In his first skate sprint since August, when Andy Newell mixed it up in New Zealand at the NZ Winter Games, the U.S. Ski Team’s veteran sprinter made it all the way to the final on Sunday in Beitostølen, Norway. Newell ended up sixth in the 1.4-kilometer freestyle sprint, the last FIS race in a three-race series this weekend.
Fourth in the qualifier, Newell was one of the top guys heading into the final after Norwegians Sondre Turvoll Fossli, Ola Vigen Hattestad and Anders Gløersen. The 20-year-old Fossli went on to win every heat, including his final in 2:33, just a tenth of a second faster than runner-up Finn Hågen Krough, also from Norway.
A lucky loser in both his quarterfinal and semifinal, Newell finished 4.6 seconds behind Fossli in the final (and 0.2 seconds behind German fifth-place finisher Sebastian Eiesenlauer).
“I was feeling ready to race leading into [the race], although I hadn’t done a real skate sprint since New Zealand,” Newell wrote in an email. “This course wasn’t too easy because of the wind … but it definitely wasn’t a World Cup course either with less climbing, only taking us about two-and-a-half minutes. So I knew I was going to have to be quick in qualification and aggressive in the heats.”
He tried to get out front in each of his heats to avoid trouble and “also get some room to punch it on the uphill,” Newell explained.
“My fitness and speed was feeling good so I think I was able to push a high pace in the heats, but just didn’t have my usual kick at the end,” he added. “This tends to be a recipe for Lucky Loser, which is what happened to me today.”
A problem for most everyone, Newell said the wind was a factor in the men’s race.
“We all stayed together up and over the final uphill but my legs were just a little too heavy to challenge in the lanes and the German skier and I duked it out,” he explained. “It’s still early and I want to be skiing my best in January and February … so I’m confident, but also not feeling much pressure.”
With this coming Friday’s sprint part of the Kuusamo Ruka Triple mini tour, and a “double distance weekend” Dec. 7-8 in Lillehammer, Norway, Newell said the next two weeks will also be about building and “hopefully get me ready to rock once the real sprints start going off.”
Newell’s teammate on the USST and Stratton Mountain School T2 Team (SMST2), Simi Hamilton was also looking forward to moving on after the FIS races in Beitostølen. He qualified in 15th on Sunday and went on to place 27th with a sixth-place finish in his quarterfinal.
“I decided to make a move around [German] Josef Wenzel on the inside when we were coming around the last 180 turn before the finishing stretch,” Hamilton explained in an email. “I knew [I] could ski the corner better and faster than him, so I decided to go for it and see what happened. Wenzel is an aggressive skier and crashes occur in a lot of heats that he skis. When I was coming thru on his inside, I got nudged into the V boards and possible got my skis stepped on. It went down pretty quick.
“I broke my pole and lost all my momentum coming into the finishing stretch, but rubbing is racing and I’m using it to fuel the fire for the upcoming World Cup sprints,” he added.
Hamilton finished last in his heat, more than 19 seconds behind Wenzel, who went on to place eighth overall. Regardless, Sunday’s crash and an unlucky 15 k classic race on Friday didn’t faze Hamilton.
“My energy felt really good going in to the day,” he wrote Sunday. “It was a good course for me… Pretty short time-wise and some good transition skiing on fast and hard conditions. During the qualifier I focused on skiing powerfully and getting that good skate sprint feeling going.”
After the race, Hamilton said he did some mock sprint intervals. “I’m using that as a good sign of where I am fitness and speed-wise,” he wrote. “I’m psyched about that feeling, especially after such a frustrating day on Friday when I broke my pole after catching my kick pocket on a sheet of ice and just couldn’t get my body revved up to where I wanted it to be during that race.”
Three other American men raced on Sunday, but missed qualifying for the heats. Torin Koos (Bridger Ski Foundation) placed 32nd, less than four-tenths of a second out of qualifying. Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess (Bend Endurance Academy) tied for 54th, and Mikey Sinnott (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation) was 71st.
“I felt optimistic going into [Sunday’s] race,” Sinnott wrote in an email. “Body was feeling sharp. I had a solid warm up and things seemed ready to go. I tried to ski longer and glide a lot during the race, which I believe I did. I never bogged down and had plenty left for a strong finish, which can be a weakness of mine.”
Ultimately, Sinnott felt he should have been more aggressive.
“I still had plenty left in the tank at the finish line,” he wrote. “This week was about relearning to race and assessing fitness, in that regard it was a success. I can have a tough time the first week in Europe, but I didn’t suffer the usual deep fatigue. I didn’t ski fast this week, but it was a low priority to do so. Mostly I wanted to have a test run.”
“Now, I know where I need to work in the upcoming week,” Sinnott added. He’s planning to race all three races in Kuusamo. “I’m close to where I want to be next week, and I think you’ll see a big change.”
— Alex Matthews contributed reporting
Emily Schwing is a public radio reporter in Interior, AK. She normally writes about athletes of the four-legged kind. When she's not chasing dog teams, skiers and local news, she's breaking trail on her rock skis with a dog name Ghost. Follow her on Twitter @emilyschwing