For the American men in Moscow, Russia, the city sprints on Thursday were cause for a mixture of disappointment, frustration and optimism. Andy Newell and Simi Hamilton fell short of their expectations in Moscow, placing 22nd and 31st, respectively.
After popping a top-10 in Otepaa, Estonia nearly two weeks ago, Newell struggled with back pain and couldn’t find the same energy to advance past the quarterfinals. For Hamilton, 31st marked the fourth time this season he fell just outside the heats—this time by only 0.02 seconds.
“I think I should’ve skied more aggressively,” said Newell on Thursday evening. “For the guys it was a tactical race—they were hanging back and hammering around the last part of the course. I should have been more aggressive to put myself in better position over the last bridge; I wasn’t able to pick more places off in the finish.”
Newell said he pulled a muscle in his back a few days ago, and felt lingering pain that may have held him back on top of skiing too conservatively in his quarterfinal. There’s also been a stomach bug going around the U.S. Ski Team, and Newell was one of the athletes fighting it off during their training week in Ramsau, Austria prior to the Russian World Cups.
“It wasn’t a very good day,” Newell concluded.
For Hamilton, 31st was equally disappointing.
“It was heartbreaking to once again have Simi so close from making it into the rounds,” said USST Head Coach Chris Grover.
Hamilton himself was admittedly frustrated that 0.02 seconds separated him from the chance to contest the heats in Moscow, but wrote in an email that he was just as motivated as ever to move beyond it and use it as another learning experience.
“I can look back on the day and analyze where I could have made up 0.02 seconds or what I could have done differently to be a fraction of a second faster,” he said.
“But honestly, I’m not looking to be one of the top-30 skiers in the world, I’m looking to be the top skier in the world. So for me, right now, it comes down to knowing that I have to put in the work to be able to qualify comfortably and ski the heats in control.”
After four sprints that ended in the qualifying round by such a slim margin, Hamilton wasn’t letting it get to him.
“I know that day will come if I keep working at it, and I’m excited for the entire process involved with that,” he said. “
“There are always going to be days like this, so it helps to be able to step back and look at the bigger picture. This is a game of patience, and I’m not going to let anything get in the way of distracting me from that fact.”
With racing, the difference between walking away from the arena disappointed with a performance and leaving feeling good about it comes down to expectations. Whether a skier meets these can color the entire day. Mike Sinnott finished 37th in Moscow, and was less than a second out of 30th. After two weekends on the World Cup as the early season SuperTour leader, the Sun Valley skier got to hop in the extra race in Moscow when the USST had a leftover start spot.
Though he had hoped for a top-30 and wound up 0.81 seconds out of the rounds, for the most part Sinnott was pleased with the best World Cup finish of his season. In the Milan and Otepaa sprints, Sinnott finished 68th and 56th, respectively.
“I feel very good,” said Sinnott. “My body seems to be coming around after a couple weeks of poor racing. It was my best feeling since SilverStar.
“To be close was fun, and I know where I made mistakes and can go faster. The little taste is just feeding the hunger.”
The American’s Rybinsk quota is full, so Sinnott next heads to the Scandinavian Cup races in Latvia and Estonia, where he hopes to build on his improvement in Moscow and regain the top form he felt early this season in the U.S. As the SuperTour sprint leader from Period II, he’ll rejoin the USST on the World Cup in March for Lahti, Drammen and Oslo.
The fourth American in Moscow, Colorado’s Sylvan Ellefson, contested a World Cup race for the first time in his life on Thursday, finishing 53rd. Never having gone up against the fastest skiers in the world before, Ellefson had no expectations going into the freestyle sprint, other than to keep skiing the way he’s been in the U.S.
“Naturally, I was overcome with the excitement of entering my first World Cup so I think that got a little hold of me today,” said Ellefson in an email on Thursday.
Ellefson, too, was feeling the effects of lingering illness, but said he was pleased with his race. To be on the World Cup at all was not part of his plan heading into this winter, but now that he’s on the big stage, he hopes to keep up the breakthrough performances.
“World Cups were not on the radar this year,” he said. “It’s been a fairy tail year so far and [I’m] hoping to add to it. I like to surprise myself and then keep working towards another goal. Now, going into the rest of the World Cup, I hope to keep surprising myself. I’m definitely not fulfilled yet.”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.