Oslo, Norway – The Norwegian men may be lacking depth on the distance side, but in the sprint, they are still blessed with an abundance of riches.
Anders Gloeersen won the Holmenkollen freestyle sprint in a preview of the 2011 World Championship course, despite being left off the Norwegian Olympic Team.
Gloeersen’s Vancouver chances were hurt by the fact that he is a better skate sprinter – one of the best in fact, as he proved today.
He won the qualifier by an impressive 2 seconds over Emil Joensson (SWE), a feat that is all the more impressive when you consider that only 7 seconds separated 1st and 30th places.
He did not get a good start in his quarterfinal, and he found himself at the pack of the pack along with his opposite qualifier – Marcus Hellner (SWE) who took the final spot in the heats.
With Frederico Pellegrino (ITA) setting a strong pace, the two had their work cut out for them on the narrow Holmenkollen course. But the two men stayed calm and slowly made their way back toward the front, aided by a Nikita Kriukov (RUS).
Hellner was first across the line with Gloeersen in a virtual tie.
In the semis Gloeersen got off to a much faster start, leading early and holding position to advance to the finals.
With favorites Joennson and Ola Vigen Hattestad (NOR) already eliminated, Gloeersen’s competition would come form Alexei Petukhov (RUS), also a freestyle sprint specialist, teammate Erik Brandsdal, Swedes Hellner and Jesper Modin, and Nikolay Morilov (RUS).
Gloeersen again led out of the start, but Petukhov attacked on the first climb taking over the 1st spot. Hellner countered and took the lead for himself.
Modin and Brandsadal could not hold the pace and slipped off the back, leaving a four-way battle for the podium.
Gloeersen made his move on the biggest climb, re-taking the top position, a spot he would not relinquish. Petukhov made a last charge, but the Norwegian outlunged him to win his first World Cup of the season.
The 24-year-old Gloeersen now has three career World Cup victories and one other additional podium finish, all in the freestyle sprint.
“It was excellent race today,” Gloeersen said. “Everything went well from the beginning, and It is an honour to win in Holmenkollen in front of my home crowd.”
Hellner ended up 3rd, the first sprint podium ever for the Olympic gold medalist in the pursuit.
Hellner, like many of the athletes, commented on the challenging course, a loop he found to his liking.
“The sprint track here suits me very well. It is difficult and tough. I have always liked free technique, and sprints are good training for mass start competitions. Nowadays it is very difficult to win mass start without sprinting skills.”
Hellner left Vancouver with two gold medals, and today’s performance was icing on the cake.
“This season has been much beyond my expectations. To be on the podium in Holmenkollen is a great bonus to me.”
Newell Lunges to 10th
Andy Newell led the US in 10th, advancing to the semis before faltering. Newell qualified in 23rd, a little back from his usual spot around 10th.
“I felt decent today but was definitely lacking a little bit of pop in the legs,” Newell said following the race.
He skied well in his quarterfinal, but just squeaked through. He was back out of the start – right with the pack but in 5th. He moved up on the big climb, appearing to be set for 2nd, but was pinched against the inside barriers holding him back in 3rd.
He was still back, out of the top-2 as the pack hit the last 100 meters, and it looked like his day would end early. But he accelerated down the homestretch and used an incredible lunge to get by Johan Kjoelstad (NOR) and move on to the semifinals.
It looked as though every part of Newell’s body, except for his right foot, was still behind Kjoelstad as the two flashed across the line.
“It was fun to have a strong finish in the quarterfinal, which is a positive sign of fitness,” Newell told Fasterskier. “I think it was one of the better lunges I’ve ever had in a race.”
“He used to be the guy a couple years ago who would get smoked in those lunges all the time,” said US Ski Team Sprint Coach Chris Grover. He would be the guy who didn’t lunge and someone would come from behind and get him. So for him to do that to someone else is perfect timing.”
Newell faced a stacked semifinal, matched up with Joensson, Brandsdaal, Petukhov, Renato Pasini (ITA), and Finland’s Lasse Pakkonnen.
The American, coming off his a career-best finish in the classic sprint just four days ago, and his third ever World Cup podium, did not look as strong the third time around the course.
Joensson took control early as he is wont to do, and Newell maintained contact at the back of the pack. But he appeared to be straining to keep up, and when he missed a pole plant on the big climb, he was done.
“In the semi final I kind of got stuck in the back, and had some trouble getting around people,” he explained.
He beat Pasini who crashed, and was still good for 10th, his fifth top-10 performance of the season.
“Considering how I was feeling today I’m happy with a top-10, and it felt great to see the US on the podium for the second consecutive sprint day,” Newell added.
“He wasn’t feeling it today,” added Grover. “He qualified 23rd, which is pretty uncharacteristic…he wasn’t feeling like he had 100% energy out there.”
Because the Olympic sprint was classic, Newell had been focused on that technique.
“I don’t think I’ve done any skate intensity training since before Canmore. It did feel a little weird to skate sprint today since the focus has been on classic.”
Joensson slipped back, and failed to advance. He ended 7th and clinched the overall Sprint Cup.
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Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.