Canmore, Alberta – Tune-up? Small field? Sure, but it’s still the World Cup.
In front of hundreds of fans in Canmore, Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla gave her Olympic hopes a boost by winning the women’s 10k freestyle here on a course tailored to her strengths. She finished ten seconds up on Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland today, with Russia’s Irina Khazova in third.
Kalla excels on steep uphills and through transitions, and she said afterwards that she likes the courses here, which allow her to use her V1 technique.
“It fits me perfect,” she said.
She said that she went out easy, knowing that the trails would punish anyone who didn’t pace herself. Kalla was as much as eight seconds down on Kowalczyk early in the race, but reeled in the Pole with about 2.5k to go.
While athletes and coaches have downplayed the importance of the two races here, Kalla’s victory was a reminder that the World Cup is still a big deal, even if the field was a little watered down, what with the absence of the Norwegian Olympic team. She was jubilant crossing the line, and for good reason: in addition to a healthy dose of confidence, Kalla will take a $15,000 winner’s check with her to Whistler.
After earning a hard-fought berth on the American Olympic team, Caitlin Compton showed that she has been able to maintain her form from early January, leading the North American women in Canmore with a 14th-place finish.
She was just twenty seconds from the top-ten, in front of a number of legitimate European World Cup skiers, and a single spot behind last year’s sprint champion, Petra Majdic (SLO).
It was only the third career World Cup start for Compton, who has been training in Park City for the last few weeks in advance of the Olympics. She started very early in the field—14th out of 66 starters—which made it tough for her to get a sense of how fast she was racing relative to the World Cup veterans, who go out last.
Compton was leading the race after her first lap—and the American coaches made sure she knew it—but she was only getting splits off of the thirteen girls in front of her.
“I kind of wish I had started with some of the A-seed there—on my second lap, I think I just missed them [as they were heading out on their first],” she told FasterSkier afterwards.
While Compton is still shooting to peak at the Olympics, she said that she had prepared specifically for the 10k here by training in Park City with U.S. Ski Team members Liz Stephen and Morgan Arritola.
“A 10k skate here at altitude, with a super-hilly course, is kind of my thing,” she said.
Arritola was the next U.S. finisher in 23rd, and she was trailed by her Olympic teammate Holly Brooks one spot back. They took opposite approaches to the racing: Brooks started out fast, sitting in ninth at 2k before dropping down the result sheet, whereas Arritola worked her way up from 30th place at the same spot.
Matt Whitcomb, one of the coaches with the U.S. Ski Team, said Arritola was a little flat coming off the training block in Park City, but that ultimately, the team’s focus is on Whistler.
And at the end of the day, that was also the case for those on the podium. While Kowalczyk said that the course here suits her much better than the “tourist track” in Whistler, she told FasterSkier that she has been training heavily at altitude at Apex Mountain in advance of the Games—with hardly any intensity.
“This is not the Olympics,” she said—not yet.
With reporting by Topher Sabot.
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.