With two overall World Cup titles, two Tour de Ski victories, and an Olympic gold medal, it is hard to believe that there is anything Dario Cologna (SUI) has not won.
But before today, Cologna had never stood atop the podium in a World Cup sprint race.
On a short yet challenging Rogla sprint course, Cologna showed he is in good position to defend his Tour de Ski title.
Cologna placed second in the 14km mass start on Saturday, losing out in a sprint with rival Petter Northug (NOR). Today he did one better.
With Northug opting to sit out, Cologna bested a strong field that included numerous sprint specialists, including Nikolay Morilov (RUS), who placed second, and Anders Gloeersen (NOR), who was third.
Cologna kicked off the day on the right ski, qualifying in third, just ahead of Gloeersen and behind Sprint Cup leaders Alexei Petukhov (RUS) and Morilov.
The course was ideal for the strong Swiss star, winding down for the first half, before climbing steeply to a long gradual uphill finish run.
Cologna led early in a final that was made up of himself, Morilov and four Norwegians.
Morilov took over and attacked hard on the steep hill, replicating his tactics from the earlier rounds. And while he was able to open a gap on the stampeding herd of red suits behind, Cologna was not to be shaken.
They crested the hill, and once on the gradual terrain, Cologna extended his long, smooth stride and easily skied away for the win.
Gloeersen came across well clear of teammates Paal Golberg, Ola Vigen Hattestad, and Erik Brandsdal, who got tangled early on and lost contact with the group.
Cologna matched up with sprint specialist Hattestad in every heat. The Norwegian was on top in the quarterfinal, but Cologna was the best when it counted.
“It was a great day,” Cologna said after the race. “It looks like I’m in good shape now in the right moment before Tour de Ski.”
He closed the gap on Northug in the overall World Cup standings, and now trails the Norwegian by 92 points.
Sprint Cup leader Petukhov was eliminated the semifinals. He was toward the back until the end, and the course was not conducive to his usual strategy of skiing off the front from the gun. He holds a 30 point lead in the sprint standings over Teodor Peterson (SWE).
Despite the technical downhill, there was little obvious drama on course outside of good clean head-to-head racing. The only exceptions were Brandsdal’s mishap in the finals, and American Andy Newell getting pushed around in his quarterfinal.
Newell qualified in a solid 10th, but was eliminated in the quarterfinal’s and placed 21st on the day.
Simi Hamilton led all North Americans with his first World Cup top-10.
Hamilton advanced to the semifinals as a lucky loser when he was out-lunged at the line, and then came up just short in the next heat. He showed good form, qualifying seventh despite participating in just his second sprint of the year due to illness.
The Canadians qualified all three of their sprint threats—with Alex Harvey, Devon Kershaw, and Len Valjas all contesting the quarterfinals. None of them, however, was able to advance with Kershaw placing 15th, Valjas 18th and Harvey 19th.
A full report on the North American men will follow.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.