Comparing medals

Cross-Country Skiing Team Sprint is better to watch from the track. It’s not an individual race when the skiers get started, then they rush on at the finish line, and that’s all. Each of the two racers complete three stages. They run three minutes, then they have a three-minute rest. They repeat that three times. It is very similar to a high-speed weight-training, which is extremely difficult. Any athlete, practicing cyclic kind of sports can prove that. From stage to stage racers change. Their speed, posture, even facial expression change. It is the excessive physical strain for athletes, the hardest task for specialists, for example for waxing specialists. If in an individual sprint skiers have 30 minutes between the runs, in the  team sprint the servicemen have no time at all to correct mistakes. It is not easy to forecast the outcome of the race. To be honest, this is an impossible.

As for the women’s duo everything became quite clear after the sprint. Then Natalya Nepryaeva was fourth, Yulia Belorukova was third. There was no question. But it took long to decide who will run with Alexander Bolshunov.

Denis Spitsov had the best result among our guys, but we all knew that he had slow acceleration and in general he does not practice sprint regularly. Maybe this decision was wrong. But who else? Finally, we chose Spitsov.

According to the regulations, the teams were divided into two semi-finals. In each of them two best duos would qualify for the finals automatically, the rest six finalists are to be picked by the best results. And initially everything was going well. In the women’s second semi-finals Nepryaeva started, Belorukova finished. They finished third, behind the Americans and Swedes, but they advanced to the finals easily. This time they were much faster than the last time.

While our men even won their the semi-finals. At the finish line Bolshunov slightly outskied Sweden’s Halvarsson, but it was not necessary, since it was clear that both teams would proceed to the finals.

I watched the finals from the track. In the evening it turned cold, so the number of spectators has not increased, rather quite the opposite. It was a shame. The athletes had nowhere to hide from the frost. But they did not think about it.

A breathtaking sixteen-minute race for medals was still ahead. And of course, the list of rivals was impressive. Kikkan Randall and Jessica Diggins of USA are number one on the rating list. Norway’s Marit Bjoergen and Mike Calla are frightening. Charlotte Kalla and Stina Nilsson from Sweden are total nightmare! Finland’s  Mari Laukkanen and Krista Pharmacoki are also pretty tough, as well as unbreakable Justyna Kowalczyk in tandem with Sylvia Yaskovets of Poland.

However, after the individual sprint Belorukova said (I quote): ‘Me and Natasha we are a super team’. Super means that Randall and Nilsson can not scare them, right? Alas, no.

Nepryaeva covered the first lap perfectly, and that was our team’s last good lap. Already on the second lap Belorukova fell behind the opponents, and it was obvious that she was running hard. On the third lap Nepryaeva rushed to catch up with the rivals. And she even did, but by the handoff she also was exhausted. After that they kept lagging behind and finished ninth out of ten.

Well, at the finish we witnessed a brilliant struggle of sprint masters – American Diggins, Swede Nilsson and Norwegian Falla. No one of them could or want to strive forward before the finish line, but at the stadium Falla broke down under the strain. Diggins and Nilsson threw their skis forward, but Diggins was faster. Nilsson, lost at the finish line, as well as in the relay race. Americans became first, Swedes were second, Norwegians third.

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It is clear that Natalya and Yulia had no desire to talk to the reporters. Well, we are not the heartless, just a couple of questions.

– What was this a sprint like for you? What worked well and what did not?

– It is the end of the Olympics, we are a little tired. Physically, mentally, Belorukova was  calm. – Any fatigue affects. Today we did not make it to the top five, but nevertheless we are in the finals, in top 10, she specified. – May be it is not something to be proud of , but I do not see anything terrible about it.

– Yes, and I do not either, because we all have bad days at work. What was wrong? The stress? The skies? The weather? Your well-being? Or all of it?

– Everything was ok, except for our well-being. Basically my. I do not  know about Natasha. She will speak for herself.

– Nepryaeva was not as successful in hiding her feelings. She was standing near, looking absolutely miserable. Who could have been happy at such moment. But the young lady caught up with her friend’s thought and even made a conclusion. Me too. Comparing with the previous races, it was much harder today. It was tough starting from the first laps. Now perhaps, I will think about the 30km race. But most likely, I will participate, she concluded.

Yes, no one likes to be defeated, but it is also an experience. One can not always give triumphant interviews. Failures add to experience, a lot, right?

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– Your task, perhaps, was not to fall behind? – a question for Spitsov.

– Even more, the task was to escape, Denis laughs again.  But I managed to stay in the group.

– You both are three-time Olympic prize winners. Can you get used to the feeling of holding medals after each race?

– It is, probably, very difficult, because every time it is a new race, new conditions, Bolshunov added. – And, in general, you should not get used to it. Because there are six races.

– Do you remember, that at the training camp before the Olympic Games you told your coach that you either go right now, or you don’t go at all. Isn’t it terrible that you could have not come?

– I would have run away from there, replied Alexander, and almost all the audience laughed.

– Was it possible to catch up with Clabo?

– It is always possible, it is a thorny issue for Alexander. – But it turned out that way and we are satisfied with the result.

– And you, Denis?

– I am very happy, because it has been a long time since I practiced sprint and I forgot to constantly think about tactics. Therefore I am very glad that we managed to take medal. This is the most unexpected medal.

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Just think about it. The most unexpected medal. Less than two weeks ago, any medal seemed impossible! This is what progress is all about.

A beautiful generation has grown up, not golden yet, but silver. The marathon and the 50km race are still ahead. And what if…?