The Whistler weather continues to surprise – in a good way. For the third consecutive day the sky is clear and the sun strong. Temperatures are climbing rapidly and will be well above freezing at race time.
The women’s 15km “pursuit” is set to start at 1:00PM local time with a field of 68. Waxing for the classic portion should be relatively straightforward klister, and by the time the skate leg roles around, the course will likely be softening.
Both Canada and the US will start fours skiers each in the mass start event. Canadian veteran Sara Renner leads the way at bib 28. Renner has something to prove after a disappointing sprint in which a skier failed to track for her, potentially keeping her out of the heats.
Daria Gaiazova, coming off a strong performance in the sprint is Canada’s next strongest skier. Her first Olympics are off to a good start, though she will be hard pressed to match her 22nd place sprint finish.
Madeleine Williams and Perianne Jones are the final two starters for the Canadian team. Neither is likely to crack the top-30.
Olympic rookies Liz Stephen and Morgan Arritola lead the US. Arritola skied a solid race in the 10km freestyle, finishing 34th. Stephen struggled, and both women are capable of skiing in the top-25 on a good day.
Holly Brooks and Caitlin Compton round out the US team. Compton was the fastest woman in the 10km, placing 30th, but is a stronger skater. If she can hang in the classic leg, she has the potential to improve on that 30th.
Brooks is the only US skier to start both the first two cross-country races. She will be hoping to improve on 38th place sprint finish.
The race favorites include the usual suspects, minus Petra Majdic (SLO), who has been hospitalized with broken ribs and a puncture lung after crashing during sprint training. She went on to win a bronze medal, but her Olympics are over.
But the field is still plenty strong. Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) is always a force, but the course does not play to her strengths – steep extended climbs. She will be hard pressed to break away from the field today – but she never ceases to amaze.
One skier to watch is Anna Haag (SWE). Haag finished an impressive 4th in the 10km, and is a stronger classic skier than teammate Charlotte Kalla, who won that event. Both women should be in contention for a medal.
Marit Bjoergen (NOR), the bronze medalist in the 10km and winner of the gold in the sprint, is clearly in top form. She will be racing every event and is a medal contender in each. The pressure is off now that she has a gold, so she will be relaxed and confident.
That is not the case for the Finnish team, which has been shut out so far. It would be a major upset for Aino Kaisa Saarinen to leave the Games without a medal. While the Finns will have a strong relay team, this is her best chance as an individual.
Virpi Kuitunen (FIN), who did not start the 10k, is also sitting out today’s race. An excellent all-around skier, it is unclear why she is not racing. Her health may not be good. Riita-Liisa Roponen is the second Finnish starter, and while a medal is probably not in the cards, the top-10 is reasonable.
Other skiers who will be in the hunt for the medals include Kristin Stoermer Steira (NOR) and Arianna Follis (ITA). According to Norwegian Team Leader Age Skinstad, Steira is showing good shape and was pleased with her 10km race. She was 8th in that event, and prefers the longer distances.
Russians Irina Khazova and Evgenia Medvedeva are also strong, though Khazova has historically performed better in the 10km individual start events and Medvedeva has only two World Cup podium finishes since 2005 and none this year.
Gold – Marit Bjoergen (NOR)
Silver – Justyna Kowalczyk (POL)
Bronze – Aino Kaisa Saarinen (FIN)
Top American – Caitlin Compton 27th
Top Canadian – Sara Renner 15th
Gold – Marit Bjoergen (NOR)
Silver – Anna Haag (SWE)
Bronze – Justyna Kowalczyk (POL)
Top American – Liz Stephen 18th
Top Canadian – Sara Renner 12th
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.