The Norweigan team of Ola Vigen Hattestad and Tor Arne Hetland won the first team sprint of the World Cup season. The pair, who took the top two spots in yesterday’s individual freestyle sprint, edged the Swedish team of Bjorn Lind and Thobias Frederickson in a photo finish. Each athlete skiing three legs on the 1.5km course, in the freestyle technique. The race remained close to the last leg with five teams within a second of the lead entering the last leg. Russia finished third, .7 seconds back.
The American team of Andy Newell and Torin Koos had an excellent day, finishing fourth, +4.1 seconds. The duo was the first in the second pack of teams. During the last lap, the top three were able to pull ahead and open up a four second gap on the rest of the field. Italy was fifth, .3 seconds behind the Americans.
Taking the last handoff, Newell stood in 7th place, a significant four seconds off the lead pack. He was able to close the gap and pass France, Italy and the Czech Republic. Both skiers skied extremely well, with Koos posting lap times that ranked 2nd, 2nd, and 4th, and Newell turning in a 9th, a 5th and a 4th.
Newell has been skiing fast lately, qualifying in third and first in the last two individual sprints, but has suffered falls in the heats. Today he again demonstrated he has the fitness and speed to place at the top. Koos’ performance was a bit more surprising as he is traditionally stronger in classic sprints, but demonstrated today that he can be a threat in both disciplines.
“They were due this and today our bad luck with the crashes turned around. It was a great way to end the first phase of races so far this season,” Cross Country Sprint Head Coach Chris Grover said.
The finals featured several crashes. “Andy went off course in a crash but he was up out of it first. From there he skied well and had a good tag,” Grover continued.
With Newell’s unfortunate early exits, Koos not qualifying in a World Cup sprint yet this season, and Kikkan Randall struggling to find the form that led her to the top of the podium last season, the usually strong US sprint squad has not produced the results that US ski fans have become accustomed to in recent years. But today’s result is the high point of the pre-Christmas stretch of the World Cup season and starts the break on a positive note. It also shows the ski world that the US should not be counted out.
In team sprint competition, there are two rounds, with the top three teams in each semifinal advancing to the final, and the next fastest four teams joining them. The US advanced as one of these lucky losers, overcoming a fall and finishing fourth in the heat, 1.4 seconds back. It was a good thing they stayed close as the winning time was nine seconds slower than the second heat.
“Torin fell in the second exchange of the semis, but Andy was able to ski them back up in his leg. They weren’t automatic but they had a fast enough time to advance,” Grover said.
The Canadian duo of Phil Widmer and Sean Crooks failed to advance form the semifinals, finishing 16th. They were 8th in their qualifying heat, 20 seconds out of advancing.
World Cup racing resumes with the start of the Tour de Ski on December 27th. No US skiers will be participating. Canada will likely have several athletes in the event.
Note: At the time of publication, the results on the linked FIS page is missing the 4th place line and does not list the Americans. Download the PDF to see the full results with the US team included.