QUEBEC CITY – American sprinter Andy Newell on Saturday skied to his best result in two seasons, buoyed by the support of a huge cheering squad from south of the border.
After controlling his quarterfinal round, then advancing out of the semifinals as a lucky loser, Newell placed fifth in the individual sprint, at a venue that ranked among “the coolest” he’s visited in nearly a decade of racing.
“There were so many American fans,” Newell said. “It was pretty amazing to be in the start pen and have them call your name, and have your cheers be louder than any other skiers’ out there. It’s usually the opposite for us.”
On a day that saw some North American athletes get bogged down in Quebec City’s soggy, sloppy snow conditions, Newell excelled, which U.S. Head Coach Chris Grover attributed to the 29-year-old’s finesse on his skis—and his relatively light weight.
“He probably floats on those kind of snow conditions better than his competitors do,” Grover said. “It had the potential to be a really good day.”
After qualifying 12th, Newell bolted out of the gate in his quarterfinal round, giving him a vice grip on the heat and a berth in the semis.
“I was able to get out front and kind of control the race,” he said. “It felt great, and the skis felt like they were running really fast all day.”
A more sluggish start and poor lane assignment in the semifinals left Newell out of the running for a guaranteed spot in the final round, which go to the top two finishers. But the times in his heat were fast enough that he advanced as a lucky loser.
The script was the same in the finals, as Newell wasn’t quick enough early in the round—or assertive enough later in the heat—to be in contention in the charge to the line, even though he said he “felt good enough to be on the podium.”
“It was just a matter of being a little bit more aggressive leading up to that final finishing stretch,” he said.
But Newell was still far from discouraged.
“Today is as good or better, probably, than I felt or finished in any sprint last year,” he said. “So I think that’s a good sign that things are building up.”
What accounts for the 2.5-second difference between Newell in fifth, and Swedish winner Emil Jönsson? Newell’s training plan is structured so that he’s not yet at his top fitness—instead, it’s designed to have him peak around February’s World Championships, Grover said.
“Looking forward to seeing how it unfolds over the next month, month and a half,” said Grover. “I have no idea what Emil Jönsson’s done for training, but I feel like given what we’ve done, there’s more to get out of Andy between now and the World Championships, just focusing on some specifics and training.”
Having skied more than 100 World Cup races in his career, Newell had high praise for the organizers of the Quebec City sprint, which he called “kickass.”
“You always worry when you go to a place that has never held a World Cup before,” Newell said. “But I mean, this place was dialed. They did their homework.”
Newell said he hoped the American turnout would help convince the International Ski Federation that it could someday hold a World Cup race in the U.S.
“Having everyone there cheering, it doesn’t add any pressure at all—it just makes it more fun,” he said.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.