Alexander Panzhinskiy’s skiing in the U-23 Championships classic sprint wasn’t the dominating performance that everyone anticipated—at least, not until the finals.
After skiing to tactical wins in his quarter- and semifinal heats in Otepaa, Estonia, Panzhinskiy, an Olympic silver medalist from Vancouver, unleashed a fury in the final round. After stretching out the heat from the beginning, his colossal double-pole finish consigned Norwegians Timo Andre Bakken and Magnus Moholt to silver and bronze.
In the early rounds, Panzhinskiy told FasterSkier through a translator, “I didn’t want to show my strength.” Instead, he said, he wanted to “surprise” his competitors in the finals.
Perhaps the strategy worked. More likely, the Norwegians knew exactly what was coming, and there was nothing they could do about it.
“He has a silver medal from the Olympics last year, so he is a tough guy,” Bakken said. “I didn’t expect to win.”
The victory was impressive on its own merits, but it was made even more so by the fact that Panzhinskiy said he had been sick earlier this week. After taking three days off, he started training again just a few days ago.
With the victory, the Russian now owns gold medals from both the World Junior and U-23 Championships. What’s left to chase? He told FasterSkier that he wants World Senior Championships and Olympic wins to add to his collection.
On Saturday, while he held back in his first two heats, it was clear that Panzhinskiy would be tough to beat as soon as he crossed the line in the men’s qualifier. There, he led Canada’s Len Valjas by three-tenths of a second, with Moholt the only other man within four seconds.
Panzhinskiy may not have been truly tested in his quarter and semi, but it wasn’t hard to tell that he was the class of the field, as he skied with fluidity and control that seemed unparalleled.
Like Valjas, Panzhinskiy is a big guy. But while Valjas, at 6’6”, strides a bit awkwardly, Panzhinskiy’s body seems designed for the express purpose of skiing. When push came to shove in the finals, Bakken and Moholt weren’t competitive.
In the press conference, Panzhinskiy said that he would celebrate his victory with “many alcohol. Vodka. Discotheque.”
In all seriousness, though, he departs Otepaa on Sunday to prepare for the World Ski Championships in Norway, which begin in late February. There, he said, he hopes to compete in the team sprint with his fellow Olympic sprint medalist, Nikita Kriukov.
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.