If you watched the team sprint in Sochi on Sunday, or even if you only saw results, you probably noticed how close the American men came to reaching the podium. True, Andy Newell fell on the last leg and they dropped from fourth to seventh, but until that point he and Simi Hamilton skied in contention for silver and bronze with Germany and Sweden.
That bodes well for the U.S. sprint duo, but Hamilton’s split times from Sunday were especially notable. For Newell it was a good but average day, apart from the fall. He’s has had multiple sprint final appearances this year and is the fourth-ranked sprinter on the World Cup right now. Hamilton, on the other hand, has struggled this season with illness and a general off-ness. His 17th-place finish in the freestyle sprint on Friday is his best result so far, and even then he didn’t feel he paced things right on the extra-hard Olympic course.
Hamilton’s effort in the classic team sprint may be a sign that things are starting to come around for him. He had a spectacular semifinal to start things off, and he and Newell won the heat outright.
In the final, when everyone else disintegrated in the fifth and sixth laps, Hamilton posted the second-fastest last split in the entire field — only Axel Teichmann (GER) was ahead of him in either leg. That field included Emil Joensson, who is undoubtedly the top sprinter in the world at the moment and had to make a huge effort to move Sweden from third to second on the last lap.
As one might imagine, Hamilton was pretty happy with his skiing in Sochi.
“I felt great during my legs,” he wrote in an email. “In my semifinal especially, I felt like I was recovering well between rounds and I was pacing the course well. I just felt great on the huge climb on my last leg and decided to go for it. It got pretty quiet behind me towards the top, so I knew that I had dropped some of the people that I had been skiing with.”
Hamilton continued riding high in the final round. Though Newell’s fall and the ultimate outcome resulted in “a little bit of a sour taste in our mouths with being so close to the podium,” Hamilton’s individual times left him happy with his fitness leading into World Championships in a few weeks.
“I’m definitely satisfied that I was able to push hard all day — both throughout the semis and the finals — and I think that’s a good sign leading into final preparations for Worlds,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I skied the second fastest third leg of everyone in the final (he did), so I’m pretty stoked on that.”
What Hamilton and Newell are most excited about, though, is the opportunity for a rematch in Italy when it really counts.
“Newell and I are really looking forward to sprinting together in Val di Fiemme,” he said.
And with Sochi being the Olympic venue for 2014, the Games were not far from everyone’s mind.
“The Olympic hype is definitely building,” Hamilton said. “I’m really psyched that the venue is at this altitude… a benefit for me I think having grown up at 8,000 feet. Everyone is pretty darn psyched with how the weekend went, even though we know we still have a lot more work to do before next year.”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.