Kuusamo, Finland – Ola Vigen Hattestad (NOR) picked up where he left off last year, winning the men’s 1.4km classic sprint at the Nordic Opening weekend in Kuusamo, Finland.
Hattestad, the two-time defending World Cup sprint champion, qualified in 9th, before showing the patience and speed that led him to six victories last season. He cruised to a convincing 1 second victory in the A-final over teammate Oystein Pettersen.
Nikita Kriukov (RUS) was 3rd.
“This was great,” Hattestad told Norwegian television. “I was very excited before today’s races and had not expected to win. But with this result, I am probably qualified for the Olympics and can now prioritize them.”
Pettersen was also pleased with his race. “I have been training well since May with no problems with asthma. At the start of the final, I thought that maybe today I could take the victory, but Ola Vigen was simply faster at the end. But still, I’m very happy with my race today and as well with the podium spot.”
Emil Joensson (SWE), always a fast qualifier in classic sprints, set the pace in the prelim. His time of 2:56 was 1.79 seconds ahead of fellow Swede Bjoern Lind, the defending Olympic sprint champion. Hattestad was nearly five seconds back, but the field was extremely tight after him. All 30 qualifiers were within nine seconds of Joensson.
Andy Newell paced the North Americans, qualifying 16th, +6.84, and finishing 7th overall. FIS eliminated the B-Final for this season, so Newell’s final result was based on his semifinal time. Usually an extremely fast qualifier, Newell was a step slower. But that was part of the plan.
“The new way we’ve been training in the summer is to work on our fitness, so it worked out the way we had predicted,” Newell said. “The qualification speed was down. I qualified 16th when I am typically top eight. And that’s exactly what I wanted – slower qualifications and more fitness for the heat. So, it looks like that’s working.”
“It was an OK start to the season for sure. I’m disappointed to not be in the final, because that’s always the goal, but I am in good shape,” Newell said after the race. “I think this gives a lot of confidence going into the sprints. It’s probably one of my better classic sprint results in the last year, so it definitely feels like we’re in the right spot.”
Tweeted Newell, “Wicked course here in Kuusamo. Striding drag race…really fun day!”
The same cannot be said for the rest of the North Americans. Devon Kershaw (CAN) described the race as follows on his Twitter feed – “Worst Day in a long time for Canada in the sprint.” No Canadians qualified for the heats. Alex Harvey was the top man in qualifying, placing 55th. Kershaw was next in 60th, Graham Nishikawa 76th, and Ivan Babikov 82nd.
The fact that Harvey was only four seconds out of the heats is a testimony to the incredible depth of field on the World Cup.
US Sprinter Torin Koos also failed to advance, finishing 48th, 2.8 seconds out of the top-30, and 11.8 behind Joensson.
Kris Freeman also raced, placing 59th, 4.6 seconds from advancing. Freeman has had excellent domestic results in the sprint, and was US National Champion last year. Those performances have not translated to the international circuit, and he has focused on distance racing. But earlier this fall, US Ski Team Head Coach Pete Vordenberg, told FasterSkier, that we might see Freeman in more sprints as part of an effort to improve the US quota for the Olympics, and to give Freeman an opportunity to improve his finishing speed, critical in the now-common mass start formats.
Norway placed three men in the A-final and 5 in the top-10. In addition to Hattestad and Pettersen in the top two spots, John Kristian Dahl was 4th, Johan Kjoelstad 8th, and Eldar Roenning 9th. Roenning and Dhal were the top Norwegian qualifiers in 4th and 6th respectively.
Norwegian sprint coach Ulf Morten Aune was happy with his team’s performance. “Of course we are very pleased to have three men in the finals, and we were not that far from having three on the podium. We are, of course, aware that the competition has improved, but fortunately we were better today when it came to the heats.”
Dahl appeared headed for third, but Kirukov overtook him in the final meters to prevent a Norwegian sweep.
Kalle Lassila (FIN) led the hometown team in a strong 5th, the second-best World Cup result of his career, following a 4th in this same event exactly a year ago.
Top-qualifier Joensson did not start the A-final, leaving him in 6th. He was seen with a large bandage on his thigh, but no official reason for the withdrawal has been announced.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.