When Simi Hamilton lost a pole and was bounced from his quarterfinal heat, it was up to Ida Sargent to salvage the American hopes in the U-23 skate sprint. She didn’t disappoint.
After qualifying in fourth, Sargent advanced easily through the quarters and semis, faltering only midway through the A-final. After some bad luck and tactical errors by the Americans over the last two days, you could almost hear the sigh of relief from her coaches and teammates.
“Before that A-final, I thought Ida could win that thing,” said Pat Casey, head coach of the American U-23 squad. “I talked to her about it, and she thought she could win that thing, too.”
Sargent was “unbeatable” off the line all day, Casey said, and the final was no different—she was in front headed into the first corner before Mari Laukkanen (FIN) got by. But on the way up the last big climb, she started running out of gas, and Denise Herrmann (GER) and Kathrine Rolsted Harsem (NOR) snuck past.
Laukkanen was well clear of the group by the finish, but Sargent was still close with the others as the group entered the stadium. She just couldn’t quite match the pace at the finish.
“I got a little tired on the second hill, so I lost some time there,” she said, “but I was able to pull it together…I feel like I’m right in there, so it was a really fun day.”
Laukkanen won the qualifier by over a second, then proceeded to sweep every heat en route to her victory, improving on her third place finish in last year’s U-23 classic sprint in France.
Laukkanen actually focuses on biathlon, and she said that her goal for the winter had been to qualify for the Finnish Olympic Team. She didn’t seem too overwhelmed by the win, already whipping out her cell phone just five minutes after the finals.
Laukkanen did have good things to say about Sargent though, noting that the American was right on her heels in their semifinal.
“It’s not surprising,” she said of Sargent. “In sprint, there’s always been a couple of very good [American women].”
None of the three other American women made it out of the quarters. Both Rosie Brennan and Sadie Bjornsen were third in their heats, but neither advanced as lucky losers. Becca Rorabaugh found herself in the snow after getting tangled up on the first climb.
It was clear that Sargent’s finish today gave the rest of her team a big lift, as Hamilton, Rorabaugh, and Peter Kling were all sprinting back and forth across the course during the finals to cheer her on.
“We were hopeful yesterday that we could get that boost,” Casey said. “Coming in last night talking to the U-23 guys, I basically just told them…to break down those limitations and to know that any one of them could be world champions. And I think a couple of them demonstrated today that we weren’t far off of that.”
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.