Cross-country news - 25/2/8
GB Juniors take on the World's best

GB Cross-Country Ski Team - 2007/8 squad report

At the start of the summer training season the Nordic committee of SnowsportGB set the qualification standards for the World Junior champs scheduled for Wisla, Poland at the start of February. Following this the British Junior Nordic Ski Team set about a series of FIS races in Sweden, Norway and Canada along with the Norwegian Team selection races. This would be the first year since the early 90’s that a team had been sent to the World Junior Championships, with our only recent representation being Al Duncan racing unsupported last season. The subsequent team selected was…

Fiona Hughes – Huddersfield
Sarah Young – Huntly
Alastair Duncan - Kingussie
Alex Standen – Huntly
Andrew Musgrave – Insch
PJ Barron – Huntly
Simon Platt – Kendal
Simon Spencer – Cheltenham

The team, which receives no financial support from SnowsportGB are extremely grateful to the British Olympic Association, who provided some funding towards the trip, which enabled the team to have a much larger coaching team than usual and to develop the skills of the coaching team. The coaching team for the world champs was

Al Dargie - Team manager and Junior team coach
Roy Young - Head coach
Les Parsons - Canadian coach to Olympic Gold medallist, Beckie Scott
Roger Homyer – Coach to the British Nordic Development Squad

Finally after several weeks of changing dates and venues from the original venue in Wisla, Poland the world champs were moved to northern Italy. The final move was only actually finalised 7 days before the first races, which proved a logistical and financial challenge for the British team.

Another challenge was the move to a high altitude resort, which meant having to move and reorganise the planned holding camp from the British Olympic Training Centre at Lofer, Austria to the new race venue in Italy. Upon arrival the team set about training and acclimatising to the altitude staying at 1200 metres in a fantastic friendly Hotel in Burgeis, with training and chilling out at the competition venue at 1800 metres during the day. Training had to be done with great patience to avoid over stressing the body due to the altitude. It was good to see doping control taking pre start blood samples from almost half the athletes. This was also a new and important learning experience for our athletes.

The competition started with 1.3Km Skate sprint races on Saturday 23rd February. The Standard of competition at world juniors is extremely high with several of the athletes also competing at world cup level, with one of the females having been on the podium at the senior World Championships last year. The highlight in the sprint race was Al Duncan who had a slightly lower finish position from last season of 70th but he improved his percentage behind the winner by a couple of percent to finish only 11.9% from the winner and gain his best FIS points to date of 178.00. Sarah Young finished 71st and 15.7% behind the female winner getting 223.34 FIS points. Simon Spencer was under 20% while Simon Platt and PJ Barron were around the 23% behind the winner. Fiona Hughes finished in 74th position and was 27% off the winner.

Following the Sprint races the team enjoyed the opening ceremony at the regional sport school in Malles. Simon Platt, team captain carried the flag for Great Britain in to a lively and upbeat opening ceremony. The ceremony was a great experience especially having been organised at such short notice and a good opportunity to mix with other teams.

Two days later was the Classic time trial, which was the best opportunity to score good FIS points. The conditions for the girls where fast with hard packed icy snow. In Fiona Hughes’ favourite discipline the swooping S bends and switchback corners proved tricky with 2 crashes slowing her down. Despite this she battled on to finish 70th and 19.8% behind the winner getting her best FIS points to date of 193.93. Sarah young finished 24.1% behind the winner gaining 228.56 FIS points. Conditions where very tough, so much so that a female member of the Polish team was hospitalised after crashing and flipping off the lip on one of the switchback bends.

In the Junior Mens race the highlight was a solid performance from Andrew Musgrave finishing in 72nd place.

Conditions started hard packed, but with temperatures in the sun about 15 degrees C the later starters (including all the British athletes) had increasingly slow, slushy conditions. This stretched the field considerably and led to bigger percentages behind the winners than the team had originally hoped for.

Andrew finished 17% from the winner and gained 172.04 FIS points, which is the best points any British skier had achieved in the last few years. Alex Standen finished 25% from the winner and Simon Spencer 27%. Unfortunately Al Duncan suffered blurred vision and dizziness at the top of the long climb and was pulled out by the coaching team.

After another day of ski testing and preparation the team was ready for the mass start skate races with the Junior Ladies racing over 10km and the men over 20km. The best way of describing the day was bedlam with athletes crashing all over the place, the conditions where hard and fast, in the ladies race a Ukrainian skier ended up in hospital with a badly dislocated shoulder following a crash. The British ladies where led by Sarah Young, finishing 68th position, 18.56% from the winner and gaining 294.85 FIS points. Fiona Hughes followed on finishing in 71st position, 22% off the winner.

