Whistler, British Columbia – Marit Bjoergen (NOR), with a bronze medal under her belt already, set herself up for a run for the gold in the women’s classic sprint. Bjoergen posted the fastest qualifying time on the 1.4km course at Whistler Olympic Park.
With cold weather overnight, and clear skies for a change, the track was hard and fast. Bjoergen posted a time of 3:38.05 on the relatively long Whistler course. Finland’s Aino-Kaisa Saarinen was just behind in 2nd, .77 seconds back.
As is sometimes the case in the women’s race there was a significant gap before 3rd place finisher Anna Olsson (SWE). Olsson was just under 4 seconds behind Bjoergen. The 34-year-old Olsson won gold in the team sprint four years ago in Italy, and now looks to add to that.
Kikkan Randall posted one of her best classic qualifying results ever, finishing 10th, 6.92 seconds of the lead in a very tough field. While not considered a contender for a medal in the classic sprint, Randall is clearly in good form today, and will be competitive in the heats, and could surprise.
She will be joined in the heats by two Canadians – Dasha Gaiazova and Chandra Crawford qualified in 17th and 18th respectively, just .28 seconds apart. These are great results for the two women. Gaiazova has been skiing well all year, and is making the most of her first Olympic start. Crawford, meanwhile, the defending gold medalist in the sprint, has battled back from injuries, and like Randall, has improved her classic sprinting to the point where she can compete with the best.
All of the top sprinters qualified – no surprises on the outside looking in. Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) was 5th, Virpi Kuitunen (FIN) 6th, and Katja Visnar (SLO) 7th.
One of the pre-race favorites, Petra Majdic (SLO) crashed while warming up and apparently went over a steep bank and hit a tree. She was seen walking in the stadium holding her back. She did race and was able to qualify in 19th. Hopefully she was just shaken up, and will be ready to go for the heats. Slovenia had an excellent morning despite Majdic’s crash, qualifying three women for the heats.
Sweden, Norway and Finland, however, did one better. Those countries advanced each of their four skiers to the heats. Hannah Falk of Sweden, the 21-year-old prodigy, barely squeaked in, taking 27th.
Sarah Renner (CAN), coming off a World Cup podium last weekend just missed the top-30, finishing 34th, less than a second behind Doris Trachsel (SUI) in 30th. Teammate Perianne Jones was 41st.
Renner’s chances for the heats were hurt when the skier she overtook from 30 seconds back would not move out of the track.
“I had a good race,” said Renner. “I caught the girl in front of me [from 30 seconds back], but there was only one track and she wouldn’t get out of the track. In a race where every second counts and you have to get out of the track and go around, it’s difficult. It probably cost me 2-5 seconds.”
Holly Brooks, the only other American starter, had a strong race, finishing 38th. While her goal was to qualify, considering she hadn’t even raced in a World Cup two weeks ago, finishing 1.66 seconds out of the heats is no shame. She was clearly upset at the finish however and declined to talk to the media.
The afternoon is set up to be a classic battle between the sports biggest stars. It is hard to pick a favorite at this point, though with the longer course, the sprint specialists may be at a bit of a disadvantage.
Randall is in a tough heat, matched with Bjoergen and 11th place qualifier Astrid Jacobsen (NOR). Gaiazova will battle Magda Genuin (ITA), Katja Visnar (SLO) and Natalia Korosteleva (RUS), as well as Katrin Zeller (GER) and Falk, who should still be considered dangerous despite her uncharacteristically slow qualification.
Crawford, in the 5th heat, takes on Olsson, Celine Brun-Lie Magdalena Pajala (SWE), Aurore Cuinet (FRA), and Maiken Caspersen Falla (NOR).
But no one said it would be easy. All three women have a chance to advance to the semis, and continue an already strong day.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.