Friday, February 9, 2018

Can the Russian Bear be brought down?

Team Russia : Dmitry Koltakov; Team Manager, Rais Mustafin; Dmitri Khomitsevich; Daniil Ivanov - © Good Shoot

The Torpedo Stadium in Shadrinsk is the venue for the 39th Ice Team Championship on 10th and 11th February. Many of the racers who took part in the individual championship in Kazakhstan last weekend will be making the 900km road journey from Astana to be joined by the remaining members of their national teams for this annual event. Teams consist of two riders plus one reserve who may be called on to ride at any time.

The popularity of this winter sport in Russia where the climate allows plentiful training and racing opportunities provides a rich source of riding talent which explains why Russia have been beaten only four times in the history of the event and will again be favourites to retain the title. The team boasts three World Champions led by current holder and captain Dmitry Koltakov supported by Daniil Ivanov and Dmitri Khomitsevich, so it is hard to see the Russian Bear being toppled on this occasion.
In recent years Austria has provided some of the stiffest opposition, filling the runner up position seven times in the last ten years with Franz Zorn, a mainstay of their squad. Although Zorn has been at the top of his form in Swedish league and individual meetings he was not looking his best in Astana and will need to be back to his best if the Austrians are to make any impression. Additionally, there are doubts as to the fitness of Harald Simon who collected a knee injury in Kazakhstan which required stitches in the local hospital. Charly Ebner Jr. completes the squad.
Sweden will be feeling confident after a successful trip to Astana where debutant Martin Haarahiltunen reached the final on both days and Ove Ledström also produced an improved performance. Captain Niclas Svensson is likely to have his father Stefan at hand and with ‘Posa’ Serenius also in the pits, the team will not be short of advice and help from these two experienced veterans if needed.
Another team that has been troubled by injury problems so far this year is Germany with Johann Weber damaging both his ankle and neck in separate incidents in Astana. He has declared himself fit to lead his team but there must still be questions over the health of Gunther Bauer whose recovery from his foot injury is taking longer than he had hoped. Bauer is a tough racer who we have seen return quickly from injury in the past but he is selected as Reserve and may not be called on to ride if Max Niedermaier is scoring well.
Czech Republic are also affected by the injury to captain Jan Klatovsky who missed the races in Astana as he was still recovering from a back injury which has been slow to respond to the intensive magnetic wave therapy treatment that he has been having. He is hoping to be fit enough to compete and is declared at Reserve, giving Team Manager Malcolm Uzzell the option to use him as many as six times during the meeting.
The last team in the draw represents Finland who have not enjoyed the best of good fortune in recent years. Finnish champion Mats Jarf is not selected and only Matti Isoaho appears to have the speed needed to match the pace of the top teams.
Racing in Shadrinsk starts with a parade at 13.00 local time on both Saturday and Sunday and racing will be overseen by FIM Jury President Christian Bouin from France with Polish Referee Piotr Lis.