FasterSkier’s coverage of the 2013 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, is brought to you by the generous support of Fischer Sports.
VAL DI FIEMME, Italy — A few hours before their teammates went and made history in the women’s race, Americans Andy Newell and Erik Bjornsen got unlucky in the team sprint semifinals at World Championships. Bjornsen fell in a tangle with France and Finland on his third leg the U.S. lost contact with the leaders as they began to take off at the front, putting Newell at a significant deficit in the anchor position. They wound up finishing seventh overall in the heat, 26.97 seconds behind the leaders, and failed to advance when the second semifinal posted better times.
“It’s pretty disappointing,” Bjornsen said. “We were kind of all together and I knew Newell was skiing really fast, so it was too bad I couldn’t get in there because I think he would have had a good last lap.”
Bjornsen, brought up to the team sprint squad to fill in for a sick Simi Hamilton the day before, chalked up his tangle to the norms of sprint racing. He managed to stay with the lead group before the pace picked up, even recovered from a broken pole in the first lap, but simply got unlucky on his last leg as Canada, Belarus and German were beginning to break away.
At that point, even before he fell, “we weren’t super tight, which was too bad,” Bjornsen said.
Newell passed Finland back to return the team to seventh place, which with a miraculous crash in the second semifinal could have advanced them to the final.
“When you’re back like that you want to go as fast as you can and not worry about places,” Newell said before the second heat was over. “I tried to put down a fast last lap as fast as I could to got past Finland before the finish but we’ll just have to wait and see if the time is fast enough.”
He was realistic about their chances in the moment. Conditions were slow for heat one, but it stopped snowing for the second race.
“It’s slow and I have a feeling it’ll get faster because the snow has stopped,” Newell said. “So we’ll be lucky to make it in, we’ll just have to wait and see. There could be crashes or something.”
The Americans warmed down for the duration of the second heat in case they somehow became one of six lucky losers. Sweden and Kazakhstan went one-two in the heat and posted slightly slower winning marks, but the finishers behind them were more compressed. The Americans’ time wasn’t fast enough and they ended their day early.
It was a disappointment for a team that, with a healthy Hamilton, has showed promise on the World Cup this year. Bjornsen felt a little bit of that pressure when he lined up for the U.S., but also said he was relaxed before the start.
“I felt a little pressure because Simi and Andy have done pretty good in teams sprints this year and I wanted to keep that alive and get us to the finals, but at the same time I was pretty calm, actually, feeling pretty confident,” Bjornsen said. “I definitely wanted to get Newell to the final.
“My strategy was to go out there and be able to hand off to Andy on the last lap in contention, because he’s skiing really fast right now. I don’t think I needed to lead at any point, I just needed to be in it.”
Newell and Bjornsen ultimately placed fourteenth in the final standings. Bjornsen plans to race the 15 k freestyle next at World Championships and Newell will likely scramble the men’s 4 x 10 k relay.
— Alex Matthews 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.