MADISON, Wis. – Two hours seems like a lot of time between qualifiers and heats, but when it comes down to it, sprints are sprints. They’re restless from start to finish.
Between the SuperTour 1 k classic races at the heart of Wisconsin’s state capital on Saturday, some athletes killed time by running around downtown. Others, like Natalia Naryshkina of Russia, looked for a new pair of skis.
After placing fifth of eight women in the qualifier, Naryshkina, who lives in Cable, Wis., decided to trade her classic boards for skate skis. On the four-corner loop around Capitol Square, there was no striding. Just double pole.
The switch meant convincing her Central Cross Country (CXC) support staff, including Igor Badamshin and Kevin Johnson, to wax her freestyle skis on the spot. Once grip-free, Naryshkina discovered she had much more success, placing second to Jennie Bender (CXC) in the semifinal to advance to the A-final.
There, Naryshkina made her double pole count and slipped her leg out ahead of Bender’s to win the classic sprint in a photo finish. The 27-year-old had tucked in behind Bender shortly after the start and waited for her moment to challenge her.
Hannah Dreissigacker (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) worked her way to third from the outside lane and held her position to the finish. Hilary McNamee (Maine Winter Sports Center) was fourth in the A-final.
In a translated Skype interview, Naryshkina wrote that she jumped out from behind Bender and into another track at the beginning of the last straightway. The two proceeded to race even with one another, as Bender powered through the double pole and Naryshkina kick double poled to keep up.
“I just edged out Jennie by a foot throw,” Naryshkina wrote. “Very close race; Jennie is strong skier.”
Six years ago, Naryshkina lived about 10 miles from Madison in Verona, Wis. Racing there for the fourth time on Saturday, she was excited about the win.
“It’s important for me to win any sprint because I love sprints,” she wrote. “There is no 2nd place! Only 1st!”
Clearly disappointed after the A-final, Bender looked down as she poked the manmade snow with her pole. She had been the fastest women’s qualifier in 2:18.7, more than 6 seconds ahead of Dreissigacker in second and 6.2 ahead of McNamee in third.
Bender also won her semifinal against Naryshkina, who was second on skate skis. She used a similar tactic for the final: lead from the start and keep pushing.
“It was pretty close lunge at the end with Natalia,” Bender said. “Of course I wish I had that extra inch. … But it’s OK.”
Dreissigacker was lucky to make the A-final after she nearly missed the start. After beating McNamee and CXC’s Nicolette Amber and Sara Hewitt in the semifinal, Dreissigacker decided to run a lap around the snow-covered loop.
She saw her teammate Clare Egan whiz into the last stretch of the B-final and knew she needed to be at the starting line. Egan went on to win, and Dreissigacker sprinted to the start on foot.
“I got to the line and I was shaking,” Dreissigacker said after having no option or time to jump in any lane but the outside.
While running wasn’t a problem – she likes to warm up with some jogging – Dreissigacker said it was a little more than usual.
“I had my adrenaline going before the race and during it,” she said.
That fueled her to a third-place finish she was satisfied with after arriving in Madison around 11 p.m. Friday night. Fresh off a biathlon trip in Canada, Dreissigacker said she was tired and had few expectations heading into the classic sprints.
“I’ve been feeling like I don’t have much speed in my legs so it was good,” she said. “It was a little speed workout.”
In the B-final, Egan topped Nicolette Amber, who was sixth overall. Olivia Amber placed seventh and Sara Hewitt was eighth.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.