In addition to Kikkan Randall (USA) and Chandra Crawford (CAN) who placed 1st and 4th respectively in the freestyle sprint on the streets of Dusseldorf, Germany, six other North American women raced, with Canadian Perianne Jones and American Sadie Bjornsen just missing out on the heats.
Jones, in 32nd was just .23 seconds out of a spot in the heats.
“It went by really fast,” Jones told FasterSkeir after the qualification round. “I have a lot to think about now, it was so close. I’m not super happy, but I still think it was an improvement over last weekend, so that’s a positive.”
Jones was 44th in the classic sprint in Kuusamo last weekend, and with five career top-30 sprint finishes (including World Championships), she is gunning for the heats.
“Snow-wise it was good,” Jones said of the course. “It was hard and icy, so you just really had to glide and ski as long as possible, and not get too frantic or go too crazy out there.”
The best qualifying time in the one lap women’s race posted by Riika Sarasoja-Lilja (FIN) was 1:41.99.
When asked about how she felt, Jones reiterated how quickly the race took.
“It just went by so quickly it was hard to feel anything,” she said. “After 1:45 it was over so I tried to ski as fast as I possibly could, but it was just over so quickly.”
Bjornsen in 34th was .09 seconds in back of Jones and thus .32 out of the heats.
“I felt really great in my warm-up with the soft snow, but when the qualifier came around it was super icy, and I was having a hard time getting a good feel on my skis,” Bjornsen wrote in an email to FasterSkier after the race.
“I felt like I was trying to gain control for the entire 2 minutes,” she continued.
This was the 22-year-old Bjornsen’s top World Cup finish in seven career starts. She did finish 24th in the World Championship sprint in Oslo last year.
“When I heard I was only .3 seconds out, I was excited, but that’s such a small amount, I was also a bit sad. It was so close!” Bjornsen wrote.
She felt she skied “on my heels instead of my toes,” and believes that as she gains experience she will be able to better adjust to such challenging conditions.
Alysson Marshall (CAN) on her first extended European World Cup swing placed 38th, .76 seconds out of the heats. She missed her career-best World Cup result, however, as she placed 33rd in the classic sprint in Otepaa last season.
Echoing the sentiments of many of the racers, Marshall found the race over extremely quickly. The Dusseldorf women’s sprint is easily the shortest race on the circuit, the flat fast course measuring in at just .7 kilometers.
“It was okay,” Marshall said of her effort. “Really short and messy. Way too short to tell how it went.”
Dasha Gaiazova (CAN) placed 46th, +7.28.
Holly Brooks and Ida Sargent rounded out the field for the North Americans, placing 51st and 52nd respectively in the 56-woman field.
“Short, flat courses are definitely the most difficult format for me,” Brooks told FasterSkier after the race. “While most of the distance skiers are staying at altitude I decided to come because I want to get better at this and what better way to do it than scope it out and try it?”
Brooks said she had “no expectations” for the event, especially considering she prefers distance racing.
In addition to gaining experience in a flat, fast sprint, Brooks wanted the American to be able to field two teams in Sunday’s Team Sprint. Bjornsen will pair with Randall and Brooks with Ida Sargent.
“It’s going to be a little different starting a team sprint tomorrow with the previous days winner, maybe a few more nerves will fly,” Bjornsen said. “It will give me one more reason to ski fast.”
After a short day today, Brooks is looking forward to the team event.
“I like the team sprint format better than a stand alone sprint – we’ll see what happens. You never know when a crash can take out the top skiers and you can sneak through? Tomorrow will be fun either way!” she said.
Sargent, who was just over half a second behind Brooks had a frustrating day. Known for her speed over short distances, she was looking forward to the event.
“I love short sprint races and felt great warming up,” Sargent wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “The energy and atmosphere at city sprints is really fun!!”
But she described herself as being “a little too excited” and she charged out of the start gate too early.
Usually, Sargent explained, a skier can start three seconds on either side of the actual start time. But today when she broke two to three seconds before her time, the start light was sill red.
She stopped in her tracks, and the starter said something to her in German. She didn’t understand and kicked it into gear.
“I shouldn’t have hesitated and just gone but I was startled and thought that I would get DQed if I went,” Sargent said.
Sargent described the mistake as “stupid,” pointing out that in any sprint, especially one so short, you can’t give up any time, let alone several seconds.
“I’m pretty pissed at myself for making this mistake,” Sargent said, bu has learned fmor the experience.
“I’ll never do something like that again,” she said, and is already looking ahead to Sunday’s Team Sprint.
“Last year there wasn’t a US women’s team in the team sprint event in Dusseldorf and tomorrow we are going to have two teams!” Sargent said. “That’s a big step forward and it’s going to be awesome! I’m looking forward to throwing some elbows and skiing in the pack. The course is really narrow and fast so it’s sure to be exciting!”
Canada will also start two teams, with Marshall and Gaiazova joining Randall and Bjornsen in the first semifinal.
Jones and Crawford race in the second semi, as do Sargent and Brooks.
Alex Matthews and Kieran Jones contributed reporting
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Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.