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SOCHI, Russia — Eight years ago, Chandra Crawford skied her first Olympic skate sprint and outsprinted Germany’s Claudia Künzel for a surprise gold medal.
Today, Crawford was back in the Olympic sprint, and ran into Künzel (now Nystad) at the end again – but under slightly different circumstances. After a tough qualifier that saw close times but also many crashes from top competitors and developing nations skiers alike, Nystad finished 35th and Crawford 44th, just outside the top-30 cutoff for the quarterfinals. Neither would have the chance to pursue one more Olympic medal.
“I chatted in the tent with Claudia for a good 15 minutes, and we took a historic eight-year anniversary photo,” the 30-year-old Canadian said. “It’s pretty crazy.”
Crawford certainly hasn’t shown the form this season which would suggest she could win another Olympic gold. She came into today’s race with an optimistic sense of realism.
“I was feeling about half of the form and confidence I was hoping for,” Crawford said. “I just resolved to be as positive as I could coming in. Especially in the last couple of weeks there wasn’t much time to completely overhaul my fitness. I just stayed positive, got excited, and it turned out to be a great day.”
After all, anything can happen in a sprint. Crawford was excited that it turned out to be a two-and-a-half minute race, as she prefers shorter courses, and that the organizers salted the uphills to make them a bit less slushy (other parts of the course, including the stadium and the downhills, developed deep sugar snow and ruts).
Without being able to up her fitness, she instead focused on process goals and technique and decided to see where it could take her.
“I went out at ten-second sprint pace,” Crawford explained. “I was a little disappointed in Toblach [at the World Cup last weekend]. I thought I was a little in that dream state, after not racing very much, so I resolved to do my best and go for ten out of ten on process focus. I said if I go all out, sprint the corner, blast the uphill, sprint the downhill, I’ll be happy with the result.
“There’s be nothing worse than being too conservative,” she added.
44th place wasn’t the way she thought things would turn out, though, if she executed her race plan.
“I was very optimistic,” Crawford said. “I thought it was going to happen. I don’t know exactly where I lost the time… I’m not happy with the result. That is so disappointing. But I’m happy with the effort.”
Further analysis led her to guess that maybe the final finishing stretch – skiers have to loop through the stadium before finish straight, which is long in and of itself – did her in.
“The finishing stretch could have been where I really lost time,” Crawford admitted. “It is long, slushy, and slightly uphill. But that’s what we train for: being completely exploded phsycially and still doing great maximum technical moves with good body position. That’s what I’ve worked on my whole life and I was confident that that would be the way to approach it.”
Although her day of racing was over, Crawford couldn’t leave the Laura venue quite yet. Her sister Rosanna Crawford is starting the 10 k biathlon pursuit tonight in bib 25; she’s already surpassed her previous best Olympic finish of 72nd by leaps and bounds. Chandra now has to coordinate handing off a lucky family ring to her sister before the biathlon race begins.
“I think when she’s warming up from six to seven, I’ll be right here, and I’ll hand her the lucky rings,” Crawford said. “She’s doing awesome. I’m really excited to have the opportunity to cheer for her and enjoy the Olympics that way.”
-Alex Matthews contributed reporting
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.