Note: This article has been updated to include quotes from U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover, Kikkan Randall, Simi Hamilton, Andy Newell, and Alaska Pacific University coach Erik Flora.
TOBLACH, Italy — Of the 18 North Americans that competed in Sunday’s 1.3-kilometer freestyle sprints at the Toblach World Cup, nine made the rounds: six Americans and three Canadians.
Kikkan Randall led the U.S. Ski Team in the women’s qualifier, clocking the fourth-fastest time behind qualifying winner Ingvild Flugstad Østberg of Norway, who completed the course in 2:55.07. Randall was 3.3 seconds off the pace, and three other U.S. women joined her in the qualifying top 30: Sophie Caldwell (in 19th), Jessie Diggins (21st) and Holly Brooks (27th).
Canada’s Perianne Jones and Dasha Gaiazova made it in 28th and 30th, respectively.
Andy Newell was the top North American qualifier in the men’s sprint, advancing in eighth — 1.46 seconds behind qualifying winner Jovian Hediger of Switzerland, who clocked 2:36.56. Teammate Simi Hamilton was one-hundredth of a second behind in ninth.
The top 30 men all came within four seconds of the leader, and included Canada’s Alex Harvey in 22nd (+3.14).
Onto the quarterfinals, Randall was the lone North American to move on, winning her quarterfinal by 0.25 seconds of Maiken Caspersen Falla, a Norwegian that would advance with her all the way to the final.
Randall went on to win her semifinal as well, topping Østberg and Falla by 0.15 seconds and 0.16 seconds, respectively. In the final, the three squared off against another Norwegian, Marit Bjørgen, who relied on fast skis and energy-saving tactics to win overall, beating out Germany’s Denise Herrmann by 0.43 seconds, then Østberg and Falla, who placed third and fourth. Randall finished fifth, after missing out on the slipstream toward the finish.
FasterSkier was on site for the last World Cup weekend before the Olympics, and while Gerry Furseth caught up with most of the North Americans, he wasn’t able to get everyone (and a couple technical difficulties prevented some from making it to print). Below is a compilation of notes and quotes from Sunday’s sprint.
5. Kikkan Randall (U.S. Ski Team):
“It was a strong day all around. Unfortunately in the final round when it really counted didn’t quite execute the strategy as well as I would have liked. Feelings were still good, but I tried to make a move and didn’t commit to it enough and then I found myself getting sucked up at the end there.
“Today was great to go through all four rounds, the feelings are really good. I did a strong qualification; it was a pump up for me. I felt really strong. It’s a different course in Sochi so things are still looking really good.”
14. Simi Hamilton (U.S. Ski Team): Third in his quarterfinal, 0.39 seconds behind Sweden’s Emil Jönsson in first and 0.17 seconds behind Switzerland’s Joeri Kindschi, who advanced in second. At the back of the pack early, Hamilton moved to second by the second of three climbs, skiing even with Jönsson up front over the top. Freeskating into the finish, Hamilton was the odd man out in the final sprint to the line.
“I felt like I skied well in the qualification. I didn’t feel fully 100% sparky, but felt strong and skied relaxed. It was a really fun course, kind of unusual course.
“Quarterfinal was a little frustrating, got off to a bad start, made up some good ground. Kind of a spilt second decision at the top of the second hill, when Emil and I were right together. He kind of shut it down right at the top and I thought my best option was to push really hard but they got the draft off me. I felt really strong and had a good effort today. I feel like things are definitely feeling good for the progression towards the sprint in Sochi in 12 days.”
17. Andy Newell (U.S. Ski Team): Fourth in his quarterfinal, missing out on third by 0.01 seconds to Italy’s Federico Pellegrino. Despite being within 0.45 seconds of the heat’s winner, Norway’s Pal Golberg, neither Newell nor Pellegrino advanced. Leading early and within the top three heading toward the finish, Newell fell behind on the final corner as others — like Pellegrino — took advantage of the slingshot.
“I felt good, but it wasn’t a great result. I felt fine in qualification and felt like I skied a pretty good heat tactically. I tried to tuck in and position to slingshot on the downhill, but I just couldn’t quite get the speed. I am not the best slingshotted, you know, I’m pretty light so in the end it had to come down to the lanes, which wasn’t great either. It was not a great tactical race, but the good news is … the sprint course isn’t very much like Sochi. Sochi is another minute long and much more climbing, which I think is good.”
