Today was the final of three race days in Oberhof. With numerous of the top sprint specialists not pariticipating in the Tour de Ski, it opened the door to others to get a taste of sprint action such as Matti Heikkinen, Simen Ostensen, and Jens Filbrich. The weather seemed to co-operate more or less and even though there a skiff of snow, it seemed that every athlete had decent skis. The first classic sprints in the Tour’s history didn’t dissapoint as the semis and finals were very exciting for spectators and nerve-racking for coaches and servicemen alike.
In qualification, there were some suprises including Heikkinen, who was all the way up in 9th who was 3.5 seconds faster than sprint specialist and arguably one of the most consistant qualifiers on the World Cup circuit Andrew Newell. Also, we saw the likes of Ivan Alypov proving why he should be on the Russian team as he was fifth and Jens Filbrich who squeaked into the heats with the 29th fastest time in qualification. On the women’s side, the diminuitive Ukranian Valentina Shevchenko who qualified 18th, the second best sprint placing in the 34 year-olds World Cup career. Those who unexpectadly failed to qualify included Jacobsen, Fabjan and Nystad.
Heats – Women
The quarter finals were fairly straight forward with the majority of the top seeded skiers going though to the next round. The biggest name not to go through was Kristoffersen who qualfied 9th but ultimately ended up 26th. The biggest new in the semis was Prochazkova falling on the big downhill but managed to ski well enough to qualify for the final amazingly. The suprise face in the women’s final was Størmer-Steira who skied very smart to get into the final six. Prior to this race, the Norwegian had only qualified for a sprint race two other times, both last March but failed to make it out of the quarters. The final started with an insane pace with Majdic leading the way and found the other five stuggling very early on. The only one who seemed to recover and keep the pace was Kowalczk while the others were in their own race 15 meters back. Coming down the big right hander Prochazova fell again, and I’m sure she was infuriated with thoughts of “you can make a thousands mistakes in your
life, just don’t make the same one twice” running rapidly through her head. Saarinen had a valient effort and managed to get back into the mix but then Majdic kicked again and opened up a gap on both Kowalczyk and Saarinen to comfortably ski to the victory. Kowalczyk easily held off Saarinen for second place. Looking at the results sheet, it shows how fast the pace Majdic set as first to fifth place was seperated by 10.4 seconds.
1. Petra Majdic
2. Justyna Kowalczyk
3. Aino Kaisa Saarinen
With the win, it pulls Majdic slightly closer to the lead but still sits in fourth in the overall standings. The remaining places didn’t change as Kowalczyk still sits atop the pile with Saarinen and Størmer-Steira still behind her.
Heats – Men
The heats were as tight as ever but it was business as usual with only one skier falling on the downhill (Jens Filbrich) that cause so many anxious moments today. He took it in good humor – as he probably knew he had a slim chance of qualifying for the semis – and bowed to the crowd coming down the finishing straight.
The first semi is when the real action started. Simen Østesen ate snow pretty had just before the big downhill right hander and took a while to get up. I think it was more disbelief that he fell rather than injury. He immediately showed his frustration by using his remaining pole as an axe against the nearby fence and breaking it in half. Jönsson, who is probably my favorite skiers to watch when in top form, cruised to the heat victory with a burst of his signature “turbo” that nobody can match, especially when it comes to diagonal stride.
The second semi saw Rønning dominate by opening up a 10 meter lead at the far beginning of the finishing stretch and calmly did enough to retain the top stop as he cross the finish line comfortably in top spot while Northug had to out duel Pankratov who was fast approaching on his right side. It’s a good thing he did because the Norwegian got one of the lucky loser spots while Pankratov had to settle for 7th on the day.
The final was definitely the highlight of today’s racing, best described as “it ain’t over til it’s over”. Jönsson was out front and in charge for a large portion of the race. Rønning kept on trying to control the pace but Jonsson was rather stubborn and used his “turbo” to regain the lead. Coming into the final straight it was Jönsson leading with Rønning breathing down his neck. They got a little tangled up going up a short steep pitch before the 90 degree right hander which gave Alypov a chance to get in the mix. As Alypov came screaming up behing Jönsson in an attempt to pass, his ski tip hit tha back of Jönsson’s boot and cause him to loose balance and fall back onto his butt. To add insult to injury, as Teichmann attempted to pass on the inside, he stepped over the Swede’s pole and snapped it in half.
The final stretch was a three man sprint with Ronning, Alypov, and Northug; who took the wide route around the chaos on the corner and came out unscathed. Ronning had enough of a lead to win by a margin of 5 meters while Northug didn’t have enough sprint left in him to overtake Alypov and had to settle for third. I’ll try to post the final heat on youtube and post a link to it tomorrow because it’s truly a joy to watch.
I’m not sure if the Swedish team put in a complaint or the jury made the decision without it, but Alypov was denied his second place and demoted to last place in the heat because of over agressive skiing and subsequently taking out Jonsson in the process. This meant a Norwegian 1-2 and Axel Teichmann was promoted to the bronze medal position.
1. Eldar Rønning
2. Petter Northug
3. Axel Teichmann
With the win, Rønning moves up to fourth overall while Teichmann and Jönsson sit second and third respectively.
Notes: Jesper Modin dropped out after the first stage, which I’m assuming was due to sickness. Today saw Roger Djupvik out after getting sick and Boehler on the women’s side did not start the race.