Valdidentro, Italy – Torin Koos (USA) skied to his best ever freestyle World Cup finish, finishing 8th today in the 1.7km sprint. Ola Vigen Hattestad (NOR) continued his unprecedented domination of the sprint circuit.
Hattestad skied to his 5th World Cup victory in 6 starts this season. His only “loss” was a second place finish to Emil Joensson (SWE) in Whistler. Hattestad sat out the sprint in Rybinsk, Russia two weeks ago due to the cold temperatures. The entire Norweigan team opted not to start that day.
The victory today did not come easily. Hattestad barely edged out Alexey Petukhov (RUS) and Joensson, for a .2 second victory in the A-Final. The race for second was even closer, with Petukhov getting the nod in the photo finish.
Norweigan Eirik Brandsdal posted the fastest time in the qualification round, 1.06 seconds ahead of Martti Jylhae (FIN). Brandsdal advanced to the A-Final, where he fell, finishing 6th, his first ever World Cup top-10 finish in 4 starts.
Said Hattestad, “It was an amazing race today. I felt a bit tired but at the end I had enough power to make it. The course is nice to ski but I must say I was not in favor of these longer distances in sprint races before the season. But now they seem to fit me well as I am the leader of the Sprint World Cup.”
Hattestad only needs five more World Cup sprint points to lock up the overall Sprint World Cup title. At this point it would take serious injury, illness, or other extreme misfortune to prevent the young Norwegian from defending his sprint title.
As with many skiers, Joensson has been focusing on the World Championships. “Today the race was up and down for me. I didn’t expect to feel so good after the hard training period. But I am happy now with the podium and looking forward to the Sprint in Liberec. It is a nice course here in Valdidentro, and well prepared, but it was really windy and that made the race hard.”
Koos followed in the tracks of teammate Kikkan Randall, who also had a stellar day on the course, posting a season best 6th place in qualification, +2.29 seconds, and just over a second out of 2nd place. This was also his best qualification as measured by FIS points, a function of percent back from the winner.
Koos skied well in his quarterfinal, controlling the race and ensuring his advancement to the semis. Unfortunately that heat did not go as well. Said Koos, “the semifinals were today’s biggest disappointment. I just couldn’t find an open track and felt boxed in the whole way.” But with the B-Finals ahead, he regrouped and made sure that there would be no repeat of the semis. “In the B-Final, I wasn’t going to let that happen again and led the whole thing until Pasini got me by two-tenths of a second at the finish.”
Koos has historically seen his best results in classic sprints, but now has this 8th to go with a 4th in a freestyle team sprint with Andy Newell just before Christmas. When asked about this improvement, Koos responded, “I think the results in skating are coming as I round into better race shape. The classic results will be there as well when the race opportunities present themselves – in Trondheim and Stockholm and in the sprint relay.”
The World Championship sprint in Liberec is freestyle while the team sprint is classic.
Summed up Koos, “I didn’t do anything differently today. I just have a good feeling on the skis along with improving fitness and speed.”
Koos’ teammate Andy Newell fell in the qualification round, finishing a disappointing 47th. “It was going well but somehow I managed to go down on the last little downhill into the stadium. I don’t even really know what happened, definitely a bummer, Newell told FasterSkier. But seeing Randall and Koos battling for the podium softened the blow. “It makes me feel better about crashing when there are other members of the team in the finals to represent.”
Newell will race tomorrow’s 15km classic, while Koos has yet to make a final decision on that race. At the prospect of contesting his first distance event in some months, Newell said “It’s been a while since I’ve done one of those so we’ll see how it goes. My fitness is good so I just need to figure out how to distance race again.”
With a full team in Europe for the upcoming World Championships, a number of other North Americans competed.
Phil Widmer led Canada, qualifying in 21st and finished 22nd on the day, his second time in the World Cup points this season. His teammate Alex Harvey missed out on the top 30 by only .14 seconds, finishing 32nd. Sean Crooks (CAN) was 44th.
Chris Cook finished 51st for the US in a large and highly competitive field. 78 skiers contested the race with all the top skiers present. Garrott Kuzzy rounded out the US contingent, finishing 59th.
6.63 seconds separated 1st and 30th, with the same margin spacing 30th and 65th.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.