FILE UNDER -- Nordic

Finland hires first-ever foreigner to lead cross-country team

Finland hires first-ever foreigner to lead cross-country team{mosimage}HELSINKI, Finland – Finland has appointed a foreigner to coach its cross-country ski team for the first time, giving Magnar Dalen of Norway the task of redeeming the sport in the country.

Dalen was presented as coach Wednesday, and will take over the job on June 1, Finland’s ski association said.

”It is clear that he will work for us for four years toward the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver,” the association’s cross-country chairman Kari Virranta said.

Cross-country skiing is one of the most popular sports in Finland, but the national team was left in shambles after the 2001 World Championships at home in Lahti, when half a dozen team members were caught for doping and banned from competition for two years. In the process, Finland was stripped of three medals, including a relay gold for the men’s team.

Traditionally, Finnish cross-country skiing has been very secluded, and the signing of a foreign coach was described as a historic step.

”There has been export of know-how in ski jumping from Finland, and we look on this as an interchange in the other direction,” Virranta said.

The 42-year-old Dalen has lived in Sweden for the last 15 years and was the head coach of Sweden’s cross-country ski team from 1998-2002.

”I believe the women will be in the fight for gold medals already at the worlds in Sapporo next year,” Dalen said. ”With the men’s team, we have two, three years of hard work and training ahead of us.”

– The Associated Press

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