Schedule of Events
In general, Americans have been global afterthoughts in all of the Nordic disciplines — but especially when it comes to cross-country skiing. No American woman has ever medaled at any distance at the Olympics, and the only U.S. podium finish remains Bill Koch’s silver medal in the 30-kilometer race at Innsbruck in 1976.
Traditionally it has been Scandinavians who have dominated the cross-country races at the Winter Games, but Alaska’s Kikkan Randall is looking to rewrite that part of the Olympic script. Randall, a 31-year-old from Anchorage, has steadily been improving her form and will arrive in Sochi as one of the premier sprint skiers in the world.Four years ago in Vancouver, Randall finished ninth in the sprint — the best finish by an American woman in Olympics cross-country history. Since then, the Alaskan has only improved. Last season on the FIS World Cup, Randall was the top sprinter in the world and finished in third place in the overall standings. This year she has won two sprints in back-to-back weeks in January, and will be in position to end the United States’ 38-year podium drought in cross-country skiing.
Outside of the sprints, though, the women’s side should be dominated by Scandinavians once again. Four years ago, Norway’s Marit Bjørgen was the only athlete of either sex to claim five Olympic medals. Last year at the FIS Nordic World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, she added four more gold medals and a silver to bring her lifetime total to 19 world championship medals. At 33 years old, this could be the last chance to watch Bjørgen on the Olympic stage, and she could potentially end her Olympic career on a high note in Sochi.
Her biggest competition, just as it was in 2010, will come from Justyna Kowalczyk. The 31-year-old from southern Poland has long been Bjørgen’s biggest rival, especially after criticizing the Norwegian in Vancouver for her therapeutic use exemption for an asthma medication then on the banned substances list of the World Anti-Doping Agency. She has notched four wins already in the current World Cup season, and will be looking to add more Olympic medals to the three she won in Vancouver and a bronze from Torino.
The other big winner from Vancouver, Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla, is also back for another shot at Olympic glory this time around in Russia. The defending freestyle champion will also be a contender in the team sprint. Four years ago, she took silver with partner Anna Haag. This time around, she will team with Ida Ingemarsdotter in hopes of claiming gold.
Another challenge will come from Bjørgen’s compatriot, Therese Johaug, who has come on strong with three wins in January leading up to the Olympics. Part of Norway’s gold-medal-winning relay team in Vancouver, Johaug is hitting the prime of her career at age 25 and will be a threat for the podium in several events. Just as Bjørgen’s breakthrough came in Vancouver, this Olympic cycle could see another Norwegian become a household name.
Women's Cross-Country Skiing Medal Favorites
Like his female counterpart Bjørgen, Norway’s Petter Northug was the dominant name of the Vancouver Olympics in cross-country skiing. With wins both long (in the classical) and short (in the sprint), Northug enters Sochi already holding more Olympic and world championship medals than any other male in the sport’s long history.
But Northug will have stiff competition in Russia this time around. While he could conceivably walk away from Sochi with six more Olympic medals, the odds are that at least a few of those will be of the silver or bronze variety. He is a threat at any distance, but as the defending Olympic champ in the classical race he will have the most pressure to perform in the mass start.Switzerland’s Dario Cologna, a three-time World Cup champion and the defending Olympic gold medalist in the freestyle, will once again be favored at the 15-kilometer distance. He also won the World Cup skiathlon held on the Sochi course last February and could medal in that event as well. The Swiss skier also won the 30-kilometer pursuit and took silver in the classical race at the most recent world championships, and while he is coming off ankle surgery and has missed the World Cup season he still won the national championships last week and should be on solid form by Sochi.
In the sprint, Russia’s Nikita Kriukov is the defending Olympic and world champion and will be motivated to repeat in the event on home soil. He will be pushed for podium position not only by Northug but Kazakhstan’s Alexey Poltoranin. The Kazakh has also won several classical races on the World Cup circuit this season and could also factor in the team sprint with partner Nikolay Chebotko.
Sweden’s Johan Olsson will also be a name to remember come race day. The 33-year-old Swede is still a major contender, having claimed a gold in the classical race and two silver medals at the world championships last winter. And Czech skier Lukas Bauer, another multiple medalist from Vancouver, will also be back for another shot at the podium in Sochi.
As for American hopes, there is no one male who stands out like Kikkan Randall on the women’s side. But there are two dark-horse candidates that could cause a stir in Russia over the fortnight of the Olympiad. On the first day of December, 24-year-old Noah Hoffman of Evergreen, Colorado won the 15-kilometer freestyle handicap stage of the Nordic Opening at Kuusamo, Finland. On the last day of 2013, 26-year-old Aspen native Simi Hamilton became the first American since Bill Koch to win a World Cup race when he finished ahead of Canadian contender Alex Harvey and the rest of the field in the freestyle sprint at Lenzerheide, Switzerland. Against a full field of the world’s best, it is unlikely that either Coloradan will pull off an upset to land an Olympic medal… but then again, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility, either.