CHANGCHUN, China (March 15) – Olympian Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) finished third – the first U.S. cross country World Cup podium since 1983 when two other Vermonters were top-3 in a cross country race – as the World Cup made its debut Wednesday night in a 1K freestyle sprint in this Manchurian city of nearly seven million northeast of Beijing.
Newell led the qualifying and moved through quarterfinals and semis before finishing third behind Swede Thobi Fredriksson, Olympic bronze medalist three weeks ago. Swiss racer Christoph Eigenmann edged Newell by a whisker, almost 23 years to the day from the last U.S. cross country top-3 – March 19, 1983 when Tim Caldwell (Putney) was second and Bill Koch (Guilford) was third in a 30K race (behind another Swede, Gunde Svan) in Anchorage, Alaska. Fourth place Wednesday night went to Olympic sprint champion Bjoern Lind of Sweden.
â€œThis was another kid from Vermont who got on the podium tonight. The sky’s the limit for Andy,â€ said Vidar Loefshus, the U.S. sprint coach, who has resigned to stay in Norway. â€œHe did an awesome job.â€
Newell, 22, who finished fourth in a classic technique sprint in Oberstdorf, Germany, paid immediate tribute back at Loefshus. â€œIt was a lot of fun and this one definitely was for Vidar. I’m so glad I could get the podium for him.
â€œBefore the beginning of the year, we set a goal to get on the podium and he’s worked so hard for us. It’s been really special working with him – he’s taught us so much. He said he’d give us two years and we’ve all learned a lot from him…and it’s a bummer he won’t be with us from here on, he really got us going and we’ll definitely move on.â€
Late-night arrival didn’t slow things
The podium – in the final sprint on the World Cup calendar – is even more impressive, he and Loefshus agreed, because the Americans didn’t reach Changchun until late Tuesday night after having visa problems before leaving Norway where World Cup races had been held during the weekend.
â€œWe got here, like, 20 hours before the race but I felt great all day,â€ Newell said. â€œI’ve been feeling strong through everything.â€
Leading the time trial, from which the top 30 skiers move into final heats, was a surprise, the Stratton Mountain School grad said. â€œI couldn’t believe I had the fastest time when I hit the finish line,â€ he said, â€œand then couldn’t believe it held up when everyone else came in…but sometimes you don’t feel like you’re having a fast race but you are…â€
In the final foursome, Newell took the early lead, lost it in the final stages and then was nipped for second place when Eigenmann out-lunged him at the finish line. The race was staged in a soccer stadium with snow laid over a 500-meter course, which included several small rises.
â€œI tried to ski from the front,â€ Newell explained. â€œI had a good start and got the â€˜hole shot’ [first inside turn]. I led the first lap.â€
Fredriksson, the 2003 sprint world champion in addition to his Olympic medal, overtook Newell on a short climb during the final lap and stayed out front.
â€œIt’s so much about patience…â€
Newell was the lone American racing because Torin Koos (Leavenworth, WA) returned home after European races following the Olympics because he’s been battling a nagging sickness for more than a month, Head Coach Trond Nystad said. In addition, the Ski Team ran into problems trying to get a visa for Kikkan Randall (Anchorage, AK) to race in Changchun.
â€œWe beat all the Norwegians,â€ Loefshus laughed. â€œBut I’ve said before that Newell and Koos and Kikkan – and Chris Cook [Rhinelander, WI], too – can do it. It’s so much about patience but that’s cross country, and it just takes time…and they’re learning that. I hate to say â€˜sacrifice’ but, in this case, it’s correct – they’re all willing to make the sacrifice necessary to win, to challenge…â€
Newell will join fellow Olympian Andrew Johnson (Greensboro, VT) in a sprint relay on the weekend in Sapporo, Japan – site of the 2007 World Nordic Ski Championhips – and said he planned to finish the World Cup season Sunday in a 30K pursuit. â€œIt’s been a while since I skied a distance race,â€ he said, â€œsince before Christmas, so we’ll see what happens.â€
In the women’s sprint, Norwegian Marit Bjoergen won with Canadian Beckie Scott second. No U.S. women raced.
The victory gives Bjoergen a 66-point lead over Scott with one race remaining, the women’s pursuit in Sapporo.
VIESSMAN CROSS COUNTRY WORLD CUP
(First World Cup race in China)
Changchun, CHN – March 15, 2006
Men’s 1K FR Sprint (4 make finals)
1. Thobias Fredriksson, Sweden
2. Christoph Eigenmann, Switzerland
3. Andy Newell, Shatsbury, Vt.
4. Bjoern Lind, Sweden
(No other Americans raced)
Women’s 1K FR Sprint
1. Marit Bjoergen, Norway
2. Beckie Scott, Canada
3. Ella Gjoemle, Norway
4. Guro Stroem Solli, Norway
(No U.S. women raced)
Source: US Ski Team