The question may not have been burning on Thursday, but at the very least, it was smoldering: Would any of the junior men attempt to double-pole Friday’s classic sprint?
At last weekend’s World Cup races on the same course in Otepaa, Estonia, Norway’s Eirik Brandsdal double-poled through his qualifier and all three heats to edge out his teammate, Ola Vigen Hattestad, for the win. Only a handful of others tried the maneuver in the preliminary, but by the finals, all six men were without kick wax.
As for Friday’s race, the U.S. team will have skate skis ready to go, according to Randy Gibbs, the team’s head wax tech. But most athletes weren’t betting on using them.
“I would be surprised if any juniors are going to double-pole it,” said Tyler Kornfield, one of the American starters for Friday. “This course definitely doesn’t stack up to the regular World Cup course…but I think it’s definitely going to be a strider tomorrow.”
So does Sondre Fossli, one of the Norwegian sprinters. In a quick interview, he told FasterSkier that he thought the course was too difficult to double-pole—especially with a very long finishing straight.
“The track is too hard,” he said. “The last 200 meters—if you’re tired in your upper body, it’s not good.”
With new snow and frigid temperatures making for relatively slow skiing through the afternoon on Thursday, it seemed improbably that forgoing kick wax would be faster in Friday’s race. But by later in the evening, the temperature had warmed and the tracks had become icier—making double-poling, potentially, a more attractive option.
The weather is one factor. If it snows overnight—forecasts gave a 20 percent change—skate skis would gain an edge, according to American coach Matt Whitcomb.
“It’s condition-dependent,” he said. “Teams will certainly be looking to be ready.”
The second set of factors, Whitcomb said, are individual preferences.
“We’ve got a few man-childs on our junior squad,” he said, “so it just depends on an athlete’s strengths—strider or double-poler.”
Then, according to Kornfield, there’s the question of what others in the field are doing. If one athlete or nation bites the bullet, and it’s clear that skate skis are faster, others will follow suit.
“If everyone’s striding, that’s going to be the way to go,” said Kornfield. “If everyone double poles, that’s going to be the way to do it.”
If the juniors eschew skate gear, there’s always a chance for the U-23’s to make a go of it in their own classic sprint on Saturday. At least one competitor in that age group double-poled the World Cup sprint last weekend, but as Kornfield put it, “it also depends on the day.”
Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.