The U.S.’s Kikkan Randall wasn’t the only North American to see her World Championships skate sprint hopes go down the drain in a collision. Canada’s Alex Harvey met with the same fate in his semifinal heat on Thursday when he tangled with a Swiss skier, Martin Jaeger, to fall out of contention.
On the back side of the Oslo sprint course, before the men re-entered the stadium, Harvey said he was skiing at the head of his heat, which included eventual gold and bronze medal winners Marcus Hellner and Emil Joensson.
“I was right at the front, so I could not control anything that happened,” he said. “[Jaeger] kind of got pushed right on me and busted his pole…I was, like, stopped skiing for four or five seconds.”
As the skiers came back to the stadium, Harvey had a big gap to close down to Hellner and Joensson. He almost did it, but came up just short, and his time wasn’t good enough to advance to the finals as a lucky loser—a shame, he said, because it could have been a good day.
“I’m disappointed. I felt so good out there,” he said. “I was side-by-side with Joensson—I was going to enter the stadium in the lead, or just behind…It was so easy.”
Unlike Randall, though, at least Harvey has more shots at medals. The 30 k pursuit and the 50 k freestyle, both mass start races, are more likely bets, with a little more margin for error. The sprint, he said, “was an outside shot, for sure,” though the way things were going Thursday—and the way Harvey had skied in Drammen last weekend, taking second—it could have been a good day.
While both Harvey and Randall suffered misfortune, Newell saw his coin land heads after the quarters when he still advanced to the semis as a lucky loser, despite finishing fourth.
Newell had had a sub-par qualifier—what he called his worst in years—thanks to poor pacing. But in the heats, he said he felt better and better, though his luck eventually ran out when he got caught up in the same mix up as Harvey.
“I ran into a little bit of trouble and tangled up with Alex Harvey,” he said in a U.S. Ski Team press release. “He was right on my skis and I had to push off of him. I broke a basket on my pole which didn’t help in the finishing lanes..”
None of the other North Americans advanced past the quarters. Simi Hamilton (USA) qualified 29th, and Len Valjas 21st, and each moved up to 25th and 15th based off their finishes in the heats.
Hamilton said his legs felt better than in qualifying, but a tough lane choice left him in poor position from the gun.
“I didn’t have the best start. I felt fast, but it was hard being pinched out to the right there, so I didn’t really get in a great spot before the downhill,” he said. “A couple chances came…tried to squeeze through ’em, but didn’t get through.”
Torin Koos (USA) was 36th, Stefan Kuhn (CAN) 51st, and Kris Freeman (USA) 58th. While the sprint is by no means Freeman’s marquee event, he said that there was an open spot, because Lars Flora didn’t want to race.
“I thought I would go out, get a feel for how the venue was going to run, and put in a hard effort. It wasn’t a good effort today, but I did it, and hopefully it’ll pay off later in the week,” he said. “It’s loud, and it’s fun—I think I’d rather do it in my own race, though.”
Devon Kershaw (CAN) was the only other North American finisher, in 31st—less than a tenth of a second from the heats. After two sub-par performances last weekend in Drammen left him disappointed, Kershaw didn’t seem to be in a much better mood after Thursday’s race—an event in which he’d taken a victory during the Tour de Ski in January.
But Chandra Crawford, Kershaw’s girlfriend and teammate, said that the Canadian would be fine when the distance races get started later this week.
“He gets this feeling when he’s in the pack and he’s super-comfortable,” she said. “He’s gonna forget all about this—it’s like his prologue of the championships. No big deal.”
Valjas put it even more plainly, noting that Kershaw had a tough start to his Tour, then went on to collect four podiums and seventh overall.
“The first day, the prologue was hard for him. With Devon, the more races he does, like, [in a] short period, he gets faster. So, nobody’s worried on our team at all,” Valjas said. “It’s fully normal for him.”
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.