19. Sophie Caldwell (U.S. Ski Team): Fourth in her quarterfinal, 0.75 seconds behind Herrmann in first. Slovenian finalist Katja Visnar advanced in second and Finland’s Anne Kyllönen took third (+0.33).
20. Alex Harvey (Canadian World Cup Team): Fourth in his quarterfinal, 0.76 seconds behind Jönsson in first and 0.37 seconds behind Hamilton in third. Hanging in the middle of the pack for most of the race, Harvey couldn’t quite make up ground in the final straightaway on the three frontrunners, Jönsson, Kindschi and Hamilton, respectively.
25. Dasha Gaiazova (Canadian World Cup Team): Fifth in her quarterfinal, 3.13 seconds behind Østberg in first. Sweden’s Ida Ingemarsdotter advanced in second, and Norway’s Heidi Weng made the semifinals with a fast-enough time in third (+0.4). Germany’s Lucia Anger was fourth (+1.3), and Gaiazova finished 0.95 seconds ahead of Diggins in sixth.
“It was a challenging course for me; it is not for me. It seems like whenever we have to do laps around the stadium, I struggle finding my speed on the flats and the long downhills. So I was happy today qualifying, I qualified in 30th and was really happy I did. I had a crazy cool heat, lots of strong skiers in my heat and it went a lot better than my qualifier so I am happy.”
28: Jessie Diggins (U.S. Ski Team): Sixth in her quarterfinal, 4.08 seconds behind Østberg in first, and 3.68 seconds behind Weng, who advanced in third.
29. Holly Brooks (U.S. Ski Team): Sixth in her quarterfinal, 8.98 seconds behind Randall in first.
“I kind of got gapped right at the start, hesitated at one point so as not to crash … and just got gapped right from the start, and you have to be in there for all the drafts. I feel like I skied the heat by myself, which was unfortunate, but I’m happy to have qualified because it’s a really competitive sprint field, all the sprinters are here and they have their top game getting ready for Sochi, so I have to be happy with it.”
30. Perianne Jones (Canadian World Cup Team): Sixth in her quarterfinal, 1.56 seconds behind Herrmann in first and 0.81 seconds behind Caldwell in fourth. In third behind Kyllönen and Caldwell down the backside of the second hill, Jones fell behind over the top of the third-and-final climb. There, Herrmann attacked and took the lead, leaving everyone else chasing her to the finish.
“I wanted to get a good start and [it] was just a tricky course because there’s so many corners and so much happening, I kind of lost my position coming up over the bump there. If I could do it again that’s what I’d go back and do.
“Despite the result, I think this is the best I’ve felt all year. It’s coming, just little by little. I have to be patient. It’s just really good timing to be feeling the best right now.”
33. Ida Sargent (U.S. Ski Team): Missed qualifying by 0.55 seconds.
34. Chandra Crawford (Canadian World Cup Team): Missed qualifying by 0.7 seconds.
“My weekend did not meet my goals. I wanted to do the 10 k and get top-30 in the sprint, but I didn’t do that either. It was really fun out there though, so fast, the course was awesome. I visualized it about a 100 times and sometimes I do that and I still feel like I am in the dream and kind of attack the second half better.
“Sochi is here, another week, so it’s really a good time to not over think it, get excited, stay positive until crossing the finish line at the Olympics. All I can do now is stay in a positive state of mind and go for it.”
35. Torin Koos (U.S. Olympic Team/Bridger Ski Foundation): Missed qualifying by 0.46 seconds.
“I think it was pretty OK … It’ll be better for me when it’s a four-minute qualification. Obviously I wanted to get in the rounds, but I think the body is coming around I did some heavy training the last couple weeks so I think it feels pretty good for that.
“I’m looking forward to Sochi, should be a good challenge. That’s why I was doing a little bit more of the heavy training to get ready for the Sochi hill and the longer qualification. I think it’s going to be about four minutes, which is about 40 percent longer than here.”
37. Sadie Bjornsen (U.S. Ski Team): 1.45 seconds from the top 30.
“It wasn’t great. I haven’t been doing any speed workouts for five weeks now so I was learning to get back into the groove today. You have to start somewhere and figure it out and so today I was learning some stuff for sure.
