February 19, 2006

It is very much a family affair

By Gideon Long

PRAGELATO, Italy (Reuters) - As results from the past week
at the Turin Winter Olympics have shown, cross-country skiing
tends to be very much a family affair.

First there was Kristina Smigun, who won the opening two
women's individual races to become the first Estonian to take
two gold medals at a Winter Games.

She is the daughter of Anatoli Smigun, who competed for the
Soviet Union at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck.

Then came the Fredriksson brothers of Sweden.

Thobias Fredriksson won a gold medal in the men's team
sprint on Tuesday before his older brother Mathias took a
bronze in Sunday's men's 4x5 km relay.

Russia's Vassili Rotchev also made the podium in the team
sprint, taking bronze, but still has some way to go until he
matches the achievement of his father, also Vassili, who won a
gold and a silver at the Lake Placid Games in 1980.

On Sunday, it was the turn of the Italians.

Giorgio di Centa and Fulvio Valbusa were both members of
Italy's victorious men's relay team, but both have sisters who
made it on to the Olympic podium before them.

Fulvio's younger sister Sabina won a bronze with the
Italian women's relay team on Saturday -- it has been quite a
weekend for the Valbusa family -- while Giorgio's older sister
Manuela is one of Italy's most successful winter Olympians.

She won seven Olympic medals between 1992 and 1998,
including two golds.

Everywhere you look in cross-country skiing, you find
brothers, sisters, sons and daughters.

Often raised in close-knit mountain and rural communities,
many athletes take up the sport due to the influence of their
parents or older siblings.

Jens Filbrich, part of Germany's silver medal-winning relay
team on Sunday, is the daughter of Sigrun Krause, who won a
bronze medal with the East German team at the Innsbruck Games.

And the Fredrikssons are not the only brothers in the
Swedish ski team -- their teammates Mikael and Fredrik Oestberg
have both competed in World Cup races this season.

Every now and then, though, you find a cross-country skier
who bucks the trend.

Like Filbrich and Rotchev, Liechtenstein's Markus Hasler,
who competed in last Sunday's men's pursuit race, is the son of
a former Olympian.

But while Markus races on skis, his father Ewald preferred
wheels -- he represented Liechtenstein as a cyclist at the 1952
summer Games in Helsinki.