If skiing legend Vegard Ulvang’s wish comes true, 8 ski trips will change to the next World Championships – “You shouldn’t ask athletes this issue”

If skiing legend Vegard Ulvangs wish comes true 8 ski

International cross-country skiing is a sport where changes in race distances are not commonplace.

The men’s 50 kilometers has been in the program of the prestigious games since the beginning, i.e. since 1924. The 4×10 kilometer relay was held for the first time in 1933. A fundamental change took place in 1952, when women debuted at the Olympic level.

The men’s 15 kilometers has been included continuously since 1954. Women got the same number of races as men at the World Championships in Lahti in 1978, but at the Olympics only six years later.

Sprint skiing debuted in 2001. The most recent change is from 2005, when the combined race, 15 kilometers for women and 30 kilometers for men, and the pair sprint were included in the World Cup program.

Since then, it has been quiet on the change front for 18 years, but now new winds are blowing in cross-country skiing.

The international skiing federation FIS created an identical competition program for men and women for the World Cup this season. The 2025 World Championships in Trondheim will also be contested on the same distances.

– An equal competition program for women and men should have been implemented days ago, three-time Olympic champion Vegard Ulvang states.

Urheilu has asked the Norwegian skiing legend for an interview, because the FIS board will decide on new competition trips in the summer based on the cross-country skiing committee’s proposal.

Ulvang is the former chairman of the committee. He left Pest a year ago and presented the introduction of equal race distances in the World Cup as his last work.

Athletes have their own cow in the ditch

The proposal pushed by Ulvang passed in the cross-country committee with 57 percent of the vote, even though the athletes were against the idea.

Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation NRK reported on the survey a year ago (you will switch to another service)according to which 73 percent of the athletes who toured the World Cup for a long time were against equal distances.

– When talking about the competition format, the athletes always react negatively to the changes. The changes challenge what they’ve been trained to do. This issue should not be asked of athletes, because they do not look at the issue objectively, says Ulvang.

According to Ulvang, the International Olympic Committee IOC has put pressure on the FIS in recent years and asked why women and men ski distances of different lengths.

In skiing’s biggest mass event, Vasaloppet, women have skied the full 90 kilometers in their own series like men since 1997. On Sunday, 26 years after Vasaloppet, women will be able to compete in the legendary 50 kilometer race at Oslo’s Holmenkollen.

– It’s downright tragic that we haven’t given women the opportunity to compete in this classic before, says Ulvang.

What are the level differences?

The pace of change has been held back by level differences, which are greater for women than for men.

As the statistics below show, Norwegians Therese Johaugin and by Marit Bj√∂rgen in the reigns, there have been enough challenges in marketing women’s long trips.

In 2016, Johaug was able to tear through Holmenkollen at 30 kilometers, almost four minutes behind the second-placed athlete.

You can only imagine how much of a difference it would have been if the trip had been 20 kilometers longer.

– There was a discussion about Johaug’s superiority last season, when we were considering the introduction of 50 kilometers for women, Ulvang admits.

Johaug let skiing bosses off the hook by announcing last season’s chalk lines that he would end his racing career.

– We cannot decide race distances based on one athlete, so I would have stuck to my proposal anyway. Cross-country skiing is an extreme sport over long distances, where the differences can become large, says Ulvang.

– The public wants to see athletes at their limits, like in the final climb of the Tour de Ski. Holmenkollen has the roughest terrain, so I think the women will start the 50 kilometers with caution. If for example Ebba Andersson however, happen to beat the others by five minutes, that is no reason to deprive women of the opportunity to compete in 50 kilometers.

Ulvang believes that women’s winning time will be around 11-13 percent weaker than men’s. This would be in line with the difference in performance between women and men, if the track and field ME times at 5,000 and 10,000 meters are taken as a reference.

The fact that the physiological differences between women and men level out the longer the trip is, speaks in favor of equal trips.

A drastic change to value race trips

Ulvang believes that the program for the 2025 World Championships is all but finished after the debut of the women’s 50 km.

From the table above, pairs sprint is exhausting as a sport, which Ulvang did not have time to change before getting the support he hoped for before his retirement.

– My idea was to make the pair sprint a mixed relay, where each team has two women and two men. By doing this, the race would become more like a sprint, because there would be more rest time.

– The fact that the pair sprint is popular in its current form militates against the realization of this, because it is difficult for smaller countries to get four competitive athletes on their feet. That is why the introduction of this form of competition has been delayed year after year.

If Ulvang’s proposal to change the pair sprint into a mixed race goes through, eight of the 12 races at the World Championships in Planica would be replaced. Women’s and men’s sprints, as well as women’s 10 and men’s 50 kilometers, would remain untouched in the future.

– I know that there is the greatest resistance to change among male skiers. I understand that this is a touchy subject. This is about history, which when changed, there is no going back. The sport still needs to be renewed.

But even Ulvang has its limits. He does not share the new president of FIS by Johan Eliasch enthusiasm for 100-meter skiing, which Ilta-Sanomat flashed in Planica as an option as a new race trip (you switch to another service).

– That would be too much and would create a completely new type of skier. A Finnish coach said to me recently that cross-country skiing is the size of a fly’s-eye in sports. If it is split in half again, there will be nothing left, says Ulvang.