Welcome back to Monday Media, a weekly feature that curates some of the most insightful (as it were) recent news stories from home and abroad. The focus will be primarily, but not exclusively, on the foreign press. This week: Klæbo continues his recovery from a back injury as the Ruka season opener looms; doing the math on a World Cup men’s field without the Russians; Russian star Veronika Stepanova slams FIS decision as “hypocrisy.”
N.b., all non-English articles mentioned here were viewed with Google Translate. If your browser does not automatically translate an article for you when you follow the link given in this piece, copy and paste its URL here.
Klæbo frustrated with pace of recovery from back injury
Followers of Johannes Høsflot Klæbo’s training on Instagram or his vlog will recall that he was spending a fair amount of time in the pool earlier this summer, following an injury to his back, and then had a gradual return to running. He has looked “recovered” rather than not in recent workouts, but he is hardly all the way back to full capabilities.
“It takes time, an awfully long time,” the skier recently told Norwegian broadcaster TV2 per an auto-translation. “Although I have followed all the advice, I am not ready to compete. I can calmly walk diagonally [i.e., classic stride], as you saw today, skating is fine, but classic sprinting is out of the question at the moment.”
Klæbo said this in an article published on Friday, October 21. The World Cup season begins in Ruka on November 25, a month from tomorrow, with… a classic sprint. The following weekend in Lillehammer brings a skate sprint (along with distance races), then Beitostølen sees another classic sprint on December 9. The clock is ticking for a man who “loses” World Cup classic sprints (i.e., sometimes finishes second) in Ruka, and tends to win them, very, very consistently, everywhere else.
NRK does the math on a World Cup without the Russians
A common, and justified, theme of the Devon Kershaw Show over the past few seasons has been the dominance of two nations at the top of the men’s results sheets: Norway and Russia. Indeed, here is the top end of the men’s overall and distance standings from the 2021/2022 World Cup season.
Keeping in mind that Russian athletes were excluded from the final few races of the season following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the numbers are nonetheless stark. 17 of the top 22 men in last season’s overall standings, and a staggering 13 out of the top 14 men in the distance standings, were from either Russia or Norway. “This has become a common sight in skiing: Aleksandr Bolshunov with a number of Norwegians in tow,” as a recent caption on NRK put it.
(Fields on the women’s side are notably less homogenous. Yes, excising Russian athlete Natalia Nepryaeva moves one Jessie Diggins from second up to first in the overall World Cup standings, but the only other Russian national in the top 30 overall was Tatiana Sorina in 15th.)
Now that, as expected, FIS has extended a ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes, what does that look like for this season’s standings? Norwegian national broadcaster NRK walks through the math in this recent piece.
“When there is only one team left on the field, it will almost be a ‘walkover’ for Norway,” said one expert quoted in the NRK article, according to an auto-translation. “And that is of course not beneficial for the sport internationally.” Norway would have won nearly 80 percent of men’s World Cup races over the past three seasons without Russian athletes in the field, NRK concluded based on its analysis.
The NRK piece collects quotes from Norwegian athletes who make clear that they both regret the chance to not compete against skilled Russian athletes this season, but also think it is appropriate for FIS to extend sanctions so long as the war on Ukraine continues. Read more here.
Veronika Stepanova slams FIS decision as ‘hypocrisy’
Russian skier Veronika Stepanova expressed her displeasure with the FIS decision to bar Russian and Belarusian athletes.
“It is nothing but hypocrisy,” Stepanova told Swedish broadcaster SVT in a recent interview, according to an auto-translation. “Remind me when athletes from Israel or the USA were banned, and for what.”
Stepanova continued, “Sports should build bridges between people, not divide them. The planet is too small to build walls. Russia will not stop being one of Sweden’s closest neighbors; you must start accepting us just as we accept you.”
Retired Russian skier Alexander Legkov has sounded somewhat less accepting notes, telling one news outlet in response to a threatened Swedish boycott over potential Russian participation, “Let them stay at home, no problem. The most important thing is that our [skiers] get to compete.”
Stepanova has previously spoken in favor of her country’s war on Ukraine, saying in an April speech, “we are on the right track, and we will definitely win, just as we won the Olympics.” Following some negative international response to this speech, Stepanova authored an Instagram post (embedded above) in which she wrote that she was proudly Russian, and that “we, the Russians, wish well for our country no matter what. That’s our core belief — stand by your Motherland in the time of upheavals.”
— Gavin Kentch