The sprints were long and the weather was on the chilly side – with most athletes wearing their buffs or a type of neckwarmer on – but that didn’t mean it was a boring day on the tracks. The conditions were sub par with snow covering the tracks which made it slow going in the qualification and even slower in the knock-out with times over four minutes. The surprises start early in Rogla with some big names not qualifying for the top 30. Especially since it was a classic sprint; bread and butter for Norwegian sprinters. The event went by quicker than usual as the B-finals were cancelled for the race, I’m not sure why though.
It was the usual suspects in the women’s rose to the front with Bjørgen, Kowalcyzk, Majdic, Haag, Saarinen, and Andersson hitting the start line for the A-final. It appeared that Majdic had the motivation and the home crowd behind her back to win as she went out of the gate like a rocket only to slip to the back of the pack after starting too hard. Though, she did recover and put herself back in a good position for the finish stretch, she burned too much energy at the start and subsequently failed to keep pace with Kowalczyk and Bjørgen.
1. Marit Bjørgen
2. Justyna Kowalczyk
3. Petra Majdic
(Note all three of my picks made it into the top 4 )
Note: The Swedish women had a very good day, even though they failed to make the podium they placed four athletes inside the top 11.
On the men’s side, it was last weeks winner Dahl who failed a top 30 qualifying time, and was joined by Næss and Gløersen on the side-lines. Rather surprising considering how strong they are in classic sprints. The final included the presence of Angerer, Cologna, Northug, Kruikov, Newell, and Northug. You could tell it was a long, hard course as only half of those athletes are considered true sprint specialists. The pack was tight until the final uphill when Northug scrambled to the front of the pack and lead the charge to the finish as Angerer and Modin were left to fight it out for silver and bronze.
1. Petter Northug
2. Tobias Angerer
3. Jepser Modin
Notes: It’s very interesting that this is not the first time Angerer has been on the podium for a sprint race. He grabbed a bronze three seasons ago in Rybinsk and in 2003 in Reit im Winkl he place third. Cologna seems to be coming back into his own after back to back weekends where he has qualified in the top 5. He must have been spurred on by the news that he was named Swiss Best Newcomer of the Year last weekend (his trainer Fredrik Auckland was fittingly named Trainer of the Year). Unfortunately, I don’t believe he has the top end speed like the sprint specialists (or Northug) to truly challenge for the win in those last 150-200m. An athlete I’ve been very impressed with this year is the Swedish monster Jesper Modin who has a very bright future ahead of him. I’d definitely keep an eye on him for the sprints in Vancouver.
North American Watch:
Other than Newell’s impressive 6th and first A-final of the year, it was a very disappointing day for North America skiers. Newell was the only male to qualify while none of the females did. Hopefully some R&R over the Christmas break will recharge their batteries. On the other side of the Atlantic in Canmore, the first classic sprint was run with Dasha Gaiazova and Stefan Kuhn winning the long 1.45km and 1.7km sprints. Results for men and women.
Alex Harvery has talked about how he wants to change the way mass starts are run, which he successfully did last year in Trondhiem. If the conditions are anything like they were today, then it’ll be very difficult to break the pack apart which falls in favour of Northug. As always, I have a hard time believing there’ll be any real big surprises on the women’s side. Here’s how I see it playing out.
1. Petter Northug
2. Sami Jauhojaervi
3. Vincent Vittoz
1. Justyna Kowalczyk
2. Irina Khazova
3. Kristin Størmer Stiera