The Swedes swept the podium in Friday’s classic sprint race in Falun, Sweden. The final day of World Cup sprinting didn’t disappoint the local fans who had come to see their team win on home snow.
The sprints began with a quarterfinal featuring Andy Newell of the United States and Alex Harvey of Canada. Swedish sprinter Calle Halfvarsson led the heat out of the gates and up the hill, with Newell and Harvey right behind him.
Heading into the stadium, Harvey pulled into the lead to go head to head with Newell in the final stretch. Lingering just behind was Halfvarsson who powerfully double poled his way into the finish ahead of Harvey and Newell who couldn’t match him in the end. Harvey edged Newell for second, but the American’s time was fast enough to win a lucky loser berth in the semifinals.
Newell was also cited for skating in the finishing stretch while contesting the race against Harvey. “It was hard to decide where the fastest snow would be,” said Newell. “I’d hop into the track, then hop out, trying to find the best snow. I think a lot of guys were doing that. In the finishing stretch I was trying to find the best snow and put in what they judged was too many skate steps, so I received a yellow card for that. It’s not a huge deal though because I’m typically really good about not skating in classic races, and that’s just my first yellow card. They keep track of it and if you get a second one you can be disqualified.”
The second quarterfinal saw Norway’s Eirik Brandsdal, Sweden’s Emil Jönsson, and Germany’s Tim Tscharnke qualify.
The third quarterfinal was led out of the gates by Sweden’s Teodor Peterson, followed by Norway’s Ola Vigen Hattestad. Heading into the base of the long first climb, Hattestad tried to switch tracks, cutting off Russian skier Maxim Vylegzhanin and causing him to break a pole. Hattestad went on to lead the rest of the heat and win it, only to be relegated to last place as a result of his actions early on. It was a moment of careless skiing from the Olympic champion, and it opened the door for his teammate Brandsdal to make a bid to recapture the Crystal Globe.
Hattestad said after his race, “It’s crap if the jury will decide who wins the Sprint Cup. It may be that I have done something wrong, but I did not experience it that way.”
The fourth and fifth quarterfinals saw Russians Nikita Kriukov and Sergey Ustiugov qualify as well as Pål Golberg of Norway and Federico Pellegrino of Italy.
Jönsson led the first semifinal heat up the hill with Tscharnke following and Harvey looking for a way in on the outside. Heading into the second hill Harvey and Tscharnke tangled skis for a moment, but both stayed on their feet.
Coming down the hill and into the stadium it was Brandsdal in the lead, but it was Halfvarsson who had the fastest skis and he glided past the Norwegian. Harvey then made a move to take over the lead, and carried that into the last straightaway, but he couldn’t match Jönsson and Halfvarsson in the end, and took third. Both he and Brandsdal were fast enough though to win lucky loser positions in the final heat.
“The semifinal was good,” said Harvey. “I was just outgunned before the line by Halfvarsson and Jönsson, but it was also hotly contested, with Brandsdal in there fighting for the sprint cup. That heat was fast because I got the lucky loser, and Brandsdal got lucky loser.”
The second semifinal was initially led by Peterson and Ustiugov, with Newell and Golberg skiing on the outside tracks. Pellegrino fell heading into the second hill, and shortly after Golberg slipped and fell over as well, leaving the front four to contest the race. Peterson was the strongest and won the heat, with Ustiugov second and Kriukov third in a very close photo finish, and Newell finished fourth.
The final heat saw Jönsson, Halfvarsson, Peterson, Ustiugov, Harvey, and Brandsdal line up against each other. The three swedes had the crowd and home snow advantage while Harvey was eyeing every World Cup point and Brandsdal the sprinters title.
Jönsson took the lead up the first climb and tore his way up it at a frenetic pace. Jönsson gained a lead, but the group compacted again after the downhill. Brandsdal took over lead heading into the stadium, but the three Swedes caught him and skied ahead with Harvey, Ustiugov, and Brandsdal chasing.
Peterson led in to the finish with Jönsson right behind him. With a hundred meters left in the race Jönsson moved from behind his teammate and the two skied neck and neck to the finish, lunging for a photo finish. Halfvarsson finished just behind and Harvey who took fourth, .04 seconds ahead of Ustiugov. Brandsdal finished sixth, a result that wasn’t good enough to win back the Crystal Globe from Hattestad
“In the final Jönsson went so fast up the first climb,” said Harvey. “For me my plan was not to go balls to the wall on that climb because I wanted to be strong at the end. So I knew to try and stay relaxed and that it was coming back in the downhill. But after that I was still in sixth and couldn’t pass on the second hill. And then it just came down to the finish, but I had a good punch in the end. I came from sixth to fourth, which is good for the mini-tour standings, getting some bonus seconds, so I was pretty satisfied with the race.”
In the end, Peterson was ruled the winner in a race that was almost impossibly close. Jönsson received the exact same time as Peterson, they were within a hundreth of a second of each other, a nearly imperceptable margin.
The ever good natured and humorous Jönsson joked with Expressen after the race, It would be great by Teodor [Peterson] if he could stand up and say that we share it here. Then he would be a great sportsman,” said a laughing Jönsson. “He has larger feet! No, but I think I had more speed and was coming on. But they’ve looked carefully at the pictures.”
Jönsson has had a spell of bad luck in this seasons sprint races, with numerous crashes and broken poles. He told FIS, “I fell in a few last World Cup competitions so the plan was to stay out of trouble and ski to the finish.”
Peterson told Expressen after the race, “Sure, it was damn smooth. I find it hard to get into first in a race, you know you that you are tired and so have no idea of where the others are. I felt that I might lose now, but I got a hell of a lucky break.”
Halfvarsson was content to round out the Swedish contingent. “I am happy for third place,” he told FIS. “It is always special to share the podium with teammates. My skis were perfect and I enjoyed racing a lot today.”
Harvey is now in fifth place in the World Cup overall standings, just 14 points shy of Halfvarsson in fourth. When asked how close he will be watching Halfvarsson in the next two races, Harvey responded, ”pretty closely. In the standings in the mini-tour he’s the big threat. There’s no way that Teodor [Peterson], Emil [Jönsson] and Ustiugov are going to last for 30 k. He’s the guy everyone’s going to try to make time on.”
“Alex has been in good shape all year,” said Justin Wadsworth, the Head Coach of the Canadian National Team. “I think every race now after the Olympics is a chance for him to show that he’s been in good shape. I think he still feels the pain a little bit from the Olympics and wants to finish on a high note, and he’s doing a good job, he’s fifth in the overall World Cup and has a chance for fourth, so we’ll see how it shakes out.”
“We’d really like to see him go for that fourth spot, to finish out the season in fourth would really be a high point for us. That’s a very high placing in the world Cup and something he should be proud of as an athlete.”
Pasha Kahn writes and coaches in Duluth, Minnesota.