Andy Newell (USST) got his season off to a strong start by dominating the qualification round in an FIS Classic Sprint in Muonio, Finland. Newell bested second-place finisher Vassili Rotchev (RUS) by just under 2.5 seconds. Torin Koos joined his teammate in the heats, qualifying in 18th.
Newell felt strong heading into the heats and advanced first through the quarterfinals, but was derailed in the semis when he fell trying to move into first on tight corner. He finished 12th on the day and did not get to race in the B-Final. The sprint course in Muonio finishes with two laps on a short 200 meter loop. As he re-entered the stadium after recovering from his fall, Newell saw race organizers blocking the turn into the final loop – the other racers had already entered the loop. Assuming that the officials wanted to end the heat as quickly as possible, he skied into the finish. Unfortunately the organizers were not on the same page, and he was disqualified from the race and prevented from racing in the B-Final and assigned 12th place.
Koos was knocked out in the quarterfinals and finished 15th. While he wasn't thrilled with his placing, he entered the day looking at the event as an opportunity to prepare for World Cup. Said Koos, “the Munio FIS races are really just an opportunity to put on the race bib before the season really gets started. I've had three days skiing and three days of sleeping in Finland after two or three days of travel to get over here. To place 13th isn't great, for an FIS race. Though 13th here in Muonio was decent. I feel quite good with the preparation and this race was a continuation of that. Every day from here on out I'll get feeling better and stronger, just getting into a semblance of sleep pattern and more time on snow.”
Editor's Note: The preliminary results list Koos in 15th. He refers to his place as 13th. It is possible that the initial results were incorrect, or that Torin made a mistake in his correspondence.
Despite the abrupt end to the day, Newell told FasterSkier that he was pleased with how he felt. This weekend of FIS races serves not only as a warm-up for next week's World Cup opener, but also as a measuring stick for off-season training. Said Newell, “There is always a lot of anticipation for the first races, because in a way, you have no idea how it will go. We do roller ski time trials all summer long but it's just not the same as skiing.”
Nikita Kriukov led a Russian sweep of the podium, besting Rotchev and Nikolay Morilov. Rotchev was part of the bronze medal winning sprint relay team at the 2006 Olympics and won the Sprint Gold at the 2005 World Championships. The 22 year-old Morilov has posted impressive sprinting results in the past as well, winning one of the sprints in last year's Tour de Ski and winning the bronze at the U23 Championships.
Overall the Russians took 4 of the top 5 spots and placed 6 in the top 12. The field provided excellent competition with many World Cup skiers tuning up in preparation for next weekend's first World Cup. Strong contingents from Estonia, Finland and the Czech Republic jined the Russians and Americans.
The only other American starter, Chris Cook missed qualifying for the heats by just under a second, and finished 37th.
Kikkan Randall has yet to join the men in Europe, so no US women competed. The women's race boasted a star-studded field, with Slovenian World Cup star and last year's Sprint World Cup winner Petra Madjic taking home the victory. 22 year old defending Russian National Sprint Champion Natalia Matveeva finished second, and German veteran Manuela Henkel took third.
Madjic won the qualification by .78 over Henkel. Katerina Smutna (AUT) qualified in third a significant 2.8 seconds behind the tall Slovenian. She ended up 6th. Defending World Cup Champion Virpi Kuitunen (FIN) qualified in 7th and maintained her position through the heats.
Racing continue tomorrow with a 10/15km classic event. Koos, Cook and Newell are all on the start list, though Newell told FasterSkier that the American men will race Sunday. Currently, Kris Freeman and Newell are the only Americans on Sunday's start list. It is likely that the sprinters were signed up for the races with the idea that a decision on the start would be made after they reached Europe.
The fields look even stronger for the distance races with the top Italian skiers scheduled to start and men's defending World Cup Champion Lukas Bauer (CZE) also joining the fray.