Lahti, Finland – Petter Northug (NOR) continued his winning ways, edging teammate Ola Vigen Hattestad by inches at the line in the men’s 1.5 km freestyle sprint. Torin Koos led three Americans in the heats, finishing 12th.
Hattestad, who had won 5 of 6 sprint starts this season, was unable to stop Northug’s roll. Neither of the two Norwegians qualified at the top – Hattestad was 14th and Northug 20th. This was normal for Hattestad who does not dominate in qualifying, and Northug clearly had the capacity to overcome the long course and multiple rounds.
The two pulled away from the rest of the field in the A-final, and lunged desperately for the line. Photos showed Northug with a slight advantage, and the young Norwegian kept his winning streak alive. He won all three of his starts at the Liberec World Championships, and all in the last several hundred meters of the race – the pursuit, the relay and the 50km.
“I had a good race today and was getting better and better in shape during it,” said Northug. “I was only 20th in the qualification but then it went better from the quarterfinals on.” The victory moved him within striking distance of Dario Cologna (SUI) for the overall World Cup lead. Cologna finished 37th, and scored no points today.
I am now 103 points behind Dario and we have still some good races left,” continued Northug. “In Trondheim a lot of Norwegians will come to see our fight – it is great that it is so tight – that makes it exciting. I will for sure try to make some good points in the classical sprint in Trondheim – it is not my favorite race but I will give my best and then for sure it will be an exciting Mass start with the new intermediate sprint system.”
Hattestad now has five victories and 2 second places in his seven sprint starts this season. “I’m happy with my second place. Not everything went well today but my goal was to win today the overall sprint ranking and I did that. Now I will try to fight in the next sprints to get back on the top of the podium.”
Hattestad wrapped up the Sprint Cup with his performance. He successfully defended his title from last season.
Northug won one of the sprints in the Tour de Ski, but hadn’t finished better than 11th in a straight WOrld Cup sprint this season.
Nikolay Morilov (RUS), the bronze medalist at the World Championships in this event, finished third. “I’m satisfied with my podium place today. It is great to be in third place as well in Lahti after the bronze medal in Liberec. I had a good race and good skis, and it is great to ski in front of this audience!”
Norway took 3 of the top 4 spots. Veteran Oystein Pettersen finished just off the podium in fourth. Italian Renato Pasini was 5th, and Alexei Petukhov (RUS) joined teammate Morilov in the A-Final, claiming the final spot.
The US started the day in fine fashion, qualifying 3 skiers for the heats in a stacked field. Andy Newell led the way in 7th, Torin Koos followed in 26th and Chris Cook squeaked through in 30th, just .06 seconds ahead of Axel Teichmann (GER).
Both Koos and Cook moved up. Cook was eliminated in the quarterfinals, but placed 25th on the day, his best result in a European World Cup since his career best 14th in Estonia in November 2007. Following on the heels of his 37th in Liberec, Cook has strung several strong races together.
Koos fared even better, advancing out of the quarterfinals. After failing to advance to the A-Final, he finished last in the B-Final to end the day in 12th.
“For Torin, it was a good race. Had things gone more his way, it would have been a pretty different outcome,” U.S. Cross Country Coach Patrick Casey said. “He was skiing top six, but ended up getting turned around on a pretty scrappy course.”
Excluding the World Championships (where he fell in qualification) Koos has now scored World Cup points in his last five starts. A strong finish in the final sprints of the season could give him a shot at qualifying for the Red Group.
Newell failed to advance from the quarterfinals, finishing 17th. He finished third in his heat, behind Hattestad and another Norwegian, John Kristian Dahl, who won the B-Final.
Other US finishers included Garrott Kuzzy in 71st, and Colin Rodgers in 78th. 84 skiers completed the men’s event.
No Canadian men advanced. Alex Harvey was he closest in 35th. Devon Kershaw ws 41st, George Grey 68th and Dave Nighbor 73rd.
Racing continues tomorrow with a 15km individual start freestyle.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.