American and Canadian women have become a World Cup force to be reckoned with. It seems there was something to the North American Women’s Training Alliance after all.
Kikkan Randall (USA) won her second individual sprint in as many weekends. Canada did something it’s never done before in Davos and sent all three women to the heats.
U.S. Ski Team (USST) Head Coach Chris Grover probably put it best with his take on the American women’s performance in the Davos sprints on Sunday.
“Every day, it seems like, there have been high points,” he said from a bus on the way to the airport. “It’s very exciting.”
The building enthusiasm is palpable even from across the Atlantic, where the internet was abuzz with retweets and status updates mere moments after the conclusion of competition in Switzerland.
USST women’s coach Matt Whitcomb noted that the positivity from back home has played no small part in their recent success.
“A shout-out is in order for those back home who represent what certainly appears to be an increase in the U.S. skiing fan base,” he wrote in an email. “Your cheers are reaching Europe, and the support is helping drive this team.”
Justin Wadsworth, Head Coach of the Canadian National Ski Team (CNST), also noted an upward trend in his team’s recent racing—men and women both.
“One of our goals today was to qualify everyone for the heats,” he said. “We had six athletes, and they all qualified. That’s huge.”
“Chandra [Crawford] beat Marit Bjoergen to the line. That doesn’t happen every day,” Wadsworth continued. “Last year [in Davos] we didn’t have any women qualify in the rounds.”
If American ski fans aren’t quite used to seeing USA at the top of the results sheet for two weekends in a row, they’re not alone. Randall’s 1.7-second victory on Sunday surprised even herself.
“I don’t even believe it just happened,” she said immediately following her finish.
But she should probably get used to it. Following her win last weekend in Dusseldorf, on Sunday morning Randall qualified in first—she had only 0.72 seconds on eventual runner-up Natalia Matveeva (RUS), but was a whole 6.19 seconds ahead of Bjoergen in third.
Beyond skiing fast, Randall simply looked unstoppable. But before leaving the mixed zone after the conclusion of the final, Randall told FasterSkier that, no matter how well she’s skiing, she always imagines her competitors breathing down her neck. Perhaps that was why she seemingly flew up the lone sprint hill each time she rounded the loop. Particularly in the final round, Randall not only gapped the field with her jump-skate on the ascent, she kept hammering over the crest of the hill to increase her momentum (and her lead) all the way back down into the stadium.
Grover called Randall’s execution throughout the day flawless.
“Everyone knew she’d be a favorite, and obviously Kikkan knew that,” he said. “It’s a challenging situation because she puts pressure on herself, but she just executed everything perfectly today.”
Randall might have been the only American to make it past the quarterfinals, but Brooks’s race was remarkable in its own right. One day after turning in the best American result in the 15 k, her 23rd-place showing in the sprint marked yet another career breakthrough for her 2011-2012 World Cup campaign—it was her first time making it to the heats on European snow. After finishing, Brooks was thrilled to have landed in the points again.
“We’re obviously fired up by Holly’s [18th-place] qualification, but the way things have been going, the world ‘surprised’ no longer fits,” remarked Whitcomb. “It’s a true testament to the hard and smart work done by Holly and her club (APU).”
Ida Sargent and Sadie Bjornsen rounded out the US showing on Sunday by skiing to 50th and 52nd, respectively.
Though it may not have been exactly what the rookies were looking for, Whitcomb and Grover both pointed out that gaining experience was the key, and results would come after they got to be familiar with the courses at different venues.
“It’s just going to take a lot of swings before they connect in qualification,” wrote Whitcomb. “They know this, and they know we believe in them.”
Sargent was only 3.75 seconds out of qualifying, with Bjornsen less than a second behind her.
On the Canadian side, Crawford started off the day strong by qualifying in 8th, and though she didn’t reach the final like she was hoping, displayed a solid effort. As Wadsworth pointed out, she beat Bjoergen—the Norwegian with an unprecedented number of World Cup wins under her belt.
“I really wanted the final,” said Crawford in the mixed zone. She finished 9th on Sunday. “But I continue to learn, and I gave it my all.”
Crawford said she made a tactical error coming over the hill in her semi-final.
“I pulled out to pass and picked the wrong lane—three girls went by me,” she said.
With a solid summer of training in her arsenal, Crawford thinks her fast start to the season so far is a good sign for things to come. She, too, alluded to momentum of the North American women’s success.
“The Americans, they just love to work,” she said. “Kikkan is so positive all the time… I take a lot of pride in the North American success.”
Behind Crawford, Perianne Jones and Dasha Gaiazova finished 29th and 30th, respectively.
Though there was only one hill on the entire course, Gaiazova noted that it contained “barely any rest…you’ve got to put a lot of punch into every push.”
Kieran Jones and Topher Sabot contributed reporting.
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Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.