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Three overall World Cup titles

WC Final Soldier Hollow: Cross-country 20 km

Three overall World Cup titles

In the final competition Anja Wicker defends her lead in the season ranking. Linn Kazmaier gets to celebrate twice in absentia. And there is also reason to be happy for Nico Messinger and Marco Maier.
Nico Messinger on his birthday in Vuokatti

The longest race of the season in Para Nordic skiing was saved by the world federation FIS for the end. In Soldier Hollow in the U.S. state of Utah, the venue of the 2002 Olympic Games and Paralympics, the 20-kilometer free-style mass start cross-country race was on the agenda on Wednesday – or, as Anja Wicker from MTV Stuttgart put it: “a tough piece of work”.

The 31-year-old mastered the challenge quite neatly, also thanks to the “super material” under her sled, as she pointed out. In the women’s sitting event she finished second behind Kendall Gretsch from the USA, who was once again unbeatable. In the overall World Cup standings, this was enough to bring home a success that had not been thought possible. Three times already, in 2015, 2017 and 2021, Wicker has won the season ranking in biathlon, while in cross-country skiing her best result so far had been a third place in 2016. This winter she snatched the trophy. “I’m proud of my running performance. To reach such a level for once is really great,” she said.

Nico Messinger third at the end

The second German starter of the day, Nico Messinger from the Ring der Körperbehinderten Freiburg, came third in the men with visual impairment with his guide Robin Wunderle behind Jake Adicoff (USA) and Zebastian Modin (Sweden) and spoke of a “nice finish”. The day before, the 28-year-old, weakened by the after-effects of a protracted cold, had secured his second place in the overall biathlon World Cup by finishing fourth in the biathlon sprint pursuit race – a huge success for him as well. “I’m very happy with it, of course. It confirms my first consistently good season,” he said.

Marco Maier from SV Kirchzarten, who also had a cold, could not start on Wednesday. On Tuesday, the 23-year-old had still fought for his first ever World Cup victory in a biathlon race in the men’s standing event thanks to a tactical masterstroke – with the last of his mobilized strength, as he reported in a croaky voice. “I am very happy about it,” said the triple World Champion from Östersund 2023.

Considering the circumstances – the colds of Messinger and Maier, hardly any snow in the preparation at home, an involuntary stopover in San Francisco during the journey and a consequently delayed arrival by one day – the German coach Michael Huhn was very satisfied with the results in Soldier Hollow. “It went better than expected.”

Huhn, actually head of the German junior team, represented the national coach Ralf Rombach in the USA, who followed the competitions from home. “It is a pity that Marco could not take part in the mass start race at the end. That would have been a good experience gain for him,” he said, but otherwise came to the same conclusion as Michael Huhn. “We came in better and better during the week and really sold ourselves well.”

German dominance among visually impaired women

This buzzword can also be used to describe the season as a whole; winning the national ranking at the World Championships, many successes in the World Cup – Rombach speaks of “overachieving goals” and raves about the positive cooperation of everyone within the team, including those who normally work in obscurity, for example from the areas of ski technology and physiotherapy.

Perhaps the biggest leap – besides Marco Maier – has been made by visually impaired German women. “We always have to take external circumstances into account and classify them, the fields of participants and the performance of the competition, for example,” Rombach emphasizes. “But if we purely let our own data and facts speak, it shows a tremendous increase.” Linn Kazmaier (SZ Römerstein) won the overall World Cup in both biathlon and cross-country, Leonie Walter (SC St. Peter) finished second in biathlon and third in cross-country (second place to Carina Edlinger, Austria), Johanna Recktenwald (Biathlon Team Saarland) finished third overall in biathlon.

“The fact that we are dominating with such force is unexpected,” says Ralf Rombach. In the U.S., the German trio was absent due to school issues and preparations for the summer season in para athletics (Kazmaier) and para cycling (Walter and Recktenwald), respectively. However, since no more World Cup points were awarded in her category at Soldier Hollow, this circumstance did not matter.

The only downer for the national coach remains the low number of competitions overall, which was exacerbated by the cancellation of a World Cup scheduled in Planica, Slovenia. “We would have liked to run more races,” says Rombach, who hopes for improvement next winter. “The FIS has just taken over the organization from the International Paralympic Committee. We are in a transition phase,” he says – and is already hard at work planning for the 2023/24 season.

Photos: Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation

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Cross country skiing