 19th on the Nations Cup. That alone would have been good enough for probably an A-. But the two clowns on the men’s squad were one wrong turn away from an A+. At the sprint relay at the Olympics, Dolidovich and Karneyenka were poised to win one of the semi-finals and step into the final looking great. Then Karyenenka goes into the lap lane instead of the finish lane, while holding a 5 second lead. Great job buddy, earn your team a DSQ and heartbreak. I also believe he was immediately sent to jail, and they do all sorts of weird things to you in jail in Belarus. Unmentionably nasty. Going the wrong way happens, but it shouldn’t at that level. Especially when they really haven’t done anything awesome all year, a trip to the A final at the Olympics would have brilliant. Instead, just Brutal.

Watch out for: The Belarussian fans holding dummies of Karneyenka with a noose. There’s a chance you’ll get mistaken for the goof and be lynched. No, but seriously, Dolidovich is pretty good, and will probably continue his rise next season.