All 2012 FIS World Cup Finals coverage is brought to you through the generous support of Fischer Sports USA, proud sponsors of Kikkan Randall, 2012 overall Sprint Cup Champion.
FALUN, Sweden — The historical 1-3 finish by Canada’s Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw rightfully headlined the North American prologue performances on Friday, but seven other U.S. and Canadian skiers turned in gutsy races on the killer 2.5/3.3 k courses.
One of the most impressive outcomes was the fact that Sylvan Ellefson (USA) finished the race at all, despite crashing and injuring his ankle in the middle of the race. He finished last, in 47th, after skiing the 21st-fastest first lap.
The results obviously don’t tell the whole story, but during the period of time after the finish where live timing was the only information available, Ellefson’s 26-place lapse generated much confusion amongst fans back home. It soon came to light that Ellefson had taken a nasty spill into a sponsor banner on the back side of the notorious Mördarbacken hill.
“There was a sharp left corner, but not one I was really concerned about,” Ellefson recalled. “I came around the turn and a funny rut had developed and my left ski didn’t quite make it out. It was the fastest part of the course so I was probably going 60 kph or so. I slid on my side and headed straight for the sponsor banner. I tried to lift my feet but my right leg collided with the barrier.”
Ellefson’s ankle received the brunt of the impact, which broke his boot in addition to ripping off a pole basket and knocking the wind out of his lungs. After getting his ankle wrapped on the side of the course, Ellefson stood back up and finished the race. He clocked in 4:13.1 behind the second-to-last finisher and appeared to be in considerable pain.
“After they wrapped my leg [USST coach] Pete Vordenberg was there and I just asked if I could finish,” wrote Ellefson in an email after receiving medical attention.
“He said, ‘Sylvan…is that a good idea?’ I got up, put the poles back on and finished.”
“Immediately after I crashed they took down the banner and put up giant red padding.”
After going to a nearby hospital to rule out fracture, it appears that his boot was the only thing broken in the fall. Ellefson chose not to get an X-ray, and US team doctor Michael Pleacher thinks it is likely just a hematoma, a swelling of clotted blood in the tissue.
As of Friday evening Ellefson could walk on his injured ankle, but “I’ll tell you, it’s swollen as a sun-of-a-gun right now,” he said.
The fall couldn’t have come at a worse time — through the 1.2 k mark, Ellefson put up the 21st-fastest split. If he’d been able to hold it, it would have been a career-best result.
“I had the exact start I was planning on,” he said. “[I was] stepping on it but making sure I had enough to really ski the Mördarbacken well… I honestly felt great at the top, I guess as good as you can feel at the top of that hill.
Though “super bummed” to have fallen just when he had been having a good one, Ellefson was mainly happy not to have ended up in worse condition.
“He’s in great spirits—classic Sylvan—and hardly bummed that his race was going so well and ended the way it went,” said USST coach Matt Whitcomb.
Ellefson has not yet decided whether to race on it for Saturday’s 15 k classic.
“I have quite the kankle right now and can’t bend my foot much past 90 degrees… But I will wait to see how it feels in the morning,” said Ellefson.
According to Whitcomb, Dr. Pleacher won’t stop Ellefson from putting on a bib if he wants to race.
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Lenny Valjas (CAN), two days after having the best race of his life in Stockholm, was 21st on the grueling two-lap course, 17.2 seconds off Harvey’s winning time. He currently sits in third in the overall World Cup Finals mini-tour standings.
Behind him, Andy Newell (USA) finished 30th, 24.7 seconds back.
The Mördarbacken was a focal point for many skiers on Friday. It is situated almost immediately out of the start, and Newell thought it was less than ideally suited to his strengths.
“For me it would be better if it were flatter at first [with] the big hill at the end,” said Newell. “So this, for me is a tough course.”
In describing the relentless pitch he said, “you can barely skate it.” Form certainly wasn’t the prettiest on the Mördarbacken for any skier, and if the hill looked steep on TV, it was even more intimidating in person.
“Sylvan’s been saying all week about the courses on the World Cup—they don’t look nearly as steep on TV s they do when you ski them. That’s true for all these courses, but especially the Mördarbacken,” said Newell.
“But that’s good—that’s what World Cup racing’s about.”
Kevin Sandau (CAN) was the next North American finisher across the line in 45th. He said his race felt “OK,” but then pointed out that “it’s a hard course, so I guess it’s hard to feel amazing on it.”
He characterized the 3.3 k distance as basically one long sprint, where it was important to not go out too hard in the beginning, “but still kinda fast.” The end was where Sandau planned to turn it on with everything he had left in the tank.
“I executed that plan relatively well—I was hurting at the end, so, mission accomplished,” he said.
Dasha Gaiazova (CAN) turned in the strongest race for the Canadian women—in 27th, she finished the 2.5 k course 33.1 seconds behind Marit Bjoergen’s (NOR) winning time. She moved up 11 places from her first split at the 1.2 k mark.
Chandra Crawford (CAN) finished 48.7 seconds back in 45th. The Canadian approached the first half of the seven-plus minute course as any other interval day.
“Right before the start I found it was taking the best girls 3:40 to get to the top of the climb,” she said. “Well then I thought, ‘I’ve done a million four-minute intervals and I’m going to do another one right now.’”
Alysson Marshall (CAN) finished 49th out of 49 finishers (+1:12.8). She said she’s been sick recently and unable to train as she would like.
Racing resumes on Saturday with a 10/15 k classic in Falun.
Matthew Voisin contributed reporting.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.