A quick glance of the men’s final results in Friday’s classic sprint — the season-opening World Cup in Kuusamo, Finland — reveal the same old story: a Norwegian podium sweep.
But look closer. At age 22, Sondre Turvoll Fossli won his first World Cup and American Andy Newell placed fourth for his best World Cup result since he finished fourth in a classic sprint three seasons ago in Davos, Switzerland.
While Fossli took charge and won the 1.4-kilometer sprint final in 2:33.07, ahead of fellow Norwegian World Cup sprinter Eirik Brandsdal in second (+1.03) and all-around skier Petter Northug in third (+1.65), Newell was 1.11 seconds off the podium in fourth.
The 31-year-old U.S. Ski Team sprinter reached the final by the slimmest of margins as a lucky loser two times over. In a photo finish for third in his quarterfinal, Newell ended up 0.03 seconds behind Russia’s Alexey Petukhov. Yet both advanced to the semifinals based on time.
Then, in the first semifinal, against Fossli, Brandsdal, Sweden’s Emil Jönsson, Russia’s Nikita Kriukov, and Finland’s Matias Strandvall, Newell nipped Jönsson for third — another photo finish separated by 0.03 seconds. Both Newell and Jönsson advanced to the final as lucky losers behind Fossli and Brandsdal, who placed first and second in that heat.
In the final, Fossli pushed the pace early and initially led with Sweden’s Teodor Peterson. By the final hill — an infamously tough climb back up to the Ruka stadium — Fossli was in a league of his own, ahead of the field and charging for the win.
At the bottom of the climb, Newell followed Fossli in second with Brandsdal and Northug closing on him from behind. They passed him along the long ascent to the top, and Newell hung on for fourth, finishing about a second ahead of Peterson in fifth. Jönsson placed sixth, 22 seconds behind the winner.
“I think Kuusamo is one of the toughest sprints of the season,” Newell told FasterSkier in a phone interview after the race. “So I know if I can have a shot at the podium here I can have a shot at the podium any race this year, and I’m excited about that.”
After the finish, Fossli, who learned Monday that he would race the opening sprint in place of Ola Vigen Hattestad, gleamed over his first World Cup victory. Hattestad and his girlfriend, Slovenian skier Katja Višnar, welcomed the birth of their first child earlier this week, according to FIS.
“It was great, third last year and first place now,” Fossli told FIS after his stage win on Friday. At this same venue last year, he placed third in the Ruka classic sprint, behind Brandsdal and Northug, respectively. “I’m really happy and I hope I will stay there.”
Stay tuned for complete report, along with a recap of the U.S. women’s finishes, led by Ida Sargent in seventh.