2:35.8 was the winning time of Katerina Neumannova in the very first sprint World Cup qualification and the corresponding time for Markus Hasler was 2:17.3. We are in Reit im Winkl Germany and the date is Feb. 4 1996.
There were 5.000 spectators and all were invited for the next evening’s finals. The introduction of the sprint was very, very slow. The Cross-Country committee had learnt the lesson after having been forced to present the pursuit start without having the necessary contact with the athletes. As some of you readers may know, the start of this competition format, which was planned to be carried out in Val di Fiemme 1991, had to be postponed by one year to the Winter Olympic Games 1992 in Albertville. The race format was not sufficiently tested and the athletes had hundreds of reasons not to accept it.
The accepted sprint competition format contained the following restrictions:
- Tests in official continental competitions one year before
- No individual World Cup points to the athletes ---but only to the Nation Cups
- Prize money as high as in individual start competitions
You have to be aware of the fact that the reasons above showed the old fashioned thinking of the traditional leading nations. America and Middle Europe saw the potential but Scandinavia and Eastern Countries did not. The plan of the World Cup committee was to have the first competition in USA 1996 in Minnesota but the initiator Hugh Cooke had to cancel this plan due to financial reasons. 1996 was a year without international championships, which allowed extra competitions to take place. That is why it was possible to organize a team sprint in Seefeld on February 3 and then in Reit im Winkl on February 4-5.
It is the evening; illuminated tracks and a lot of spectators and what could they see?
35 ladies and 40 men starting every 30 seconds and the 32 best were qualified for the next evening’s finals. The finals were carried out in heats of two and two and the winner was qualified for the next round.
16 heats, 8 heats, 4heats, 2 heats, Final and Semifinal.
The heats started with 30 seconds interval which means that you had a finish also every 30 seconds.
This concept was really new in a time where you mostly had individual starts. However, once a year you could see a pursuit start and if you were lucky even a mass start. As you see we were a bit on the way.
If you are asking me why sprint? My answer is:
Cross-Country skiers at the highest level are older due to their hard training for long distances and they will do their best results quite old. Sprint is shorter and young skiers may fight for the medals earlier.
I personally remember from Reit im Winkl that with the concept of 16 heats you could follow the seeding of the athletes and when the Russians saw that Jelena Välbe would meet Stefania Belmondo very early if they won their corresponding heats, they came to me in the same evening as the qualification and said Jelena Välbe will not start at all tomorrow. I asked the coach Aleksander Grusjin why and got the answer : “Sprint nieto sport - sprint cirk” (sprint is no sport - it is a circus).”
However, the next evening I met Jelena and said: “They told me that you were not coming to the start?” And she replied me in German “ Välbe decides by herself if she is going to start or not”.
7 000 spectators came to the finals and they had a very pleasant evening. In the ladies competition Välbe defeated Anita Moen NOR and Katerina Neumannova won the Semifinal before the young Bente Martinsen –Skari (23).
Tor Arne Hetland, NOR 21 years old won before Peter Schlickenrieder(25) and the veteran Silvio Fauner ITA was number 3 before Markus Gandler AUT.
There were 7 television networks present and many representatives of the press due to the fact that biathlon had competitions in the neighbor village Ruhpolding the same day.
The Technical Delegate Dietmar Miklautsch who was our Sprint expert and had wrote the rules of sprint competitions mentioned in his report “An interesting competition for public and media. The stadium was very suitable.”.
The sprint was born. In my next articles you will find stories from Milano.
Yours Bengt in the Corner