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Aug. 14 Roundup: Kowalczyk Sweeps NZ Races; Bjerke Signed for VO2 Max

— Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk dominated all three Australia/New Zealand Cup races last weekend at the Snow Farm near Wanaka, New Zealand, winning the 10-kilometer classic, skate sprint and 5 k skate race, respectively. A two-time champion there last year, Kowalczyk isn’t ready to leave the NZ Winter Games just yet. According to her coach, Aleksander Wierietielny, Kowalczyk will compete in the 42 k Merino Muster ski marathon on Aug. 18 as well as the Winter Triathlon, which involves running, mountain biking and cross-country skiing, on Aug. 27.

“The conditions are so perfect,”  Wierietielny said in a translated version of Kowalcyzk’s blog. “Snow is maybe a little less than a year ago, but all the routes are well prepared. Besides, [they] have excellent weather conditions. At night it’s minus five, six degrees Celsius, so the snow is frozen, and the beautiful sun shining days. We call it the Italian weather.”

Last Thursday, Kowalczyk beat a small field of five, including five Japanese skiers and one Austrian, in the 10 k classic. She won again on Saturday ahead of a similar group, and on Sunday, beat Russia’s Julia Tikhonova by more than 30 seconds to win the 5 k freestyle.

Kowalczyk’s training partner, Maciej Kreczmer of Poland won the men’s 15 k classic and 10 k skate. He edged Japan’s Nobu Naruse by 7.8 seconds in the first race and 8.2 in the second to claim the top spots. Russia swept the sprint’s top four, with Alexey Petukhov capturing the win, Nikita Kriukov taking second, Alexander Panzhinskiy placing third and Igor Usachev finishing fourth. Kreczmer placed fifth.

Complete results from NZ Winter Games’ Snow Farm races


— Elsewhere in the world, Federico Cichero won on his home turf near Ushuaia, that capital of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, at the first FIS-sanctioned race on a homologated course in South America. Cichero captured his first international victory in Friday’s 10 k classic interval start and repeated the feat Saturday in the 15 k skate at the Francisco Jerman Nordic Ski Area. On Sunday, he was second in the classic sprint to fellow Argentine Carlos Lannes, who currently lives in Spain. Leandro Ribela of Brazil took third in all three races.

Through an interpreter, Argentina’s developing nations group coach, Sebastián Menci, told FIS News what the races meant for South American skiing.

“Everything went really well,” he said. “On one hand it was a small race but on the other it was start … I was not sure I would have ever seen this day actually happen.”

Complete results


Team Exspirit, a world-leading nordic distance squad based out of Sweden, announced Monday it signed Norwegian skier Espen Harald Bjerke for the upcoming season. Of the qualities they’re most excited about in the 32-year-old? His VO2 max.

“[He’s] a skier with extremely high oxygen uptake and he’s the only one together with Björn Dählie who has reached a test value of 96,” Team Exspirit Director David Nilsson said in a press release. “Espen Harald has a lot of experience from both World Cup, National team and long distance skiing, something Team Exsprit will benefit from a lot.”

Living in Lillehammer with his girlfriend and their two children, Bjerke previously skied for the Lillehammer Ski Club and Team Birken, and placed third in the Norwegian Birkebeinerrennet last season.

“It feels great to join a team who aims 100% at long distance skiing,” Bjerke said. “I get the opportunity to develop as a skier only focusing on long distance. We have good service around the team and the best opportunities to only focus on training and ski fast.”


— We’ve heard from the North American women at the Swedish national-team training camp, but what about the Swedes? According to Anna Haag on her website, all is going well. She recently blogged about a session in which someone said she looked strong.

“If there anything you want as a skier, it is to look strong,” Haag wrote, according to a translation. “The body. In the bud. Physically and mentally. Radiate some sort of desire to win. … Feeling strong is something even better. Perhaps the best feeling there is.”

After some long racing seasons, she wrote that her body felt like it was falling apart and her muscles were like a sponge, unable to bounce back. This year has been different for the 26-year-old.

“It is so wonderful that after several months of hard training again to begin to recognize my body stronger. With muscles,” she wrote. “The head is included. The tanks are in the right place. It is focused, but alert to the environment, changes. Ready for anything. Nothing is a surprise. All situations manageable. No barrier impossible to cross.”

Haag was told she looked strong before the Olympics, and she went on to win silver in the 15 k pursuit and team sprint in the 2010 Vancouver Games.

“Today I was told that I looked strong. Just like that. Spontaneous. Damn happy I was! Psyched,” she continued. “Happy! Words that may not really mean much, but at the right time, by the right person it can get me to lift to the skies and move mountains!”


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