Andy Newell (USST) and Torin Koos (USST) are the two best male sprinters in the United States. But not until this frigid March day, in one of the furthest-flung corners of the country, did they finally go head-to-head in the classic sprint at the 2010 SuperTour Finals in Madawaska.
It was worth the wait. After a qualifying round, a quarter, and a semifinal heat, the battle came down to a double-pole drag race in the last hundred meters. When the ice chunks finally settled, Koos had bested Newell by a boot in a lunge.
“I saw the photo, and it looked like I had timed it just a little bit better,” Koos said. “I’m not going to lie—it’s been a while. Probably a week before the Olympics was the last time I was working on the lunge.”
The race was Newell’s to lose after topping qualifying by nearly three seconds. He won his first two heats, including a semifinal over Koos.
But while Newell was cruising early, it was also crystal-clear who would be giving him trouble: Koos, and Simi Hamilton (SVSEF).
Hamilton was skiing with the confidence of someone with a national championship and an appearance at the Olympics under his belt—both of which he has after this winter. He skied through his first two heats looking like he was out for a tour, smoothly striding into the finals.
After being denied a shot at Newell and Koos at Nationals in January, this was Hamilton’s chance. But keeping up with those big guns through three rounds at the tail end of a long winter was a tall order—one that Hamilton was not quite ready to deliver.
He fell behind them early in the finals, and while he stayed close, he was never in a position to challenge, finishing third.
“I think I still have some work to do with skiing through the rounds all day,” he said afterwards.
Newell and Koos have both been skiing through the rounds for the last decade, so it wasn’t surprising to see them with the edge over the youngster. But while they were neck-and-neck throughout Saturday, they took two decidedly different paths to northern Maine this winter.
Newell was at the end of a long racing season and heavy travel schedule. He said he felt good early, but had to dig deeper and deeper as the day went on.
Koos, on the other hand, was trying to make one last charge after fighting off sickness all year. He skipped the spring World Cups to get healthy, and hadn’t done any hard training for the past three weeks.
“I couldn’t do anything fast,” he said. “I’ve just been doing easy distance….I felt kind of flat, but not tired at all. So, it was like, ‘either it’s going to go really
well in the rounds, or I’m just going to have nothing. Obviously, I had something.”
Dueling with Newell down the first hill and up the main climb, Koos appeared to have an edge coming around the last corner into the finish stretch—especially after Newell had a bit of a fumble getting into his track.
But Newell recovered, and with a couple of quick double poles strokes he was back in it. The fans in Madawaska—which by this point included most of the skiers eliminated from the heats—were about to get a display that made it worth enduring the day’s unseasonably cold temperatures: two of the best sprinters in the world going all out for nothing more than bragging rights and a $250 winner’s check.
Koos said he didn’t feel like his technique held together well in the drag race.
“I skied okay in the last hundred meters—I haven’t done much of that, especially recently, so I felt like I reached a little bit too much,” he said.
But in the last two or three strides, Koos said, he managed to make up a bit of ground, nipping Newell by .06 seconds.
Koos knew he had had it—he cruised straight through the finish pen, arms raised in celebration—but Newell wanted to see the photo. It showed his body slightly behind Koos’s, but clearly late with his lunge.
Despite the loss, Newell still retains the yellow leader’s bib, and will start first in Sunday’s hill climb.
“I’m pretty tired, so I’m not promising anything,” he said, “but we’ll see when we get out there.”
He’ll have a 14-second lead on Koos, and then Ivan Babikov (Canada) will follow another minute back.
Babikov will have some rage to take out on the hill after busting a pole and crashing out of the heats—and that was on top of missing the finish lane and giving away the win on Friday. He was tight-lipped about his chances on Sunday.
“It’s going to be a big gap—it’s going to be hard,” he said. “I’ll race.”
APU’s Lars Flora and Brent McMurtry will start one and two seconds behind Babikov, respectively. McMurtry also crashed in his quarterfinal, or he would probably be closer, but regardless, he and Flora will also be threats to catch the two sprinters at the front.
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.