SAPPORO, Japan (Feb. 28) - Biathlete Lars Berger of Norway was the surprise gold medalist Wednesday in the men's 15K freestyle at the 2007 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships as a harder-than-expected snowstorm struck midway through the starting field. Lars Flora and James Southam (both Anchorage, AK) had the top U.S. results, finishing 57th and 58th in the field of 119 racers.
Berger normally skis biathlon but has skied in several World Cup cross
country races - and was fourth, less than three seconds from the bronze medal in
the 15K at the 2005 Worlds; he started 55th and finished in 35:50.0 for the win.
Unheralded Belarussian Leanid Karneyenka, who skied No. 2 before the storm
struck, took the silver medal (36:25.8) while defending World Cup champion and
current points leader Tobias Angerer of Germany finishing third
"It started snowing harder right when we were starting," said Flora, who skied out of the No. 53 start. Southam ran 57th with Andrew Johnson (Greensboro, VT) 62nd and Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) 76th. "It snowed around bib 25 for maybe five minutes and then it stopped...and then it began really pounding a little after we started."
Flora's time was 39:13.0 while Southam finished in 39:15.8. Freeman, who was 10th at the 2K mark, 8.7 second off the pace and 20th, nearly 50 seconds out by 5.7 Ks, finished 65th in the two-lap race.
"It was kind of insane," Flora said. "All I was thinking was 'At least we're not classic [technique] skiing...or waxing for someone skiing classic.' It was a crazy day."
The snow was problematic, he said, adding, "I don't think it was my best performance of the year, but we skied solid - nothing amazing, but nothing bad, either. They thought it was gonna be smaller, just a little storm. The uphills were okay, downhills okay because they were packed...but the winds on the flats really sucked you down. That made it tougher."
"I'm not even tired," said Freeman, who was 19th Saturday in the 30K pursuit. "I feel so good...really, so great. I focused my whole season on this one race and for that squall to come in just sucks."
Head Coach Pete Vordenberg, regrouping quickly, canceled plans for the men's 4x10K relay Friday "so we can focus on the 50K Sunday. I think the 50K is still a good opportunity for the guys to have a good result for the team, and running the relay would not be the best preparation for the 50.
"We want to put this thing behind us as soon as possible. It's ancient history and now we'll look to the 50 for a good performance."
He admired Berger's result - "Berger's legit, no problem with him winning because he's a fine skier, cross country and biathlon" - and was equally impressed with Angerer getting the bronze medal. "He must've had an incredible race, just incredible. The snow stopped while he was out there, but it was coming down hard when he started, too, so he must have really turned it on in those final kilometers."
The next cross country race will be Thursday with the women's 4x5K relay before their final event, Saturday's 30K CL
Photos from Sapporo are available at http://ussa.smugmug.com.
2007 FIS NORDIC WORLD SKI CHAMPIONSHIPS
Sapporo, JPN - Feb. 28, 2007
Men's 15K Freestyle
1. Lars Berger, Norway, 35:50.0
2. Leanid Karnyenka, Belarus, 36:25.8
3. Tobias Angerer, Germany, 36:42.4
4. Johannes Eder, Austria, 36:48.3
5. Axel Teichmann, Germany, 37:04.6
57. Lars Flora, Anchorage, AK, 39:13.0
58. James Southam, Anchorage, AK, 39:15.8
65. Kris Freeman, Andover, NH, 39:32.5
80. Andrew Johnson, Greensboro, VT, 40:16.5
For complete results: