Sunny skies and warm temperatures greeted sprinters on their arrival at Whistler Olympic Park this morning for the men’s and women’s sprint.
This is a big chance for the Canadians and the U.S.—all six Americans are capable of qualifying for the heats, with three medal hopefuls in Kikkan Randall, Torin Koos, and Andy Newell. The Canadians are set up just as well, with Devon Kershaw, Sarah Renner, Dasha Gaiazova, and Perianne Jones gunning for the heats, and hopefully more. Defending Olympic gold medalist Chandra Crawford should be able to qualify as well, but she is unlikely to repeat her Torino performance due to the change in technique from skate to classic. With a good day, any of the other Canadians could also make the heats.
That is one of the most exciting aspects of sprinting – there are so many skiers with a legitimate shot at qualifying, and though Nat threatens to quit every time I say it, once you are in the heats, anything CAN happen.
The big hope for the US is obviously Andy Newell. A consistent top-10 World Cup sprinter, the podium has eluded Newell in recent years. He can’t be considered a medal favorite, but the finals are realistic. Newell told FasterSkier that his goal is to advance to the finals and once there, give it his best shot.
Koos is a bit an unknown quantity. Will the Torin who finished 2nd in qualifying, just behind Emil Joensson, in Canmore show up? Or the one who failed to qualify for the heats during the entire first World Cup period? His form is good, and Canmore demonstrated he has the speed right now. After battling illness in 2006, Koos will be looking for redemption, and the heats are likely.
After those two, both Garrott Kuzzy and Simi Hamilton have the speed to advance, but they will have to have their best races. While they did qualify in Canmore, their races would not have been good enough for the full field they face today.
On then women’s side, Kikkan Randall needs to be on her game to advance in classic. She is improving steadily, and at this point is definitely a top-30 classic sprinter. While it would be nice to predict her battling for the podium, she has yet to show that she has that level in classic. A top-10 would be a great result for Kikkan.
Holly Brooks also qualified in Canmore, and like Hamilton and Kuzzy, could do so here, but will have to have the race of her life.
On the Canadian side, Sarah Renner rejuvenated her sprint career in Canmore, finsihing 3rd. A repeat is unlikely, and she is not a sure thing for qualifying. But on home soil, look for her in the heats.
Gaiazova and Jones are both capable of the top-30, with Gaiazova the more likely.
For the men, Kershaw will be gunning for a medal. He has been on the World Cup sprint podium in the past, and with the home crowd cheering him on, he will be in the running. He is a somewhat inconsistent sprinter – never a sure thing to qualify, so hopefully he will be in top form.
The rest of the Canadian men, led by Stefan Kuhn, will need perfect performances to advance, but no one can be counted out.
And the favorites?
For the men, it comes down to Ola Vigen Hattestad and Emil Joensson. The two are a clear step above the rest of the field in sprinting. My gut is Joensson, but Hattestad has an almost Northug-like ability to pull out a win from the jaws of defeat. The two men race with contrasting styles, with Joensson preferring to race from the front. Hattestad is very patient, biding his time before making a big move – often on the biggest climb. Both are powerful doublepolers.
From there, you can pick any number of men for the podium. Northug should be in the hunt, especially after his disappointing 15k. The other Norwegians, Petersen and Kjoelstad are certainly medal-capable, as is young Teodor Petersen of Sweden and his teammate, the veteran Bjorn Lind.
But then there are the Finns, the Russians, the Germans – however you slice it, it will be a battle, with no sure things. And with a nasty corner at the bottom of the course, crashes are not unlikely.
The favorites on the women’s side come down to the usual group – Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) and Petra Majdic (SLO). But they will be challenged by young Hannah Falk of Sweden as well as the always strong Aino Kaisa Saarinen (FIN). Marit Bjoergen (NOR) is an interesting pick, and while the gold seems unlikely, a second medal in these games is in reach.
Gold – Emil Joensson (SWE)
Silver – Ola Vigen Hattestad (NOR)
Bronze – Petter Northug (NOR)
Gold – Justyna Kowalczyk (POL)
Silver – Hanna Falk (SWE)
Bronze – Petra Majdic (SLO)
Andy Newell – 6th
Kikkan Randall – 11th
Devon Kershaw – 12th
Sarah Renner 27th
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.