You had to feel for them. After four years of build-up, the top American sprinters here had a disastrous morning in the sprint qualifer, with Andy Newell crashing in an icy corner and Torin Koos never getting comfortable on his skis.
“I’m crushed for Newell; I’m crushed for Koos,” said John Farra, who oversees the American cross country program for the United States Ski and Snowboard association. “What do you do? You want to hug these guys.”
They were stoic in defeat—both stood in the mixed zone for some tough questions from media. But the sense of disappointment was palpable.
The results from Newell and Koos overshadowed a strong qualifier from Simi Hamilton, a late addition to the American Olympic team, who squeaked into the rounds with a 29th. Farra said Hamilton was so relaxed that it looked like he was skiing a 50k.
The Canadians also put two of their men in the heats, led by an on-form Stefan Kuhn in tenth. He was just four seconds behind the winner, Russia’s Alexander Panzhinskiy, and ahead of a few hardened sprint veterans like Sweden’s Bjoern Lind. Devon Kershaw was 24th, the only other Canadian to qualify.
Kuhn looked sharp in Canmore, but he’ll have to ski a disciplined set of heats if he wants to advance. In the Canmore sprint, he went out hard, leading out his quarterfinal before fading at the finish. At his home Olympics, it could be even harder for Kuhn to restrain himself, but his fitness is clearly good enough to at least crack the semis.
For the Americans though, the men’s results are another setback after some poor results in Monday’s 15k skate.
Newell said that he felt great skiing, but caught on some ice on the course’s toughest corner.
The conditions today were dicey, with transformed snow hardened into a hard, icy crust that hadn’t had time to melt in the morning sun. The women looked very tentative on their skis, especially on the corners, and Newell had no time to see how the men’s field was approaching them, as he was just the second starter to go out.
“I was trying to be conservative on those corners,” Newell said, but added that the klister the Americans were using made things tricky. “Squirrely on those skis, you know?
Garrott Kuzzy, the fourth American sprinter today, said he saw his teammate go down on the stadium Jumbotron before his own start. Newell’s crash, Kuzzy said, happened on the worst part of the course to lose your momentum, since the downhill corner went straight into an uphill.
Impressively, Newell still managed to be within five seconds of qualifying.
Koos said that he didn’t sleep well last night, and just never got going. The result was particularly difficult for him to explain after last week’s second place in the qualifier in Canmore.
“The body’s fine; I’m in good shape,” he said. “Things don’t change in a week or ten days.”
But the conditions just didn’t suit him, especially on the downhills.
“It was pretty icy—I didn’t feel super-comfortable with the snow,” said Koos. “Maybe I just wasn’t matching my technique…I was just having a little bit of trouble with the feel of the ski on the snow.”
But he didn’t excuse the result, adding that successful skiers have to be able to tackle all types of courses and all kinds of conditions. Today, Koos said, he just didn’t have that “pop.”
From here, Koos said that he and Newell will most likely be racing the team sprint together.
“All we can do is take what we got here, and move on,” he said.
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.