The sprints today could be summed up as utter dominance by the winners. World Cup fans haven’t been treated to that kind of skiing in a sprint event for a very long time, if ever. Justyna Kowalczyk proved that there is no limit to her powers as she keeps hitting the podium the majority of the races she enters while Emil Jönsson improved his record on Canadian snow as he picked up his third win in four races.
The conditions were perfect for another day of racing in the Rockies. The air was hovering around -2°C while the snow was -4°C, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the tracks were pristine. The North American athletes showed up very strongly in the qualification with Canada having four women and five men in the top 30 while the Americans put two women and five men in the heats.
Kowalczyk absolutely dominated the qualifying by a very impressive 4.5 seconds over second place Petra Majdic. Anna Olsson qualified third while Fabjan continued her good run of form and qualified in fourth. The only big name not to crack the top 30 was Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle who missed qualification by half a second.
The quarter-finals were pretty straight forward and highlighted by Sara Renner easily winning her heats in front of the home crowd. The quarters were clean affair until the final heat which saw a massive tangle between Anna Olsson and Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes which resulted in a broken pole for the Swede and took both athletes out of the race.
Kowalczyk showed no signs of weakness as she dominated yet another heat in the semis. With Smutna out lunging Fessel for the final qualifying spot. Havoc wreaked again on the final corner as the women were four wide going under the over pass and Majdic went down. I’m not sure if it was from contact or if she caught an edge. Either way, she looked not too happy as she came across the finish line.
The finals capped off another great weekend for the Pole as she won in shocking style. She smashed the rest of the field to win by an amazing 7.6 seconds. By the time the others had crossed the line, Kowalczyk already had the sponsors skis in hand celebrating the victory. Sweden’s Ingemarsdotter earned her first individual podium and finished in second while Sara Renner earned the bronze medal. It was a great day for the Canadian as it appears she in the best form of the season and was able to get on the podium in front of the home crowd.
1. Justyna Kowalczyk
2. Ida Ingemarsdotter
3. Sara Renner
North American Watch: Obviously the big headlines will feature Renner and rightly so, but Daria Gaiazova showed that she’s ready for the big show as she had a great qualifier for the second World Cup weekend in a row as she was ninth fastest but ultimately ended up in 12th. Kikkan Randall had a good day and quietly went about skiing to her second top 10 of the season.
Emil Jönsson was expectedly the strongest qualifier while Torin Koos had a great qualifier and was in second. Kazakhstan’s Alexey Poltarinen had a great qualifier and was the third fastest. The quarters gave the spectators a sneak peek of what Jönsson was capable of as he led the heat from the gun, then let up and started taking his poles off a good 50 meters before the finish line. Andrew Newell continued his same old story as he qualified well – in 10th – but failed to make it far in the heats as he did not make it out of the quarters.
Similar to the women’s quarters, all was smooth sailing except one heat. The fourth heat was extremely tight with all six athletes in a tight pack coming down the final hill into the finish straight. Italy’s Pasini caught and edge and subsequently took out the skiers behind him. Those skiers who were behind him happened to be two Canadians in Kershaw and Crooks. You gotta feel bad especially for Crooks who was having a great race in his tightly contested heat and was in the top three as the athletes crested the final hill. This was probably his biggest race of the year as he failed to make the Canadian team for the Olympics.
Jönsson continued his dominance in the semis as he led from wire to wire before easing up for the win. The second semi saw Dahl win handily with Lind in second.
The final included three Swedes (Jönsson, Lind, Petersen) and it was a sight to behold. The utter dominance that Emil Jönsson showed was impressive as he actually raced all the way across the line for the first time on the day and won by a whopping 6.6 seconds over Dahl who was able to hold off Cologna as the Norwegian grabbed the silver. Cologna earned his second bronze in as many days and looks in good form for the Olympics.
1. Emil Jönsson
2. John Kristian Dahl
3. Dario Cologna
This type of performance will make it exciting to see if a field of the world’s best will be able to deal with Jönsson; in particular, Ola Vigen Hattestad. The Swede’s turbo is better than ever and the hills in Callaghan Valley will play in his favour for that reason. Will Jönsson’s skiing play with the heads of the other athletes?
North American Watch: It was an impressive day for Koos who put in a great qualifier and finished a decent 11th overall. This is his best World Cup result in just under a year. Kuhn also had a great day, he had a strong first half of his quarter but was overtaken in the final stretch as he didn’t have enough gas to compete for a top two spot and ultimately ended up 0.2 seconds out of a lucky loser position. Same can be said about Widmer and McMurtry who were in the mix until the final stretch.
Nevertheless, it is very promising to see five Canadian make the top 30 in the sprints. Hopefully a sign for the future.
With the Olympics only five days away, I’m sure there will be a lot of talk and predictions in the upcoming days so stay tuned, it is now the calm before the storm.