ERZURUM, Turkey — With two gold medals in as many days at the World Junior/U23 Championships, Russia is clearly on top of its mens’ sprint game. Gleb Retivyk (RUS) took home a decisive win on Tuesday, skiing into the stadium in the final out of reach of his competitors, and maintained his lead all the way around the last corner and through the straightaway. His compatriot Evgeniy Belov (RUS) took second, and in a fight for third, Roman Furger (SUI) pulled off the bronze.
Retivyk was recently fifth in the Moscow World Cup city sprint, but said success at U23s his motivation for training this year.
“The race was perfect for me today as two Russian skiers were on the podium,” he said his win. “I have been preparing for this competition the whole year. I was working on the strength a lot before the season.”
This was Retivyk’s first age-group victory; he was twice on the junior podium in Otepaa, Estonia last year, but never for gold.
Belov, more of an all-around skier than sprint-specialist, called his silver-medal performance a good wake-up for the rest of the week.
“I am immensely glad today,” he said. “When I was a junior I was quite good at free technique sprints.”
Furger’s result surprised himself—“I never expected I could win a medal here,” he said.
Other performances of note:
– Andrew Musgrave (GBR) qualified in third in the morning behind Retivyk and Gianluca Cologna (Dario’s brother). His strong V2 up the first hill turned many a European coach’s head, though it should no longer be a surprise when Musgrave does well. Musgrave looked posted to qualify for the finals, but in the semis took a spill at the top of the final downhill after getting caught up with another skier. He ended up in ninth.
– Norway had a surprisingly down day,with all failing to advance past the quarterfinals. Eivind Bakkene was the first red-clad skier in 14th; Finn Haagen Krogh was 16th.
Scott and Packer lead the U.S. In 25th and 26th
Americans Ryan Scott and Eric Packer were the lone North Americans to make the heats on Tuesday. Packer set the 18th-fastest qualifier while Scott scraped in with 30th. Three more fell just outside the cutoff: Graeme Killick in 31st, Erik Bjornsen in 32nd and Reese Hanneman in 33rd.
Before the first heat came into sight on the first hill out of the stadium, excited U.S. coaches radioed to each other that Scott had gotten off to a fast start. A few seconds later, the black American suit came into view a few paces ahead of Retivyk—the 30th qualifier leading the first.
Scott remained ahead through the rolling downhill and until the second uphill, when he began to lose ground to the rest of the pack. He ended up crossing the line in fifth, which eventually put him in 25th overall.
“It wasn’t the plan,” said Scott of his fast start. “Originally I thought I’d try to hang back and go on the second hill, but sometimes it’s nice to get out a little faster, you can stay out of trouble—a lot of people were falling and breaking stuff. That was my thinking on the spot.”
He expected more of his competitors to be right with him on the first hill, but “no one really came until the next climb,” said Scott.
When Retivyk made his move to overtake him, Scott thought he got “bogged down” trying to stay with him.
“I haven’t trained a whole lot for sprints this year, this is the only time since U.S. Nationals I’ve ever skied heats,” he said. “Tactically, it would be nice to have a bit more practice rather than watching World Cup races.”
Scott lives at altitude in Bozeman, Mont., which he thinks “definitely” gave him an advantage over skiers only used to sea level.
U.S. trip leader and USST development coach Bryan Fish was pleased with Scott’s performance.
“With a number 30 bib, he did absolutely everything he could. He ran out of gas at the end, but on the flip side, when you do that, you can never say you didn’t try—he left it all out on the course. You have to be pretty pleased with that.”
Packer fared less well in his quarterfinal. He said he is used to being the one in control during head-to-head racing in the U.S, but here at U23s, he felt the butt end of aggressive skiing.
Out of the gates, Packer was in third, but rounding the corner to head out to the course, another skier skated right across his equipment.
“I should have asserted myself more, but I kind of sat back for just a second and immediately dropped to sixth place,” said Packer.
“For the rest of the race I tried to move up. It was a game of cat and mouse—people were driving in front and then walking, and I was between fourth and sixth for the rest of the race.”
Packer believed he had the fitness to pass people, but wasn’t able to move quickly enough to sneak by before getting blocked.
“When I’d come up behind someone, they move out in front of you because they sense you coming from behind. So that was a little bit frustrating, and a little different from what I’ve experienced.
“What I found is that if you’re not in the first three spots in a race like this, then you have to have incredible speed to pass people—it can’t be a slow move, they won’t let it happen.”
Despite disappoinment in not moving on, Packer was confident for the 15 k classic and the pursuit hat he could ski with the competition.
“Normally I struggle a little racing at altitude, so feeling good today, especially in the qualifier, was really encouraging.”
For Bjornsen, who just missed the top 30, the qualifier was more fuel for next year, as got a better sense of when starting conservatively is too slow.
“I don’t think I would change anything technically, but I probably should have gone out harder—I had a little left at the end,” he said. “But who knows, if I’d gone out harder, maybe I would have died in the finishing stretch.”
In the difference of one place, Hanneman was 1.46 seconds behind Bjornsen, and was satisfied that he’d given the qualifier 100%.
“I probably went the hardest I’ve gone all year, and technically I think I skied it almost perfectly,” he said. “In that respect I’m glad, I thought I had as good a race as I could have, considering it was a prelim at altitude with a lot of free skating, which is not my forte.”
But, “30th I would have been happier with,” said Hanneman.
After Killick, Bjornsen and Hanneman, Jesse Cockney (CAN) was 39th, David Greer (CAN) finished 47th and Christopher Hamilton (CAN) 50th.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.