When you look back at the old times and notice the old World Cup schedule you will be somewhat astonished. (Even I am, despite the fact that I worked for the Cross Country sport during this period!)
What do you think of the following facts?
The official start of the World Cup season in 1981/82 was January 9, 1982. At time, the reasoning was that the athletes needed to train in December and over Christmas before they could be ready for high-level competitions. The following season (1982/83) it was not much better with one only race in December and the year thereafter you had two races in December but no races at all between December 16-17 and the opening of the Olympic Games in Sarajevo in February 1984.
The new chairman of the Cross Country Committee Odd Martinsen realized the need for improvements. After having significant problems with the traditional openings in Middle Europe and North America he accepted a proposal from a working group with me, Dietmar Miklutsch, Marjo Matikainen and Thomas Wassberg to open the World Cup at a snow safe place in Scandinavia at the end of November each year. This would allow other northern organizers besides Holmenkollen, Lahti and Falun the possibility to organize high-level competitions.
The first competition according to this philosophy took place November 27, 1994 in Kiruna, Sweden. The competition was a great promotion for the sport and it would be continued. Vuokatti, Finland and Gällivare, Sweden had been organizers of well-conducted Junior World Championships and they were appointed by their national associations to host the opening of the World Cup season 1994/95.
The opening in Vuokatti went without any problems and the stars Vladimir Smirnov and Ljubov Egorova were the victors.
After the competition the organizer in Vuokatti organized 4-5 buses of the highest standard to take everyone to Gällivare.
Afterwards we revealed that we had no contact between the buses (no cell phones at this time), that the drivers only understood Finnish, that the planned restaurant for dinner in this wilderness was closed and that the Italian bus witnessed a deadly accident. Furthermore the temperature was -25 C.
You can imagine that the spirits were not high when everyone arrived in Gällivare at 00:30. (The consequence of this adventure resulted in a new addition to the World Cup rules. Travel: Bus transports longer than 400 km will not be allowed.)
The snow situation in Gällivare was good but the temperature was still around -25 C. The chief of Competition Torbjörn Tuoremaa told us to stay calm because he had contacts with the weather prophets, who said it would be warmer and so it happened. At the start it was – 5 C. The competition started 18.30.
Many spectators came and as there was only one road to the stadium there was a real traffic jam. But the people living in Lapland have a lot of patience. Six thousand persons came and created an electric atmosphere in the stadium and along the track. In Scandinavia we are used to training and competing in flood light. This light however was not accepted by the TV producers so a lot of equipment was rented in order to create the necessary TV picture. The intensity of the light was over 100 thousand watt.
In the discussions before the competition there were two favourites among the men: Norwegian Björn Daehlie and Russian Vladimir Smirnov (the winner from Vuokatti three days earlier). It turned out that Björn was superior that day and won by 36.7 seconds ahead of Finland’s Jari Isometsä. It was Björn´s 25th World Cup victory and there were many more to come!
Björn told the Swedish journalist Janne Nordin after the competition: “I like to sleep until 11 o’clock in the morning and compete in the evening. I knew right after start that it was my day.”
The ladies´ field was more open. Five Russian girls against the Italians Belmondo and di Centa. Due to the late stat time, and also the fact that the best Swedish racer was number 35 the group of spectators was smaller. The technical Delegate Hermod Björkestöl wrote in his report, “To save time, races like this should be organized as pursuit start or sprint competitions. (According to lessons learnt the women should have started. NB my comment.) Two months later the first Word Cup ever in Sprint was carried out in Reit im Winkl at an illuminated track.
On results sheet Stefania Belmondo triumphed 20 seconds ahead of Russians Ljubov Egorova, Välbe and Gavriljuk. Belmondo who had two operations behind her got her first win in three years and was of course very happy.
Just to freshen up some of the top athlete’s name of old I will give you the six best in each category.
1. Björn Daehli NOR, 2. Jari Isometsä FIN, 3. Silvio Fauner ITA, 4. Thomas Alsgaard NOR, 5. Alexej Prokourorov RUS, 6. Torgny Mogren SWE
1. Stefania Belmondo ITA, 2. Ljubov Egorova RUS, 3. Elena Välbe RUS, 4. Nina Gavriljuk RUS, 5. Katerina Neumannova CZE, 6. Larissa Lazutina RUS
I hope that you will or have enjoyed the World Cup opening in Gällivare 2012.
If you are interested to read more about some historical events I will go on with the development of sprint in my next article.
Bengt in the Corner