After a day of respite, nature hit back at the U-23 Championships this morning with a four-inch dose of snow, then with the same wet fog that already plagued two of three races here.
The shifty weather didn’t upset the established hierarchy in Hinterzarten, though, and it was a Finn, Kerttu Niskanen, who took the second win in a row for her country at this level. She was followed by two Russians in second and third, Alevtina Tanygina and Svetlana Nikolaeva, both of whom said that they relished the day’s challenging weather conditions.
The fresh powder combined with an already-tough course made for some tricky skiing, and the American women fell victim to it today. Becca Rorabaugh, the first U.S. finisher in 24th, said that the “fluffy snow in the tracks makes it hard to have a good solid kick.”
A number of women seemed to be struggling to get kick, and two other Americans, Kate Fitzerald and Rosie Brennan, said that they had had trouble with their wax.
Brennan has struggled with a knee injury recently, and she said that for this year, “I need everything to be perfect to really have a good race.”
Recovered from a mild case of the food poisoning that has been working its way through her team, Canada’s Brittany Webster finished fifth, nearly matching Ida Sargent’s result from Tuesday as the best North American result here. (For a post-race interview with Webster, click here.)
Webster ended up some 45 seconds behind Niskanen, and according to Len Valjas, another Canadian athlete, that was after a mild case of food poisoning that has claimed a number of her other teammates.
Like the Americans, Webster also said that she had a slick pair of skis, and that she could have put more energy into her kick. But she also knew that she wasn’t the only one out there struggling.
“It was just the conditions—the tracks are soft, and it’s really slippy,” she said.
Pacing did not seem to be as big of an issue for the women as it was for the men’s race, presumably due to the shorter distance. Niskanen grabbed the lead at the first split and held it all the way through to the finish, and Nikolaeva also started fast.
Webster didn’t quite have negative splits on her three laps, but she moved up relative to the field, advancing from eighth place after her first lap.
As for the Americans, Rorabaugh moved up from 28th to 14th after the second of three laps, but she couldn’t quite hold on, dropping ten places in the final three kilometers.
Pat Casey, the head coach of the U.S. U-23 team, said that the hills out on the course here “magnify any sort of vulnerability—if they got a little bit tired, it looks like they got a lot tired.”
Ida Sargent was the fourth American starter, and she finished 34th. Canada had Kate Brennan and Emily Nishikawa in addition to Webster, and they ended in 22nd and 31st, respectively.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.