2003 World Championships: Mens 50K Freestyle
By Paul Belknap
March 4, 2003
The final event of the world championships was the Men’s
50 km Freestyle race, strangely enough, it was the first interval
start race that I had watched the whole championships. After
Johnny Spillane’s gold medal the day before optimism was high
for the United States cheering section (me). The Italians
were out in force, praying for their first medal in the championships
they were hosting. They were hoping for a medal by Pietro
Piller Cottrer. Other favorites going in were Christian Hoffman,
Martin Koukal, Frode Estil, and Per Elofsson. The first man
off of the line was Lars Flora for the USA, Lars turned in
a good race on the day, finishing in 48th. Soon after Carl
Swenson was off and lighting up the snow, setting the pace
for the red group which started later. Swenson’s splits were
still hovering in the top 5 after the red group came through,
but the race announcers were rather busy tracking the blistering
start of the Italian Fulvio Valbusa and German Rene Sommerfeldt.
Just as in the womens race, the Italian men (as well as the
German) faded by the end of the race. Meanwhile Martin Koukal
was cranking up after a mediocre start. Back to Swenson, as
most of us know by now, he broke a pole while running second,
and by the next official split was back in fifth place. Going
into the last 5km, he was looking good for a medal. He ended
up having a rather slow 5km (by his own description), while
two Swedes, who had been picking up after slow starts, had
a blistering last 5km to push him down out of the medals.
This made the podium Martin Koukal followed by Ander Soedergren
and Joergen Brink. Next came Mathias Fredriksson and Carl
Swenson in fifth. Swenson ended the race 45 seconds off of
Other Americans (and a Canadian): Andrew Johnson, 37th +5:51
Lars Flora 48th +8:34 Dan Roycroft 57th +12:07 (CAN) Justin
Freeman 58th +13:01.
A couple of totally uneducated and totally personal observations:
Thomas Alsgaard is as beautiful to watch ski in person as on tv. He's just so
smooth. Its really awesome to see.
The US Ski Team rocked the wax selection all week. We consistently had some
of the fastest skis out there. Our guys could barely avoid running people
over on the downhills that I saw. Hats off to the wax guys.
We can compete with the best in the world (Kris and Carl did it all week).
But I think its important to get more international experience,
meaning skiing the World Cup. Kris Freeman commented on how
fast the World Cup skiers close the race in the last few k,
and that’s was where we “lost” the races at the championships.
We need to get used to needing to close that fast. Our skiers
should be at the World Cup, and be supported when they are
there. Maybe we could share a joint support staff with Canada.
That would take less resources from both countries. And we
shouldn’t just send a couple of our top few skiers over, it
should be at least six men and six women. It was absolutely
amazing to see these World Championships and the amazing athletes,
but they aren’t in a different class than our athletes. In
fact they look strikingly similar to our athletes.
Best in the World
2003 World Championship photos by Paul Belknap
About the author...
Paul Belknap is a Ashland, Wisconsin native in his
second year at Gonzaga University. This year he's been
studying in Florence, Italy. He starting skiing at two
years old, and has enjoyed racing since his high school
Belknap maintains his own web site: