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.
STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Kikkan Randall (USA) and Chandra Crawford (CAN) have steadily shed their images as skate sprinting specialists.
While Randall has remade herself as one of the top all-around skiers on the circuit, Crawford has made good progress as well—historically she excelled at one type of event: short fast skate sprints.
Both women brought their 2012 World Cup sprint seasons to a close with strong results in what has been their weaker discipline.
The last three sprints have been of the classic variety, and entering the season this was seen as a potential stumbling block for Randall in her quest for the Sprint Cup.
She wrapped that up a week ago in Drammen, and posted results of fifth, 11th, and now eighth in Stockholm.
“Overall, I am pretty happy on the performance today,” Randall said. “I am still feeling strong and it is great to finish this off. Seventh or eighth, which ever it ends up being is my best finish here in Stockholm, so it is still a success.”
Randall qualified in 21st but skied aggressively to advance out of her quarterfinal.
She took the lead on the backstretch along the water and held that position into the final climb.
Top qualifier Mona-Lisa Malvalehto (FIN) responded after having led the first half of the heat, pulling nearly even with Randall, as another challenger, the always dangerous Ida Ingemarsdotter (SWE) also closed.
The three women came across the line in a blur separated by inches.
Randall claimed the top spot with Ingemarsdotter taking second.
In the semis, Randall skied a similar race, solidly in second before dropping back at the end of the flat. She attacked the hill, but was unable to do enough, placing fourth, 0.6 seconds out of a lucky loser spot.
“The semifinal didn’t go quite as well as I would have liked, I felt like I had the energy to be competitive on that last stretch,” Randall told FasterSkier. “I just struggled technically in these conditions, so I just kind of spun my wheels a little bit there and it was too late.”
The snow was soft and wet on the hill, soaked by the warm spring sun, and klister was very much in play.
With parts of the course shaded from the afternoon sun conditions were significantly different on the two climbs on the 1.1-kilometer loop.
“The track was a lot firmer on that steeper hill and here it has been baked in the sun a little bit more,” Randall said at the finish. “It kind of depends on which track you get in. I think I picked a better track in the quarterfinal and had a little bit more momentum.”
Crawford qualified in fifth and won her quarterfinal over eventual silver medalist Julia Ivanova.
She took the lead on the 180 corner, getting good position heading into the flats.
Ivanova moved back into the front, but the two were in good stead as the last climb approached.
Swiss sprinter Laurien Van der Graaff made a valiant attempt to get back in the top two, but came up short as Crawford took the top spot.
In the semifinals, Crawford appeared fatigued, and was unable to keep pace with eventual Marit Bjørgen (NOR).
After her strong qualification and a fifth last week in Drammen, Crawford was hoping for more.
“It’s still one of my best classic sprints ever, but athletes always adjust their expectations on a hair trigger,” Crawford said. “I got fifth last week, so I wanted to better it. I have been feeling super good in classic.”
Both Randall and Crawford were enjoying the day at “one of the coolest sprints” on the circuit.
“You are down by the water, the palace steps, lots of cheering out there and it’s a fast race—two-and-half minutes,” Randall said. “So it’s pretty fun and I think it is a great way to end the sprint season.”
Crawford concurred adding “It is such a privilege to be a ski racer. I just have to pinch myself when I see the harbor and the blue skies, snow around the King’s castle. I was so happy to be in the heats and get a chance to rip it again.”
On the start line prior to the semis, Crawford was seen on camera moving her hands as if she were revving a motorcycle.
When asked about the novel motion, she explained that she rides a Ducati Monster back home in Canmore.
“This time of year everyone is tired, everybody wants to go home,” Crawford said. “I want to go home and ride my bike, ski tour the mountains and it gives me energy to think about that full-throttle feeling.”
Gaiazova and Marshall Crack Heats, Out in Quarters
Canadians Dasha Gaiazova and Alysson Marshall gave North America four women in the heats.
For Marshall the day was notable as she earned her first career World Cup points.
Coming off two days off due to a cold, Marshall was happy to ski her first World Cup heats.
She finished last in her quarterfinal and ended the day in 28th place.
“I did not quite have the juice in the quarterfinal…I felt beat [coming up the last climb], my body is pretty dead,” Marshall said.
She hung with the pack on the first climb, but drifted back on the double pole, and was never able to recover.
“But it was fun,” she said, “and it was my best race.”
Gaiazova, a seasoned veteran at this point, qualified 22nd and finished 23rd after being eliminated in the quarters as well.
After getting knocked out in a stacked heat, Gaiazova said she felt bad on the course, and lacked her mental edge at this point in the season.
She matched up with Bjørgen, Justyna Kowalczyk (POL), Vesna Fabjan (SLO) and Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg (NOR), but said she actually liked the stiff combination.
Such a heat is usually fast, she explained, meaning a better shot at the lucky loser slots.
Stephen, Diggins Outside Looking In
The final two North Americans in the race, Liz Stephen and Jessie Diggins, failed to make it out of qualification, with Diggins missing a spot by all of 0.12 seconds as she placed 31st.
“I’m not normally a very good classic sprinter,” Diggins told FasterSkier. “I’m trying to get better at it, and use every chance as an experience to learn something…and practicing how to move my feet faster.”
Stephen, whose bread and butter is distance races—generally the longer the better—is still looking for her first World Cup sprint heat experience.
“One of these days it is going to be really fun to qualify, but it’s a long way off still,” Stephen said.
She was thrilled getting to race in Stockholm, but not as happy about the way she skied in qualification.
“I skied this last uphill really poorly which I am upset about… I was slipping and just skiing poorly here,” she said.
She did feel her double pole was good but the best part of the day was just being there.
“The highlight for me is that I have been fired up for sixteen days right now, just because I got to ski on a palace. This is so cool. The king is out here and we’re skiing up steps right now and the crowds are awesome,” Stephen said.
One of her goals for the season was to qualify for the World Cup Finals, and have an opportunity to race in Stockholm.
“I never ever get to do city sprints,” she said. “This is the highlight of my whole season because I got to do this.”
Stephen placed 51st out of 53, but should move up over the weekend now the sprinting is done.
Matthew Voisin contributed reporting.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.