The fans in the well-filled stands of the 1-kilometer rollerski city course in Sandnes, Norway, had many reasons to cheer loudly on Saturday, as their local heroes claimed victories in all four sprint events that concluded the 2017 Blink Skifestivalen (Ski Festival).
In the final race of the day, the men’s cross-country sprint was decided by the length of a rollerski, with Norway’s Sindre Bjørnestad Skar crossing first, just 0.1 seconds ahead of Sweden’s Teodor Peterson. Skar took the win with a time of 3:27.6 minutes after two laps around the flat course, which featured two short climbs over a ramp and a bridge. The third place on the podium went to Kasper Stadaas, also of Norway, 1.9 seconds out of first.
Second in Friday’s mass start, Skar advanced through the rounds on Saturday with narrow victories in his quarterfinal and semifinal as well. Last season, Skar won a World Cup at the freestyle sprint in Toblach, Italy, and achieved two other podiums. He raced to third in the sprint qualification at the World Championships in Lahti, Finland, and went on to finish 13th.
Andy Newell of the U.S. Ski Team (USST) was the lone North American starter of the day, and his run ended in the quarterfinal heats when he crossed the line in third, 1.1 seconds behind Norwegians Sondre Turvoll Fossli and 0.3 seconds behind Sivert Knotten. In an Instagram post, he mentioned breaking three poles in three races he competed in at this year’s Blink. He finished 16th in the 60 k classic and 18th in the 15 k freestyle mass start.
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In the women’s cross-country sprint, a number of the last season’s top sprinters contended for the podium. Reigning Sprint World Cup champion Maiken Caspersen Falla emerged with the victory in the final with a time of 3:49.6 after keeping her challengers at bay in the long finishing straight. Russia’s Natalia Matveeva placed second (+0.8) and another Norwegian Ingvild Flugstad Østberg took third (+1.1).
Earlier in the day, Falla won her semifinal, after she advancing from her quarterfinal with a wildcard. Originally Falla had finished the heat more than 30 seconds back, following a spill from which she emerged with a slightly bloody right knee.
“Suddenly the asphalt was there,” Falla told Norwegian broadcaster NRK, according to a translation. “I am very happy that I was able to protect the face and head… I was really scared. I’m terrified.”
She explained that it had been a long time since her last crash on rollerskis, and that she likely had placed a pole on her own shoe. No other athlete was involved in the incident, and her semifinal heat started with seven athletes.
On Friday, Falla placed third in the women’s 10 k mass start after outlasting the group of skiers she was with in the finishing straight.
USST member Liz Stephen opted not to start in the sprint on Saturday (after placing sixth in the hill climb and 25th in the 10 k freestyle mass start), instead continuing her European road trip to Östersund, Sweden, according to an Instagram post.
In the women’s biathlon sprint, French veteran Marie Dorin-Habert made a minor rookie mistake while leading when she knelt down on the shooting mat for another prone shooting, before realizing that all her competitors had correctly taken a standing-position stance. Maybe she had assumed that — like the men in Saturday’s sprint format — they also would have to shoot four times.
She quickly stood back up, but after incurring a penalty she was overtaken by Sweden’s Hanna Öberg and Norway’s Marte Olsbu. On the final lap Olsbu managed to pass the Swede to claim the victory in a time of 7:57.3 minutes with two penalties, while Öberg finished second (+2.8, with two penalties) and Dorin-Habert third (+5.0, with one penalty) ahead of Sweden’s Emma Nilsson (+9.4, with two penalties).
In the men’s biathlon sprint, racers skied four loops and shot in four stages. Coming into the final shooting stage, Norway’s Lars Helge Birkeland and Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen, along with France’s Simon Fourcade, had created a small gap to the rest of the field. While Birkeland and Christiansen hit all their targets, Fourcade had to ski one short penalty lap through a traffic roundabout. Turning sharp left into the finishing stretch, Christiansen overtook Birkeland and pushed hard until the line in a time of 12:09.6 with two penalties, while Birkeland finished 4.6 seconds back in seconds place (with one penalty). Fourcade held onto third place (+16.2, with three penalties) ahead of a chase group.
The excited fans also sang a little birthday tune for Norway’s Tarjei Bø — who turned 29 on Saturday — as he came into the finish in seventh place (+42.2) smiling and waving to the crowd.
No North American biathletes raced at this year’s Blink.