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With a thick, fresh coat of fluffy white snow that fell over the last week, Davos, Switzerland looked regal as ever despite the smaller field and lack of spectators for today’s 1.5-kilometer freestyle sprint. FIS described conditions as hard-packed, elevating what Sophie Caldwell Hamilton, who landed on the podium in Davos the last two years, called in a pre-race interview with FIS as a “technical and tactical” two lap course. Pumping music and cheering coaches, though perhaps a muted version of the norm, made the stadium feel significantly more full than the no-spectator reality.
With the Scandinavian teams out of the running as they withdrew from the December rounds of the World Cup due to Covid-19 concerns, it would be easy to focus on who did not in Davos. Let’s instead focus on who did.
On a roll this season, Rosie Brennan won the qualifier by 1.75 seconds in a time of 2:40.03. Rounding out the Americans in the finals, Caldwell Hamilton took second, Diggins fifth, Julia Kern 10th, and Hailey Swirbul 18th.
In the quarterfinals, Caldwell Hamilton faced off with Switzerland’s Nadine Fähndrich in what would be the fastest heat. The pack stayed together in the first lap, but the two peeled off to finish comfortably off the front, Fähndrich in the lead.
The next heats were much closer. Brennan finished second in a pack of four behind Slovenia’s sprint star Anamarija Lampic in heat two, and after taking the lead in the second lap, Kern won the third heat.
Dropping into a tuck on the last descent and on Kern’s tails in the fast and furious final turn into the stadium, Diggins was in a tough position. Rather than putting herself in position for the sprint to the finish, she maneuvered to avoid tangling skis with Kern and lost some of her momentum. Despite powering down the straightaway and throwing her boot, she took third in the heat and was not fast enough to earn a lucky loser spot.
Swirbul was also eliminated in the quarters after taking fourth in her heat.
In the semis, the three remaining American women lined up together in a stacked first heat with Lampic and Fähndrich. Brennan and Caldwell Hamilton held strong in the middle of the group while the Swiss and the Slovene set the pace. The foursome stayed tight, jockeying for positions in the second lap.
It was anyone’s game in the final straight, but Fähndrich held the others off on home turf to win the heat with Lampic and Brennan in a photo finish for second and third, respectively, behind her and Caldwell half a ski length further back in fourth. Both were able to secure lucky loser positions to advance into the final. Kern was eliminated after finishing 6th in the heat.
Eva Urevc of Slovenia and Natalia Nepryaeva of Russia advanced from the second heat of the semifinals.
Fähndrich and Lampic again took the pace out hot in the final round, but Brennan kept herself in the mix. Challenging Fähndrich, she powered into the lead on the final climb, cresting the hill in front and dropping into a tuck on the downhill. Brennan held her lead out of the final turn and into the straightaway, but Lampic, Fähndrich and Nepryaeva were close on her tails.
Adrenaline pumping and poles lashing, Brennan held her lead by a narrow margin, pumping her fist in the air as she crossed the finish line in 2:37.36, breaking into a wide grin as she gasped for air.
“It’s wild,” Brennan told FIS after the race. “I’ve never considered myself a sprinter, so to find myself on the podium is something I couldn’t even dream of.”
Lampic finished on her tails in second (+0.28), with Nepryaeva and Fähndrich in a photo finish for the final podium spot. They finished third (+0.49) and fourth respectively (+0.53).
After losing contact with the lead group, Caldwell Hamilton finished fifth (+6.83), with Urevc behind in sixth (+15.58).
FasterSkier spoke with Brennan while she awaited a blood draw at antidoping. Still euphoric, Brennan recounted her day and a result that she called “pretty unbelievable” and hadn’t fully set in. In fact, she thought there may have even been a mistake in the timing when she saw her name at the top of the qualifying list. Brennan also discusses training separately with clubs throughout the season, then coming together as a full American squad in Europe.
Post-race interview with Rosie Brennan.
In a post-race interview, Caldwell Hamilton discussed her own strategy to keep herself out of risk of becoming tangled up with other skiers while staying in contention throughout the heats. She also shared how significant today’s results are for the team as a whole, regardless of the presence of the Scandinavian teams.
Post-race interview with Sophie Caldwell Hamilton.
Returning to the World Cup just over a year after being struck by a car and sustaining severe injuries, Hannah Halvorsen placed 38th in today’s qualifier. Halvorsen provided an optimistic comment on how she feels after her first race.
“It was such a thrill to be able to get back on the race course,” wrote Halvorsen in an email. “I was both nervous and excited going into today’s race because I wanted to put down my best race. Everything went really well today so I am quite happy. Thanks to the coaches and wax techs, I had great skis and support. This feels like a great starting point, and I hope to improve off of this as the season continues. It is such an opportunity and honor to be here. The US team performed incredibly well today, and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this team.”
Post-race interview with U.S. Head Coach Matt Whitcomb.
Rachel is an endurance sport enthusiast based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. You can find her cruising around on skinny skis, running in the mountains with her pup, or chasing her toddler (born Oct. 2018). Instagram: @bachrunner4646