If the ladies race had seemed like a bit like a demolition derby the mens race was complete carnage. As the coaches had predicted there was a major crash after the first bridge at a bottle neck leading to about 15 skiers crashing, many of who broke poles and one even broke a ski. Luckily the British team where well prepared and managed to avoid the first big crash. Alex Standen and Andrew Musgrave arrived at the top of the first 2km long climb in the top half of the field and where looking really strong. PJ Barron and Simon Platt were also in the pack and fighting to hold position.

On the opposite side of the valley 1km later one of the bends caught some of the lead field off guard leading to major crash (see images below) injuring one of the Austrian team (torn shoulder muscle and suspected cracked ribs) and finding 2 of the Norwegian team crash well of the track. Alex Standen, still in the top half of the field pulled his hamstring in jumping over the after math of crashed skiers and had to withdraw from the race, sadly this also ruled him out of the relay.

Andrew Musgrave was by the second lap up in about 42 position and looking strong and also had to avoid a crashed skier by jumping over him. PJ Barron was having a strong second lap picking his way up through the field however crashed on the same corner as the Austrian hitting his head and suffering a concussion that led to him spending time in the medical tent, with a drip attached to him!

Andrew Musgrave continued to climb through the field and was at one point in 38th position but faded a bit in the final 2Km. Andrew Musgrave finished in 42nd place, only 7.66% behind the winner bettering Britain’s best FIS points scored earlier in the week with points of 142.20. This is only 22.20 points off World cup Qualification and had the same percentage from the winner been achieved in the time trial it would have gained selection to world cup. Simon Platt stuck in to finish 27% from the winner gaining 422.10 FIS points. To sum up the team had 3 solid results with one outstanding performance and two athletes requiring considerable assistance from the on site medical team. Two skiers in the mens race ended up in hospital, the first a Polish skier from a fall and the other a Czech skier from pushing too hard at altitude and suffering cardiac problems.

After the mixed emotions of the mass start race the team was fired up and ready for the final event the Mens relay. As the only non snow nation entering a team in to the relay we thought our chances of not finishing last where slim, but the relay is an essential part of our development program and our team spirit. The team started out with our strongest skier Andrew Musgrave giving us 13th place after the first leg, Andrew was an incredible 4.24% off the fastest time of the leg. Simon Platt then had a difficult leg where he skied well with 23.74% of the fastest skier but had skiers from Italy and Austria (etc) going past him. At the third exchange we were in last position but Al Duncan (23.46% of the fastest time for his leg) over took 2 teams to hand over in 20th place. Simon Spencer paced the final leg brilliantly to extend the lead over Latvia but Ukraine had their best skier on the last leg and left us in a creditable 21st from the 22 teams.

Looking back at the championships the team is extremely proud of the results achieved. Putting it in to context as our first appearance at the world championships as a team, remembering we receive no governing body funding, are a non snow nation and our team was a young team with most of the athletes young enough to race in the same age category for the next 2 seasons.

The results will be used as a bench mark for the coming years and clearly show that the Nordic team’s performances are on a par if not better than Britain’s other snow disciplines. The season is not quite over yet with some of the Youth and Junior team still to race in Poland, Finland and at the new Olympic course in Canada.

The future looks extremely bright with a strong youth team coming through below the current junior team. Next year the team will be back even stronger and having learned many lessons from this trip. Next year will be an extremely busy year for the Junior, Youth and development teams along with their coaching and support team. The teams will be competing at FIS races, Continental Cup competitions and the European Youth Olympics.

There is also the probability that some of the juniors will represent Great Britain at the World Senior Championships. The best ranked British skiers (male and female) are in the Junior team. Interestingly we are also getting extremely close to world cup qualification standards and it is now a reality that we should have people qualified and doing part of the world cup circuit within the next couple of seasons, something Britain has not been able to achieve for 14 years now.

The team would like to express its thanks to the British Olympic Association for the funding contribution towards the world championships and the continued use of the British Olympic Training Centre at Lofer. The team would also like to express its thanks and appreciation to Nexen for their financial support which has enabled the team to purchase new waxing equipment and other essential hardware that the team needed this season. Thanks also go to Mcintosh plant Hire, Swix, Fischer skis, Polar, High5 and Craft for their sponsorship and support during the year. Les Parsons, travelled at his own expense from Canada to work with the team on a voluntary basis, and was quite simply a fantastic motivator, when someone who has coached an Olympic Gold medallist and currently coaches the highest ranked junior skier in the world gives the support he did, it is something very special from a true coaching legend.

Special thanks must go to the biggest supporters of the team… the parents and families of the athletes and coaches who fund and support the athletes. Without their support none of the achievements this year would have been possible.

Al Dargie – Team Manager / Junior Team Coach - British Nordic Ski Team
18 Railway Terrace, Aviemore, PH22 1SA
Tel: 01479 810665 Mob: 07775 707033