Natalie Mateeva of Russia won the season opening World Cup event in Dusseldorf, Germany. The 21 year-old qualified 9th in the freestyle event and proceeded to win 2 of her 3 heats enroute to victory. Last season's Russian National Champion in the sprint topped her previous best World Cup result – a 2nd place last winter in Changchun, China.
Marit Bjoergen (NOR) started off the season on a strong note after a disappointing 2006/2007. Qualifiying in fourth, she won her quarterfinal and semi final heats before Mateeva skied away in the final.
Pirjo Muranen (FIN) (formerly Manninen) won an extremely tight qualification round over teammate Kirsi Peraelae by 7/100 of a second. Virpi Kuitunen made it 3 for 3 for Finland in qualifying another third of a second back. Last year's overall World Cup winner ended up in 11th. Muranen dropped to 6th, and Peraelae did not make it out of the first round, finishing in 26th.
Mateeva's qualifying time of 1:48.13 was just under 1.5 second behind the winner in qualification. In the sprint format, the top 30 finishers in the qualification round advance to the heats.
Canadian and Olympic Sprint Gold Medalist Chandra Crawford qualified in 24th and skied up during the heats, finishing a strong 10th and just missing advancing to the A-final by a mere tenth of a second. Crawford's teammate Perianne Jones finished 41st, 2.5 seconds out of the top 30.
â€œI learned really quickly about what it means to get back on the snow and fight with six girls. It is a huge shock to the system after six months of training on our own,â€ said Crawford, who powered her way through the streets of downtown D?sseldorf, which were lined with thousands of screaming fans. â€œIt was great to welcome the start of winter again today, and I was thrilled with my performance and ability to regroup and meet the challenge.â€
– No American women raced.
– 11 Nations were represented in the heats (Russia, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, Finland, Germany, Canada, France, Japan, Slovenia).
– The top seven spots went to different nations (Russia, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, Finland, Germany).
– 7 of the top 20 qualifiers were 24 years-old or younger.
– 1.1 seconds separated the top eight qualifiers.
Full results can be viewed at the FIS website.
Contributing Sources: FIS, Skidsport.com, Cross-Country Canada
Anna Dahlberg (SWE) on her way to a third place finish (Photo Credit: Fischer)