Liberec, Czech Republic – Kris Freeman (USA), battling compartment syndrome, turned in his best result in six years, finishing 4th in the men’s 15km classic in Liberec. Veteran Andrus Veerpalu (EST) edged hometown favorite Lukas Bauer (CZE) for the gold.
The 38-year old Veerpalu, skiing in his eighth World Championships, trailed Bauer for much of the race, taking over the lead after the 12 kilometer mark and skiing to a 6.3 second victory. Veerpalu won the World Championship gold in Lahti in 2001. A stronger classic skier, the veteran Estonian had only four top-10 World Cup finishes this season, none better than 7th, until today.
“In the morning I felt that I was in the good shape but there was trouble with the weather,” said Veerpalu. “I chose no wax skis at the last moment and it was the right decision today. I didn’t start fast. I enjoyed the first lap and I pushed hard in the second and third lap. On the last hill I gave everything.
“I am very happy and also feel a bit sorry for Lukas – it is his second time behind me and this time in front of his home crowd.”
Bauer, the defending overall World Cup Champion, has been focusing on these World Championships for some time. Racing on his home snow, it would be a perfect opportunity to claim his first World Championship medal. He skied fast out of the start, and held steady throughout the race, but Veerpalu had just a bit more over the last kilometers.
“It was very hard race for me and also for others,” said Bauer. “I was very nervous, much more than before other races. I was satisfied when our service team chose micro-contact skis. I was very satisfied the whole race but in the end I wasn’t strong enough. I also had slippery skis towards the end of the race. I’d like to start in Sunday’s Pursuit and also in the 50 km, but the most important race for me is over.”
Matti Heikkinen (FIN) was the surprise bronze medalist, 16.4 seconds behind Veerpalu. Heikkinen had never even finished on a World Cup podium before today.
“It was a surprising day for me. Yesterday I thought that I could be in top fifteen and top ten would be great. I gave it my all and was pushing hard at the end of the race. During the race I realized I can get a medal and I pushed and pushed – I’m able to go over my body’s limit which maybe some of you saw at the finish. But I am fine now – I needed only a little recovery time.”
Freeman, the top US distance skier, missed out on a medal by just 1.4 seconds.
The Canadians were led by George Grey in a strong 21st. Devon Kershaw was a disappointing 37th, 3.7 seconds behind teammate Alex Harvey in 36th. Chris Butler was 54th.
For the US, Freeman was followed by James Southam in 49th and Chris Cook in 52nd.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.