Beitostolen, Norway – The start of 2009-2010 season officially began for the US Ski Team with a classic FIS sprint in Beitostolen, Norway. With excellent snow, and the World Cup opener just a week away at the same location, many of the top skiers in the world are using this weekend to prepare.
56 women and 104 men took to the course on a cold day in central Norway. The US started 3 skiers – Andy Newell, Torin Koos and Kikkan Randall, with each finishing in the top 15. Newell led the way, qualifying in 10th place overall, 7.87 seconds in back of top qualifier Simen Ostensen (NOR). Ostensen turned in a dominating performance, besting second-place qualifier, John Kristian Dahl by 3.64 seconds. Newell had the top seed, ahead of even last year’s World Cup Sprint Champion, Ola Vigen Hattestad (NOR). Koos qualified in 13th, +10.27 seconds.
Norway featured 19 of the 30 heat qualifiers, including Petter Northug, Anders Gloersen, and Trond Iversen. Other top qualifiers were Alexander Legkov (RUS), Nikolay Pankratov (RUS) and Fabio Pasini (ITA). Newell and Koos failed to advance out of the quarterfinals, both finishing third in their respective heats. Koos missed advancing as a Lucky Loser by a mere .2 seconds, while Newell was .4 seconds out of the second qualifying spot in the first quarter. Newell finished the day in 14th place, with Koos right behind in 15th. Dahl won each of his heats on his way to victory, edging fellow Norwegian Timo Andre Bakken. Bakken, just 21-years-old, with just two World Cup starts under his belt, may have been the surprise of the day.
Legkov prevented a Norwegian sweep of the podium, crossing the line .4 seconds behind Bakken. Gloersen claimed 4th, Maxim Vylegzhanin (RUS) was 5th, and Eirik Brandsdal completed the A-final.
Randall, coming off a seaosn in which she won World Championship silver, qualified a strong 7th, 6.33 seconds behind World Cup Sprint Champion Petra Majdic (SLO). Majdic and teammate Katja Visnar went 1-2 in the qualification round, with just .2 seconds separating the two women. Celine Brun Lie was third, +2.78. Slovenia had an excellent round with Vesna Fabjan (6th) joining Majdic and Visnar in the top-10. Randall advanced out her quarterfinal, finishing second to Norwegian Kerianne Bjellanes by just .1 seconds. The two outdistanced the rest of the heat by nearly two seconds.
Randall did not fare as well in the semis, finishing 5th, 6.2 seconds back. She still ended the day in 9th overall. Majdic led wire to wire, winning each of her heats, including two by over two seconds. 19-year-old Maiken Falla (NOR) was 2nd and Kari Gjeitnes, 3rd. Bjellanes took 4th, Ingri Tyldum (NOR) 5th, and Visnar, 6th.
Overall this appears to be a solid start for the American team, especially for Randall. Last season she had a slow start, coming off a summer interrupted by serious health issues. She has always been a stronger skater as well, so advancing to the semis in a classic sprint this early in the season is a good thing.
The men surely hoped to make it out of the quarterfinals, but Newell reported, via Twitter that he felt slow, and Koos’ qualification round was solid. No one will be looking at these results in a week, so hopefully the US skiers are still rounding into top race shape and this is not a continuation of some of the issues they had in advancing last year.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.