Russians sweep the relays for the fifth year in a row

By David Kurs

Coach Nikolai Tolstikov beamed proudly at his team as they swept the relays for the third year in a row. On this sun-filled day, the participants did not have to be wrapped in blankets after the competition as in previous days. In fact, the competition was of such good nature that the first- and second-place finishers each waved their national flag for the last 200 meters of the competition.

Russia's women's team proved too much for the rest of the field in the women's 3 x 5 km relay. The team, led by Natalia Smirnova, Marina Tichtchenko, and Anna Fedoulova, led all the way. The second-place contest was much more exciting—Ukraine occupied the spot initially, but were upstaged by the Germans, who were eventually overtaken by the Italians. The Italians owe much to Renate Telser, who put in a time of 16,30,2 to finish the team second. The third-place finisher was Germany.

The Men's 3 x 10 km Relay had a relatively uneven field. The Russians; headed by the versatile Viktor Ioujaninov, who put in a blazing time of 30,39,8; finished first with a time of 1,35,01,6- more than two minutes than the next finisher. Sweden blazed ahead to second place thanks to Torbjör Svenningson, who put in the day's best time at 29,35,8. Third place was taken by the Germans, headed by Reiner Kamradt.

Tolstikov says, "I have been training these skiiers [both men and women] since they were little. They have accomplished much since then, thanks to the mountain conditions of the Urals." Sure enough, they have been the recipient of wild success, as both the men's and women's relays have been won by the Russians three Winter Games running—dating back to Canada in 1991. Tolstikov has coached in four games and hopes that the current pool of skiiers will be able to compete in another Games.

On another note, some concern was expressed about the shrinking field of countries that participate in Nordic Skiing. Technical Delegate Knut Bjorn Kjode (NOR) says, "If Nordic Skiing stops being a part of the Games, it is important for snowboarding to succeed. The diversity of sports at the Winter Games is very important."