Jesse Vaeaenaenen sure is a mouthful of a name. Apparently he’s a lot to handle in a classic sprint, too.
In Otepaa, Estonia today, Vaeaenaenen (FIN) edged Andy Newell in their quarterfinal by a tiny margin, relegating the American to third place in the heat and ending his day.
While it was an unexpected early departure from the rounds for Newell, he wrote in an e-mail that the race didn’t leave him too disappointed. His fitness is “the best it has been all year,” his double pole is “stronger than it has ever been,” and he is already looking forward to the next block of racing at the World Cup in Canmore and the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Unlike Saturday’s individual distance races, the classic sprint was very competitive. According to U.S. Ski Team Coach Justin Wadsworth, reached by phone earlier today, the race was “big time” for countries who have yet to decide on their starters for the classic sprint in the Olympics, making for a “super-strong field with a lot of motivated athletes.”
Sweden’s Emil Joensson beat out Ola Vigen Hattestad (NOR) by a hair in the final to take the victory, with a Russian, Nikita Kruikov, in third. Joensson and Hattestad skied all three of their heats together, with the Swede winning each time (albeit by diminishing margins), and his win in Otepaa makes him a favorite for the event at the Games, especially given his past successes at the Olympic venue in Whistler.
After feeling good early in the day and qualifying in sixth with a fast pair of skis, Newell said that he was feeling even better warming up for the heats. His heat unfolded just like he wanted it to, as Newell said he was able to stay in control and then attack the last 400 meters of the race.
“There were three of us coming into the final 100 really close together,” Newell said, “and we each had our own track.”
“I was actually slightly ahead of the guy that edged me as we came to the finish, and sometimes when you’re in that position it can be easy to lunge too early—which I probably did,” he said. “He just must have carried more momentum over the line. When we crossed I thought I had it. I couldn’t believe my eyes when they showed the replay—it was one of the closest lunges I’ve ever been in.”
An Estonian, Peeter Kummel, ended up winning the heat, with Newell and Vaeaenaenen in a photo finish for the second and last spot in the semifinals. The heat ended up being the second-slowest of the five quarterfinals–not fast enough for Newell to advance as a lucky loser.
After a long block of racing in Europe, Newell is now headed to Vermont for some training leading up to the pre-Olympic World Cup sprint in Canmore.
One silver lining he can take home with him is his technique. Wadsworth said that Newell’s double poling in the race was some of the best that he had ever seen from him.
“He’s in good shape and going in the right direction,” Wadsworth said. “Today was not a good indicator.”
Canadian Stefan Kuhn qualified for the heats in 28th, but failed to advance out of his first heat.
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.