Russian XC Ski Team: Depleted but determined to win

“Push all the way, give it your maximum!” shouts assistant coach Egor Sorin to the group of extremely fit looking women and men in burgundy-colored race suits with the word RUS imprinted in bold letters on their backs.

The world at large might know the place for The World Economic Forum annual meetings held here, but for sporting fans it is synonymous with one of the most exciting international skiing competitions, held every December for the last 45 years.

The Russian cross-country skiing team is in Davos where it is preparing for the next stage in the FIS World Cup, to be held at the famed Swiss resort on December 9-10. Alexander Legkov, Maxim Vylezhanin, Evgeniy Belov, Julia Ivanova, Evgenia Shapovalova and Alexey Petukhov — stripped of their titles and banned from all competitions first by the IOC and then by the International Ski Federation – are no longer present, as their appeals to the IOC/FIS decisions are being processed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Yet, the Russian skiing team remains a formidable sporting force, with top contenders for Olympic medals in its ranks.

Its leader, 25-year-old Sergey Ustiugov, is, arguably, the planet's strongest cross-country skier today, with five medals, including two golds, from five races at this year’s World Championships. The rest of the team members do not have his titles, but specialists and fans alike point at the several top medal contenders at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang 2018 among its ranks.

That is, if they get to participate in the Games at all. The International Olympic Committee will decide on December 5 if Russia can compete at the Pyeongchang Winter Games.

The mood among the best Russian cross-country skiers is understandably grim, but determined on the eve of the announcement.

The current team is not only exceptionally talented, especially on the male side – but also very young. The unspoken message is “if you won't let us compete at these Olympics – we shall show what we are worth in 2022 in Beijing.”

Yet there is not sign of let-up in preparations at the snowy tracks of Davos – they are equally determined to win both in Switzerland this weekend – and in Korea in February.

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