FALUN, Sweden — With thousands of fans cheering under an emerging sun, five north American men qualified for the finals of the World Championships 1.4-kilometer classic sprint. Alex Harvey led the charge in the wet and warm conditions to finish fifth overall.
Harvey finished 2.4 seconds behind qualification winner Nitika Kriukov of Russia who crossed the line with a time of 2:59.92. He was followed by Ola Vigen Hattestad of Norway who trailed Kiukov by just 0.02 seconds. In third and fourth were Thomas Northug of Norway and Ueli Schnider of Switzerland, who trailed by 0.14 and 0.27 seconds.
Andy Newell (+3.64) was the top American finisher in 10th position. The result was his best international sprint qualification finish of the year. Given the warm and often slushy conditions, Newell attempted to find the fastest snow around the 1.4 k course. According to USSA press officer Tom Kelly, Newell radioed in after his race to report where the better conditions on the course were for the last two American starters, Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess and Ben Saxton.
Behind Newell was Canadian Lenny Valjas (+5.81) who placed 22nd.
“It’s super tough and harder than it looks,” Valjas said of the course in a post-qualification interview. “I had enough grip but it was on the edge at the top [of the course]. I can for sure make a few changes and get a few seconds back,” he said.
He explained that to have a successful finish in the heats, he would need more kick and a focus on the double-pole finish.
Squeaking into the top-30 were Americans Simi Hamilton (+6.64) and Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess (+7.33) who finished 28th and 30th.
Hamilton said his body and fitness were feeling strong in Thursday’s race despite the challenging conditions. “It’s tough conditions for me today. It’s slow and sloppy and I’ve always kind of struggled with skiing in that kind of stuff,” he said.
Blackhorse-von Jess explained he was pleased with his race and thrilled to hang on for a qualifying position.
“There’s a rhythm that you get when you’re doing it right,” Blackhorse-von Jess said of his race. “Today I was looking for right, and I found it.”
Two North Americans did not advance to the finals — Canadian Jesse Cockney and American Ben Saxton who finished 49th and 54th.
“It was the worst race of the entire year,” Saxton said after his finish. “I was never moving fast, I was just flat the whole time, and I’m not sure why that was the case. I’m pretty disappointed now.”
Men’s and women’s heats in Falun begin at 15:15 CET.
FasterSkier’s coverage of the 2015 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Falun, Sweden, is brought to you by the generous support of L.L. Bean, now featuring a complete line of Kikkan Randall training wear.
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Lander Karath is FasterSkier's Associate Editor from Bozeman, Montana and a Bridger Ski Foundation alumnus. Between his studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, he is an outdoor enthusiast and a political junkie.