Whistler, British Columbia – Alena Prochazkova (SLV) won her first ever World Cup, edging Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) at the line in the women’s classic sprint. Prochazkova won the qualifying round and each of her heats en route to victory. Her previos best finsh was a third in the same event in Kuusamo last year. The 24 year old looked strong all day on the challenging 1.3km course.
“It is amazing – I took today my first ever World Cup victory and I am really, really happy. It was a great race on a great course. I like to ski here, but next year we will have a lot of favourites.”
Kowalczyk made an impressive comeback allowing her to reach the A-Final. She tangled with Italian Magda Genuin on the first hill leaving the stadium. Genuin broke a pole, and Kowalczyk fell to her knees. She appeared out of the race, but another crash involving several of the leaders allowed her to ski back into it. She showed impressive fortitude, maintaining the intensity despite sitting at least 30 meters off the pace after the fall. She overtook Swede Ida Ingemarsdotter to advance to the final.
“I am happy with my race today, it is fantastic to be second in a sprint race. The course is a tough course, there is one 180° curve and it is not easy to ski. I had great ski’s and tried to catch Alena on the last downhill but she was stronger today.”
Anna Olsson, one of four Swedes in the heats, finished third. “I am really satisfied with my race. I had a tough time last year and as well in the summer. I couldn’t train like I want. I was sick and I needed a long time to recover. Now, I am happy with my podium place.”
North America qualified six skiers for the heats, but none advanced out of the quarterfinals. Kikkan Randall, the top North American qualifier in 16th, looked strong early. Russian Natalia Matveeva opened up an early lead, but Randall appeared secure in second, ahead of Swed Britta Norgren. But as the group entered the stadium, Norgren closed on Randall, catching her by the end of the backstretch. The two battled down the finish straight, but Norgren proved to be stronger in the final double pole, and took the second spot. Randall ended the day in 14th, misisng out on a lucky loser spot in the semis.
Canadian Sara Renner suffered a similar fate, skiing to good position entering the final sprint but was unable to close. Italian Marianna Longa edged her by .2 seconds to take the final qualifying spot in the 5th quarterfinal, behind Lina Andersson (SWE). Renner did post her best sprint result of the season, taking home 15th.
“I had a good heart, but I have to work on my arm size,” said the Olympic silver medallist. “It’s a double-pole finish so we’re going to work on that. It’s heartbreaking to be so close.”
Morgan Smyth, the only other American Qualifier and skiing in her first World Cup, was eliminated in her quarterfinal, placing 5th in the heat and ending 25th on the day. She scored her first World Cup points and just reaching the heats should be considered a success for the 22 year old.
Shayla Swanson (CAN) also scored her first World Cup points, finsihing 5th in her quarterfinal and ending up 22nd. Her teammate, Perianne Jones, was also eliminated in the 5th heat, finsihing a place ahead of Swanson. Jones was in the mix for much of the race, but fell back entering the stadium. She was edged by Russian Elena Turysheva in a photo finish and ended up a career best 20th.
The final Canadian Qualifier, Daria Gaiazova, finshed last in her heat and was 30th on the day. This was her first time scoring World Cup points in 10 career starts.
As in the men’s race, there were a number of falls, both on the challenging corners, and elsewhere. The Italian team suffered two broken poles, including the one in the semis by Magda Genuin. Genuin came back storng in the B-Final but was outsprinted by Matveeva at the line.
Sweden placed all four of their qualifiers in the top 12, while Russia took another 3 places. With two Italians in the A and B finals, three nations claimed 9 of the top 12 spots.
Racing continues tomorrow with the 15km pursuit.