In the classic sprint qualifier in Otepaa, Estonia on Sunday morning, it was all about big guns.
Norway and Sweden each qualified six men for the heats, and Estonia five. But by big guns, we don’t mean the strong ski nations—we’re talking about biceps.
At least three Norwegians double poled the full qualifier, one of whom, Ola Vigen Hattestad, was the winner. Eirik Brandsdal and Eldar Roenning also completed the qualifier on skate gear.
According to Finnish Head Coach Magnar Dalen, Hattestad was one second down on Mattias Strandvall (FIN) at the high point of the course, but made up four seconds on the ensuing downhill and finishing stretch to take the win in 3:19. Russia’s Nikita Kriukov was second, just over a second back, and Brandsdal was third.
Canadian Len Valjas finished a tantalizing two-hundreths of a second out of the top-30, who qualify for the heats. His teammates Jesse Cockney, Michael Somppi, and Graeme Killick were 61st, 66th, and 69th.
Jurg Capol, the race director for the International Ski Federation, said that he knew some of the men would try to double pole the course, given fast snow conditions. But both Capol and Dalen said it would be interesting to see who continues on skate gear through the heats.
“Each round will be tougher,” Capol said.
Dalen said that none of the Finns would opt for double poling. He said he was “disappointed” to see a course that allowed athletes to use skate gear.
“I like classic diagonal skiing in sprints,” he said.
On the women’s side, Sweden’s Hanna Falk was the winner of qualifying, continuing a strong run that began when she finished second place in last weekend’s skate sprint in the Czech Republic.
Falk won by a quarter of a second over Norway’s Marit Bjoergen, while Katja Visnar and Petra Majdic of Slovenia nabbed the third and fourth positions, respectively.
Canadians Chandra Crawford and Dasha Gaiazova both qualified for the rounds, in 17th and 21st, while their teammate Alysson Marshall finished less than a second outside, in 33rd. Heidi Widmer (CAN) was 50th.
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.