The Blink ski festival in Sandnes, Norway, continued today despite rain – so much rain that course volunteers were sweeping it off the streets and into storm drains using big pushbrooms.
“I was lucky that I only got rained on in the final, but over all it was a really wet day and you had to make sure you avoided some of the bigger puddles because they would really slow you down,” Canada’s Rosanna Crawford explained. “Not scary, I am pretty confident on downhills and corners, so I just went for it.”
So the show went on, with the stadium packed with fans cheering, waving flags, and clapping thundersticks. This is Norway, so a heavy rotation of electronic dance music kept the mood high.
(Want to get a taste of what it’s like, with a packed stadium in the city center? Even if you don’t have access to a Norwegian broadcast, you can watch. Almost all of the events are posted to this YouTube channel.)
For biathletes, on the schedule in this final day of competition were sprints: three laps around the short loop, with one prone and one standing shooting stage in the middle. With room for just 12 shooters on the range, the field was winnowed from quarterfinals to semifinals down to a final heat that took place at dusk.
In the women’s final, 2015 World Champion Katja Yurlova of Russia was in the lead after the prone stage. But Dorothea Wierer of Italy and American Susan Dunklee were hot on her heels. Then on the city loop, Dunklee put in a big move to go to the front.
Once she reached the range, though, she couldn’t stay there. Every racer missed at least one shot, but again Yurlova hit the trails first. Canada’s Rosanna Crawford was right behind her, and then passed her early on the final loop.
“Just like some people know they are great at climbing hills, I know I can rock a fast two skate!” she wrote in an email. “I wanted to make sure I had a bit of a space going in the final stretch and it felt like the best place to make my move. This course is where being tall and having lots of power can pay off.”
Crawford pulled away and never looked back. Her lead grew and grew until she crossed the finish line with a bow, a winning the sprint final in her very first trip to the Blink festival.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Crawford said in a finish-line interview with Norwegian broadcaster NRK. “To finish off with a win was great. But this doesn’t mean much considering the winter – if only we had eight-minute races, I’d be very happy!”
Crawford noted that while the Lysebotn Opp was not so well suited to her, this flat, fast rollerski course was.
“That’s the beauty of cross country racing, there are 3 different techniques you need to be good at,” she wrote. “Just like the up hill, we won’t ever encounter a course like this one on the World Cup. I was also able to catch a lot of girls on the range with some fast shooting.”
Wierer passed Yurlova as well to secure second place, while Dunklee finished fourth, +6.7. Canada’s Megan Heinicke finished eighth in the final, +30.4.
In the men’s competition, Lowell Bailey of the United States was strong early, winning his semifinal in dominant fashion; Emil Hegle Svendsen was second, 9.4 seconds back.
“It’s great to be here,” Bailey said in an interview with NRK after the semifinal. “This is an awesome competition. The best guys in the world are here and it’s a great way to check and see where we’re at with the training.”
Teammate Leif Nordgren finished third in his semifinal to also earn a trip to the final. Canadians Brendan Green and Nathan Smith missed the cut.
In the final, young Norwegian Vetle Gurigard was full of confidence after decimating Nordgren’s semifinal. He went out hard and led at a fast pace, before stumbling on the range. After two shootings, it was a perhaps predictable duo of Martin Fourcade of France and Tarjei Bø of Norway who left together in the lead.
They continuously upped the pace over the last loop of skiing, with Bø trying and mostly failing to pass Fourcade. After rounding the final corner into the finishing straight he finally got his chance, and laid down a fast sprint to leave the Frenchman in the dust.
Still, he has his eyes on bigger prizes in the upcoming season.
“It’s never bad to be good,” Bø told Stavanger’s Aftenbladet newspaper. “But it is always best to be good in the winter.”
Bailey and Nordgren ended up seventh and eighth, 27 and 42 seconds back, respectively.
Sprints were also on the schedule for cross-country. After winning Friday’s mass start, Barbro Kvåle made it two in a row by winning the women’s sprint on Sunday, this time by one second over Renate Bergset Tjetland, also of Norway. Anikken Gjerde Alnaes rounded out the podium for Norway, with Aino Kaisa Saarinen fourth and the first non-native.
In the men’s sprint, however, Calle Halfvarsson of Sweden was the only non-Norwegian but didn’t let it hold him back. He topped all his Norwegian rivals, with Sindre Bjørnestad Skar and Gjøran Tefre finishing second and third, both 0.2 seconds back.
“It felt good and I’m happy to win,” Halfvarsson told NRK.
Petter Northug broke a pole and finished last in the final. But he was uncharacteristically calm and diplomatic after the race.
“I lost this sprint when I destroyed my pole partway,” he told Aftenbladet. “But so it is with sprint, it’s part of the game that poles can break. In the finals, it was unfortunately my turn to have the accident.”
In general, Northug, who won the mass start on Friday, was happy with his form. Just days before Blink began he had told the media that he was out of shape, a concept that seemed to be confirmed when he finished the 7k hill climb on Thursday in 72nd place.
“The body worked very well both yesterday in the mass start and in the current sprint,” he told Aftenbladet. “And I am so impressed by this event, every single time I have been here has been fantastic.”