“Today was a little disappointing, but we’re jumping into the next thing. You can’t focus on anything too long. You just figure out what you can do better.”
38. Heidi Widmer (Alberta World Cup Academy/Canadian Senior Development Team): 1.89 seconds from the top 30.
“It’s already over, it’s too bad. It was really fun. I risked in some spots and I was pretty squirrely in other spots, but overall I gave it my best shot and came up a little bit short, but I was super close and that just gets you all the more motivated for Sochi.”
41. Caitlin Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus): 3.96 seconds from the top 30.
“It’s quite a big difference; I can win the domestic sprints, the qualifiers at least, pretty handily, but it’s just another world on this level. I would say most of my sprints are distance pace for 1 k. I’m definitely a distance skier.”
47. Jesse Cockney (Alberta World Cup Academy/Canadian Senior Development Team): 1.3 seconds from the top 30.
“It was frustrating … I felt strong, felt like I skied it well. I did everything I could.
“Goals are still to fight for medals [at the Olympics]. It’s been my goal my whole life.”
60. Devon Kershaw (Canadian World Cup Team): 3.76 seconds from the top 30.
“Yesterday in the 15 k, I actually felt really good I just didn’t have a few of the pieces you need to be skiing fast and today I was horrendous, just really flat, no jam in the muscles, a bit tired from the training camp obviously, and just not where near where I needed to be qualifying.
“I felt like I was skiing fairly well technically, I just did not have any power in the muscles and that is not good on a sprint qualifier.
“You want to have better feelings, but I felt really good during the distance race yesterday. Results aside, I have been feeling really good in training … The Olympics are 16 days long and if you keep your focus and you keep your shoulders down and your head up there are a lot of opportunities for one or two great races. So I still feel good. It’s not my first rodeo, it’s my third Olympics so I know what to expect and the feelings in the body have been better aside from today.”
64. Lenny Valjas (Canadian World Cup Team): 5.13 seconds from the top 30.
“Not as good as I wanted, but I felt OK skiing so I’m happy about that. I’m not in as much pain as I was.”
On his knee after taking a month off the World Cup to rehab it following surgery this summer:
“Just a ton of pain under the patella. I’m having a lot of trouble skating and twisting. It’s just a lot of pain we’re trying to manage. … We’re doing lots of strength, and I’m still giving it a good shot. I’ll be back, I’m just off a plane. I felt good skiing and I know the fitness was there [at home] in Canmore. It was good to clear the system here and I’m excited to race [in Sochi].”
Chris Grover (U.S. Ski Team head coach):
“We had a few breakthroughs on some athletes out there. For us I’d say was kind of just an average sprint day. I have a feeling that the team is still a little bit flat after coming down from Seiser Alm [Italy], and I expect when we’re in Sochi, we’re going to be able to start fresh on all cylinders.
“We had our usual qualifiers in there. Andy Newell, Simi Hamilton, Kikkan, Jessie, Sophie, and it was cool to see Holly Brooks get in there. I believe those may have been her first World Cup sprint points of the year so it’s always nice to have another athlete get in there. Overall on the weekend I was really excited about the breakthrough performance by Erik Bjornsen in yesterday’s 15k classic. Those were his first World Cup points and to do so by going in there and ending up 18th really shows, I think, what his future potential is. He’s going to be a very accomplished World Cup skier here in a few years.
“It was of course exciting to have so many athletes in the top 22 yesterday. Six athletes in the top 22. Really solid classic day for us. I think overall the team is feeling a little bit of, perhaps, some fatigue and perhaps some flatness after coming down from altitude. There’s other teams here that are in the same situation but I know that everybody has a good plan going to the games to be, to really get that spark back by the time we start competing in Sochi.”
Erik Flora, Alaska Pacific University Elite Coach:
“It was good, a solid day. I think Kikkan looked like she was skiing really well today. A little bit of tactical thing there in the finish. Holly qualified, so that was really good. Sadie, a little bit mixed today. An okay day.
“I think we’re in a great place coming in to Sochi. The most important thing today is that all the ladies were running strong. You could see it when they were climbing, they are all in a great place, so really good prep for Sochi.”
— Matt Voisin and Peggy Hung contributed reporting
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.