Whistler Sprint Preview

Topher SabotJanuary 16, 2009

The Whistler World Cups are set to get under way tomorrow morning with the individual classic sprint.  Nine American men and 17 Canadian men will contest the 1.6km event.  The course has been lengthened from the original 1.4km course that many skiers raced on at Canadian Nationals last year, and trained on in the spring.  The increase is due to an attempt by the FIS to prevent double poling classic sprints.

The field, as expected, is small, lacking depth.  But the high end will certainly impress.  Overall World Cup sprint leader, Ola Vigen Hattestad of Norway, is here and will attempt to add to his points total.  He won all three sprints prior to the Tour de Ski and is the clear favorite.  Sweden has a strong contingent, with Emil Joensson and Bjoern Lind leading the charge.  Both are threats for podium places.

Italy and Russia also have full squads, most of whom are racing the sprint.  French skiers Cyrli Miranda and Rhoddy Darragon are also legitimate contenders.

So nothing is a given.  The heats will be hotly contested and top finishes hard-earned.  USST Coach Chirs Grover sees the podium as the goal, telling FasterSkier that if the team leaves Canada without a top three finish in at least one event, it will be a major disappointment.

The US Team is healthy and well-prepared according to Grover.  Last year’s mediocre results (overall) in Canmore led to some changes, and athletes have rested somewhat more leading into these races.  For the younger skiers, this is an opportunity to gain valuable experience and potentially points.  For the veterans, the pressure is on, with expectations high.  The pressure, added Grover, should be significant for these athletes – just like it will be for the Olympics.

The sprint course tomorrow will most likely require striding, and is wide, with plenty of room to pass.  This should eliminate some of the potential for bad-luck crashes.

The women race a somewhat shorter, 1.3km course that is the same as last year’s Canadian Nationals loop.  Kikkan Randall will lead the US contingent, and Sara Renner will be the Canadian Favorite.  With Chandra Crawford on the shelf due to injury, the Canadian threat is significantly dulled, but Perianne Jones, among others could impress.  Laura Valaas should be considered as the next best US skier behind Randall, and she is usually strong in the this event.

As with the men, Italy features a full and impressive line-up of skiers.  The Swedes have also brought their top sprinters, and Poland’s Justyna Kowlczyk could be considered the favorite.  Slovenia, minus star Petra Majdic, will start three, two of whom will contend for the podium.  Finland’s Mona Lisa Malhaveto will also be in the running.

So as with the men’s field, the women’s features plenty of talent.  The depth is not on par with a European World Cup, and there are plenty of spots up for grabs in the top-30.  But a spot in the A-Final will not be easy to come by.

Racing begins at 9:30 with the women’s qualification, followed by the men at 9:55.

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Topher Sabot

Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.

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