The dream and the nightmare.
(Photos and captions by Phil Bowen - additional words below by Pete Vordenberg)
my experience around the world cup is limited, but i still feel pretty confident in saying that the events at holmenkollen are in a class by themselves. not that the trail or the facilities or the grooming is the best, but that in terms of the atmosphere, there's nothing quite like it. i've never been to a game at lambeau field, but if you combine the tailgating scene there with a norwegian ski race, that's probably about the right combination. throughout the day on the trail i was treated to all the food i could eat and more drink than i needed.
the crowds and lack of crowd control present some unique challenges to photography. the fans don't pay too much attention to the fences, and on the uphills they can close in around the racers like you see on climbs in the tour de france. a lot of the racers were getting out of the tracks as well, so there were a couple of times when i was nearly run over - caught between the fence, which had somehow moved three feet closer to the track, and the racers. i missed kris coming over the hill and barely got him as he passed me on his final lap because someone was leaning over trying to pour a flask of jaegermeister into my mouth. that's holmenkollen.
i've included some shots of the trail for all you skiers who think that world cup skiers always race on immaculate tracks that look like they were carved from italian marble. the grooming at holmenkollen this week was at times non-existent, at times terrible. combine the grooming or lack thereof with the drunken wrestling match that i saw in the middle of a downhill, and you come up with conditions that are similar to what you'd find at your local dog-walking trail in the city park. the racers don't complain about conditions, though. they just adapt, pick their skis, and get out there and hammer for 50km. that's ski racing.
(some more words on Holmenkollen from Pete Vordenberg):
Holmenkollen is a ski race taking place in the middle of a party. It is a dream that borders on nightmare: You are racing, but though a cloud of smoke so thick you can’t breath, people are offering you hotdogs, shots of vodka, beer, and then you are alone in the woods flying down an un-groomed narrow and twisting trail bordered on one side by trees and the other by a creek, and you can hardly keep your gear together, then you are mobbed by Vikings – or at least people dressed and acting like Vikings, and then you are mobbed by a group dressed in old time knickers and sweaters – also acting like Vikings. The uphills are swarmed with fans closing in on the course like it’s the alpe du huez. The Holmenkollen is a classic. I appreciate the efforts made by the FIS to popularize the sport, the new ideas, sprinting, short courses that bring the skiers to the fans more often. But the classics are important to maintain. Holmenkollen is awesome. Long live holmenkollen. To win here is to join legends.
It is also a contradiction. If the grooming were this bad anywhere else everyone on the world cup would raise hell. If the fans had this sort of access to the course and behaved in this way anywhere else the Norwegians would scream bloody murder. But at Holmenkollen it’s OK. And it isn’t OK because these people know how to stay off the track. They don’t. They ski on it during the race, backwards, they walk all over it, they wrestle on it. I watched as fans poured beer in the track and laughed and laughed. Haw Haw Haw. The grooming is bad to begin with and deteriorates before even the first racer starts. They let their dogs run all over. They stand on it and sing songs. They camp right beside it and build huge fires. They have a camp out. They have a hell of a time. Me, I got bit by a dog. It happened to me while running up the trail to give out feeds. I had two feed spots. The run between the two was about 1km partially through the woods partially on the trail. At the time I was on the trail and a dog lunged at me and got a tooth into my calf just under the knee. Blood came through my tights. I am told they don’t have rabies in Norway (also, there are many other great things about Norway which any Norwegian will happily point out to you). Ah, well. Brian Mckeever from the Canadian team (who is legally blind) was run into by a fan skating down the course on wooden skis – As Stephen the Canadian PT said: Holmekollen where the blind meet the drunk…
The course is very difficult. There are long steep climbs and fast downhills and bumps and uneven sections and sidehills. It is a real challenge to wax for as well. Generally the high and low points have different conditions. It’s a real race, the way a classic should be – long enough to be a real drama a dream or a nightmare or some of each and always the source of stories to tell afterwards. Long live Holmenkollen.
Kris took 21st place, half a second from 20th. It was a great result for him in this race.
Next stop for the USA is Stockholm sprints on Wednesday and then Falun over the weekend. Check in for more from the Junior Worlds / U23 as well as Stockholm, Falun and later a recap on the season.