SOCHI, Russia — All four American women in Tuesday’s 1.3-kilometer freestyle sprint successfully locked up spots in the quarterfinals, advancing with top-30 qualifying results on a challenging and soupy course.
With temperatures well into the 40’s and snow that didn’t freeze overnight, officials salted the critical climb out of the stadium, but the curving descent back toward the finish proved challenging. Of the first seven women who started, two fell (Sweden’s Hanna Erikson and Poland’s Sylwia Jaskowiec). Several others followed — between the women’s and men’s 1.8-kilometer qualifier — and China’s Wenlong Xu had to be assisted as he limped off the course.
Sophie Caldwell led the American qualifiers in ninth, 3.11 seconds behind winner Maiken Caspersen Falla, who clocked 2:32.07. Slovenia’s Katja Višnar advanced in second, 0.4 seconds back, and Norway’s Marit Bjørgen was third (+1.10).
Also for the U.S. Ski Team, Jessie Diggins clocked the 12th-fastest time (+3.57), Kikkan Randall made it through in 18th (+4.6), along with Ida Sargent in 26th (+7.73).
Of the Canadian women, Perianne Jones qualified in 23rd (+6.56) and Dasha Gaiazova made the heats in 27th (+7.97). Heidi Widmer (Alberta World Cup Academy/National Senior Development Team) was 3.19 seconds out of qualifying in 43rd, and the defending Olympic skate sprint champion, Chandra Crawford, placed 44th — 0.23 seconds after Widmer.
In the men’s race, Andy Newell was the fastest American in 17th, 7.17 seconds behind qualifier winner Ola Vigen Hattestad of Norway, who finished in 3:28.35. Russia’s young gun Sergey Ustiugov, 21, was nearly two seconds behind in second (+1.91), and Italy’s Federico Pellegrino advanced in third (+2.03).
Alex Harvey was the lone Canadian male in the top 30, qualifying in 19th (+7.73). Simi Hamilton of the U.S. was just four-hundredths of a second back from Harvey in 21st.
Canada’s Len Valjas in 36th was 1.99 seconds out of 30th — and 11.52 seconds behind Hattestad.
“I caught a cold three days ago, so I was in bed for three days,” Valjas said. “Yesterday I dragged myself out to do a half-hour ski and I just felt like total crap. So this morning I did two laps pretty hard, just clearing out the cylinders, and I didn’t feel awesome there. But come the race, the skis were fast and I actually felt pretty good.
“I would have liked to have been a few positions better, but I’m considering everything that’s happened this year … I think I did okay today,” he added. Valjas had knee surgery last summer and spent the last month taking a break from the World Cup to rehab it in Canmore, Alberta.
Four-time U.S. Olympian Torin Koos finished 37th (+11.92) — consistent with his 35th- and 36th-place finishes in the freestyle sprint in the 2002 and 2006 Games, respectively.
Erik Bjornsen of the U.S. Ski Team was 39th in his first Olympic sprint (+12.04), and Canada’s Jesse Cockney (Alberta World Cup Academy/National Senior Development Team) placed 53rd (+16.01) in his first Olympic race.