Whistler, British Columbia – The US Women’s Sprint Relay team of Liz Stephen and Kikkan Randall skied to a 4th place finish today under sunny skies in Canada. The duo, racing together for the first time, moved up in the last two laps, and closed on the lead pack to finish only .9 seconds off the podium.
The result did not come easy. To even contest the final, Stephen and Randall had to advance out of a tough semi-final heat. Stephen skied the first leg. Italy, aggressive all week, opened up an early lead, with the well rested Magda Genuin leading the charge for the A team. But the pack reeled her in to make a race of it. The US stayed with lead pack. Stephen attacked hard out of the stadium on each loop and they stayed in excellent position for a final kick. Italy pulled away again, and in the last lap, Russia also opened up a cushion. With an automatic qualification spot on the line (the top three from each heat advance, as well the next four fastest times) Randall entered the stadium right behind Sweden’s Britta Norgren. She pulled even coming out of the final corner and they battled down the homestretch. Both women lunged for the line, and the result was unknown for as the Jury examined the finish tape. When word came down, it was the US by a hair. Sweden did qualify as one of the Lucky Losers.
Italy pushed the pace in the final as well, and the team of Genuin and Arianna Follis opened a sizable margin by the halfway mark and the rest of the field was left to fight for second. The US started at the back of the pack, and despite efforts by both Randall and Stephen, were unable to move up and hold a position. Stephen continued to attack leaving the stadium, moving up on the outside of the long climb, by the time the field came back around to the stadium she was sitting toward the back again. Randall fared much the same, and the podium was beginning to look like a long shot as Germany, Sweden , and Russia opened up a six second lead entering the 5th lap. The US sat in 7th, tight with France, Sweden II, and Russia II.
But Stephen attacked one last time, climbing by Russia II, Sweden II, and finally a dying Russia I. The French team moved with Stephen and led by a small margin entering the tag zone. Randall took off for the final leg in 5th, just behind France. Fourth was a real possibility, but the podium was a seemingly insurmountable 7 seconds ahead. Randall attacked France, taking over the fourth position on the last climb. The two entered the backstretch and continued to push. Sweden, comfortably in third started to come back. As Randall powered around the final corner, the podium came within reach. But Olympic Champion Anna Olson had enough left and held off Randall to secure third.
Stephen skied a very consistent race, with lap times of 2:54.2, 2:54.8, and 2:54.2. Randall’s final lap was an impressive 2.7 seconds faster than any other skier on the leg.
Canada did not have any skiers in the final. FasterSkier erroneously reported that the team of Madeleine Williams and Brooke Gosling advanced. They were the first team outside the finals and finished 11th. Canada also took 12th and 13th. Canada made a last minute change to their first team, swapping out Perianne Jones for Brittany Webster. Webster raced with Sara Renner. The change meant that the team had the last seed in the semifinals. They were 13th on the day.
Lindsay Williams and Laura Valaas (US II) finished 14th. Williams appeared to struggle and the team was never in contention in the semis. The US also took 17th and 18th in the 19 team field. Morgan Smyth, who earned her first World Cup points in the individual sprint, had an excellent first lap in the semis, turning in the second fastest time. It appears she may have been a bit aggressive, however, as she dropped of significantly from there.
A large and boisterous crowd supported the athletes. The semis were held in the shade before the sun crested the mountain peaks, making for hard fast snow, and relatively cold temperatures. By the finals, it was warm and sunny, adding to the festive atmosphere. Norweigan World Cup stadium announcer, Kjel Eric, teamed with injured Canadian sprinter Chandra Crawford to provide entertaining commentary throughout the event.
Women’ Team Sprint:
1. Italy I
3. Sweden I
4. United States I
5. France I
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.