Andy Newell led the US men’s team in 22nd after a crashing Swiss skier ended any hope of advancing out of the quarterfinals.
Newell stayed on his feet with impressive acrobatics as Eligius Tombonino came sliding in on a tough left hand corner in Szklarska Poreba, Poland.
Newell qualified in an uncharacteristic 26th, just making it through to the heats despite almost catching Emil Joensson (SWE), one of the world’s best sprinters.
“I felt good in qualification and started behind Emil and almost caught him, so I thought I was crushing it, but it turns out he was just going really slow…So although I felt fine in quali my time wasn’t a great one,” Newell said.
He matched up with Teodor Peterson (SWE) and Nikolay Morilov (RUS) among others in the quarterfinals. The pair is currently ranked first and third in the sprint cup.
Newell started well, getting out quickly and in good position behind Russian Anton Gafarov.
“I wanted to ski up toward the front in order to stay out of trouble and also hopefully be in a good position leading into the final corner,” Newell wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “Things went as planned and I was in great position and slid right into second for the downhill which was exactly what I wanted to do.”
But “things went south in a hurry” from that point Newell said. He didn’t know why, whether slower skis or bad drafting, but he found himself toward the back of the pack, and forced to be aggressive.
He swung wide on the corner, still in contact with the leaders when Tambornino hit.
“It definitely ruined my chances of a top finish,” Newell said. “When that happens it sucks because you need to keep hammering in case something happens, but when you’ve lost contact with the top four you’re chances of moving on are slim…it’s not a fun position to be in.”
Newell has advanced out of the quarterfinals just once this year, several weeks ago in Otepaa, Estonia, where he was 7th in the classic sprint.
Just three sprints remain this season, all of the classic variety, which is to Newell’s liking.
“I’m definitely more confident in my classic sprinting right now so I know I can finish the season strong,” Newell said. “I still go into every race with the goal of making the podium.”
Newell was joined in the heats by teammate Simi Hamilton, who has been just outside the top-30 in his last two starts, placing 31st and 33rd.
Hamilton qualified in 28th, a position he said he would not normally be thrilled with, but given how tight the times were, he was not unhappy.
“I was definitely psyched to be in the heats again after some tough qualifiers in Otepaa and Moscow, and I felt like that good touch that I have on skis was back again today after not having it for the last few weeks,” Hamilton said.
But at this point in his career, he is not going to settle for just making the quarterfinals.
“I’m for sure a little disappointed in how my quarter turned out,” he told FasterSkier.
The start was odd due to a gun malfunction. After a long pause the starter sent the racers out with his voice, and Hamilton was left toward the back.
“I was psyched that I could move up to the front on the long flats/gradual climb out of the start, but I felt like I got stuck on the outside and couldn’t squeeze in to the pack until about half-way down the descent,” Hamilton said.
He tried to make a move on the outside, but ended up stuck between Devon Kershaw (CAN) and one other skier.
He was forced wide and left out of position for the final run to the finish.
“It was definitely a hard heat in terms of speed and players, but I know that if I had skied a little smarter and/or more aggressive, I would have been in that fight at the line,” he said.
He is now looking ahead to some classic sprinting and feels confident that he will be mixing it up in the heats in both Lahti and Drammen.
Diggins Joins Randall in top-30
On the women’s side, phenom Jessie Diggins joined third place finisher Kikkan Randall in the quarterfinals.
After placing 6th in her previous World Cup skate sprint, Diggins was not going to sneak up on anyone.
She qualified 12th, and while she had no problem being aggressive, was unable to find space to work in her quarterfinal.
“I was super psyched to make it into the heats but got myself into a bad position on the final corner and got boxed in, and didn’t have much energy left for the final 100 meters,” Diggins said.
“My strategy was to not be in the front on the downhill so I could draft since people seemed to be passing a lot there,” she continued. “It worked pretty well until I got on the inside of the corner and couldn’t get back out, but that’s sprint racing…”
Diggins will take a break from the World Cup and heads to Turkey for the U23 Championships next week.
Ida Sargent and Liz Stephen also raced for the US, placing 46th and 47th respectively.
While Stephen entered the day with the goal to qualify, she was pleased with her result. A consistent top-30 skier in distance races, Stephen has not been much of a sprinter.
“I felt really good for a sprint day,” Stephen said. “I think it is my best World Cup sprint result ever, and I could tell during the race that it was going well while I was out there. It was a different feeling than I have had at all sprinting this year…this one was far better than any previously, so that was good.”
She added that the race also serves as good prep for the 10k classic event on Sunday, an event more suited to Stephen’s strengths.
“My goal with sprinting is to do it as often as possible and get to the point where I can qualify on a good day,” she said. “The heats look so fun!”
Sargent, who placed 12th in the previous sprint World Cup in Moscow, was nearly six seconds out of the top-30.
Elliott and Ellefson Round Out US Squad
Distance skier Tad Elliott and World Cup rookie Sylvan Ellefson filled out the US field, placing 53rd and 57th.
Despite racing just his second World Cup sprint, Ellefson said simply “today I wasn’t satisfied.”
He said he entered the final 300 meters at high speed, but in hindsight he needed to “punch it out of the start and to the top of the course.”
With fast conditions on hard-packed wet snow Ellefson noted the importance of ski choice.
“I definitely had great skis today, but wish I could have been a little snappier today,” he concluded.
Despite not having his best race, Ellefson did beat a sluggish Joensson and was one place behind Axel Teichmann (GER).
Elliott, on the other hand, was pleased with his performance. Like Stephen he does not have much history as a sprinter.
He said the race “went really well,” and that he felt smooth—a new experience in a sprint.
“My goal was to lay down a good qualifying time and get closer to those top guys. I did that,” Elliott said.
After racing the 15k on Sunday, Elliot will return to the US to race the American Birkebeiner.
Matt Voisin contributed reporting.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.