The Long Run – Sport
People regularly look back in German cross-country skiing. In hindsight, 2011 developed from a successful year for Nordic skiing fans into an occasion to close their eyes and shake their heads. It was 2011 when the last German cross-country skiing medal was won at a Nordic World Championships for the German Ski Association (DSV). And if things continue like this, the cross-country skiers will be held up to at least another year after this world championship in Planica that their series of failures will continue. 2011 – already 12 years ago!
But cross-country skiing with its different techniques and its competition formats is diverse, you cannot predetermine the final blossoming of an athlete. And the selection of team boss Peter Schlickenrieder will probably also make minor progress this winter, albeit not a major breakthrough. Also on Tuesday after the ten-kilometer race, this time in freestyle, decent results came out, three runners – Pia Fink, Katharina Hennig and Victoria Carl – made it into the top 15. However, others ran ahead. In the end, the American Jessie Diggins won ahead of the Swedes Frida Carlsson and Ebba Andersson. Fink, 27 years old, was the best German with seventh place thanks to a good classification of the race. Team boss Peter Schlickenrieder praised the overall appearance rather factually, but noted that the result would release “energy for the relay”.
So it will be a while before a talented German cross-country skier grows into a winner at major events. Katharina Hennig, currently the most mature and fastest runner in Schlickenrieder’s team, had shown for some time that she was at least getting closer to her goal: this season she had won a World Cup and was only 5.3 short of the opening race of the World Championships, the Skiathlon Seconds after 15 kilometers to bronze. Such an individual success would have been important, not only because it would finally have allowed us to forget the year 2011, but because it could have unleashed further strength among the other German teammates and the talents in the ski clubs. Even if not as suddenly as a year ago in Beijing – at the Olympic Games.
In the team sprint race, Hennig and Carl, who were not originally intended to be in this line-up, boosted each other’s ambitions and confidence, which released additional strength. In this special format, they fought their way from the elimination races through quarterfinals and semifinals to the last decisive fight. Quite a few younger viewers who had seen this live asked their parents if they could please have cross-country skis too. Because the two had won gold against all cross-country countries in the world. And that in a finish that is now itself a hit on the internet.
In the two years since the Olympic victory, “more cross-country skis have been sold than ever before”
Andreas Schlütter, sporting director of cross-country skiing in the German Ski Association, is certain that this event has given his sport a boost overall. “Basically, there was something that won’t happen anytime soon,” says Schlütter. It may be unfair, but these seconds from Beijing probably triggered more publicity among the talents than some club work. “That did something to the team,” says Schlütter. Not only Hennig and Carl, but the whole team got a boost in self-confidence. And many young cross-country skiers, according to Schlütter, said: “Oops, something’s possible, you can still clearly see that in training.”
Because the base did not have to be advertised during this time. It was the Corona period, sport was only possible to a limited extent and in the open air, and yet or precisely because of this, many longed for outdoor exercise. “In the two years, more cross-country skis have been sold than ever before,” says Schlütter, “because the alpine slopes were all closed.” In combination with the Olympic successes, this gave a push, “everyone wanted to exercise outside, and luckily the snow conditions were good.”
Then there was the Olympic effect. It is possible that not only the talents are benefiting from this event, but also the German Nordic elite itself, i.e. Carl, Hennig and the two younger ones Fink and Sophie Krehl. Something like that often has a longer lasting effect, and Carl and Hennig could now experience a belated boost of motivation from their own Olympic kick-off a year ago.
At least they still have a chance of a podium finish in Planica this week. In the relay on Thursday, these are basically good. In the long individual race on Saturday there is still more than 30 kilometers to go, and if Victoria Carl and Katharina Hennig once again mobilize all their strength and achieve a podium finish, then the German cross-country skiing scene could finally forget the year 2011.