It seems a lot has changed in our sport in the last few years and these trends have been particularly evident in the last few weeks. A 40 skier pack at 45km in the World Championship 50km. A Canadian Championships with a sprint, a pursuit, a 7.5km and a 5km relay but no race over 15km. World Cup Classic races being won by double poling on skate skis.
This weekend at least showed what the sport used to be like in the eras of Earo Mantyranta, Thomas Wassberg and Gunde Svan. The World Cup raced a 50km classic individual start (the most traditional event) at Holmenkollen. The race was won by Andrus Veerpalu, a skier who would have dominated this era like Thomas Wassberg did the early 1980's were the race formats the same. In Thunder Bay, they raced the Tapiola Invitational. Tapiola is a race run at the old Finnish Athletic Club with a small building filled with posters of the Kirviesniemis and other great Champions of the sport. It is a classic race on which the course is lined with elderly Finnish spectators and the male winner used to receive a colour television (many great skiers got there first ones at Tapiola). On Monday, they race at Centennial Park, narrow, technical classic trails that were designed by the city in the 1970's and are still municipally maintained.
In the capital, we had Thea's race, a 12km Classic event at Nakkertok North in honour of Thea Holloway, a founding member of Nakkertok. Thea's race begins in a large field and is held on a narrow, single-tracked course that wove through the bush and even crossed a driveway. The course also included the incredibly steep and long climb of Phil's Pholly (harder than any climb on the new Canadian World Cup Courses). The only contemporary feature of the race was its mass-start format. The start list was even reminiscent of previous eras with names like Larry Hegan, Eric Finstad, Anton Schier and Wayne Dustin. In the men's race XCOTTAWA was missing 2 of our young studs in Explosive T and Lil E McCarthy, so the team was an old one with Wayne Dustin, Karl Saidla, Craig Storey, Arno Turk and David Zylberberg (a concession to the 21rst century). In the womens' race we only had Megan but she has showed her admiration for the sports traditions by abandoning the Bastard technique for most of this season.
The race started with a Tessum Webber false start and then Zylberberg, Saidla and Turk opened a small gap on the steep climb around 300m. On the following downhill, Zylberberg dropped the other two and proceeded to Muhlegg the race, winning by over a minute. Saidla skied well on the remaining uphills and barely held off Storey on the long downhill to the finish for a hard-earned second place. Both Zylberberg and Storey were skiing on Karhu Volcans - new age skiis from an old school company that even hired Harri Kirviesniemi, the last great classic only champion, to design them. Wayne Dustin finished 5th while Arno Turk was 7th. Megan showed the advantages of her 1970's training approach and convincingly won the women's race.
By the time you read this, Monday will have arrived and you will have returned to the 21rst century with its mass-start races, skate techinque and hip-hop music. While some wish that racing could remain in 1980, next weekend XCOTTAWA is heading to Sudbury (a great center for skiing in that great era) for some new age race formats at Onaping Falls.