Whistler, British Columbia – The Canadian team of George Grey and Alex Harvey finished an impressive third in the Men’s Team Sprint competition this morning. Harvey outsprinted Russia I, lunging at the line, to claim the final podium spot. The Swedish team took the victory in a tight and exciting race.
The semifinals were hotly contested. In the first heat, American Mike Sinnott broke from the field and opened up 15 meter gap at the end of the the second lap. Torin Koos, paired with Andy Newell, gave chase on the next lap, bridging to Chris Cook, and the two Americans entered the stadium several second ahead of the field. The gap was quickly eliminated on the next climb, and for Sinnott and Cook, it was ultimately a case of too much too soon. They fell off the pace and ultimately finished last in the heat. Koos and Newell remained in the hunt for a spot in the finals. Both skiers looked strong and sat comfortably in middle of the pack. On the fifth lap, France and Italy opened a small gap, with Sweden just behind in third. Another 2 second back sat the US and two Canadian teams. On the last large hill, Newell attacked and caught Canada’s Alex Harvey who had pulled away. Just as Newell went by, he poled between his legs and crashed to his knees. Harvey accelerated and caught the Swedes and Italians while Newell quickly jumped to his feet and gave chase. He was unable to move up in position, but closed on the second Canadian team anchored by Phil Widmer, and crossed the line in 6th. The finals looked like a long shot of the Americans, while Harvey and Grey were in good position for a Lucky Loser spot, Harvey being outsprinted by Italian Pietro Piller Cottrer.
The second semifinal was very tight with all ten teams bunched for much of the race. The heat feature Kris Freeman and Garrott Kuzzy for the US and Canada I (Ivan Babikov and Sean Crooks). Kuzzy and Freeman started well, leading the race after four laps. But with such a large pack, it took very little for things to change. The two lost contact on the fifth lap and were unable to close, finishing 5th. Canada IV literally fell out of contention when Cameron Egan crashed on the 3rd lap. They had remained within the main pack up to that point. Misfortune continued to hound the Canadians, as Sean Crooks, in strong position at the end of the 5th lap, lost his ski on the last uphill. It is unclear if the ski was stepped on or if the binding opened. Either way it dropped the team well out of contention. To add insult to injury, anchor Ivan Babikov accidentally skied into the lap lane on his final leg, requiring him to turn back around. Egan’s teammate Chris Butler followed Babikov, dropping the team to last place behind Australia.
The time for the second heat was significantly slower than the first. The winning Russian team posted a time that would have placed them second to last in the first semi. Garrott Kuzzy commented that his first two laps were the easiest he had ever raced on this sprint course, before the last ranked as the hardest. So it appears the pace was much slower, as opposed to a change in conditions. All four Lucky Losers came out of the first heat, sending two Canadian teams, and the top US team to the finals.
In the final field also remained in one large pack for most of the race. The race featured many lead changes, the one constant being Swede anchor Emil Joensson taking the lead at the end of each of his laps. After four laps all ten teams remained within 2.2 seconds of the lead. On the 5th lap,the Russian team pushed the pace, and the sibling team of Fabio and Renato Pasini (Italy I) kept pace. Sweden, Canada I, Italy II and France II responded.
Yesterday’s winner, Pietro Piller Cottrer (ITA) fell hard on the final corner in the stadium. Alex Harvey (CAN) was able to step around, leaving five teams to fight for the victory. They entered the homestretch neck and neck, and Joensson once again showed his finishing speed, outsprinting Pasini for the victory. Joennsson is undefeated in Canada since winning the skate sprint in Canmore last year. He also one the sprint here last spring at Canadian Nationals, and won Friday’s individual classic sprint.
Said Joensson after the race, “I love Canada! It is an awesome place here and I had some great days. To win the race with Robin was fantastic. I am really happy that the Olympics will be here – I like the course, the place, the people and everything!”
Renato Pasini was also pleased. “It was a good race today. In the last lap I tried to go with Pietro but then Joensson came, and Pietro felt. It is really fun to race with Fabio, my brother.”
But the highlight of the day was 20-year old Alex Harvey charging to the line, lunging ahead of Russia’s Alexei Petukhov, to claim third and sending the home crowd into a frenzy. After the race, Harvey said the he did not expect to be on the podium. The goal was for he and Grey to reach the finals and then ski a strong race. Their plan was to stay relaxed and controlled for the first four laps, even if that meant sitting near the back. The wide trails would allow plenty of room to pass later. Entering the final sprint the rising Canadian star was confident, knowing that Petukhov had expended much energy trying to break away on the final climb.
“I am absolutely thrilled,” said Harvey. “I thought nothing, I just raced. It is amazing!”
“My dad told me last night that it was time for a podium, but this is absolutely incredible,” said Grey, whose father Rob is an orthopedic surgeon who periodically works with the Canadian team. “Our strategy worked out absolutely perfect today and Alex was so great coming down the finish.”
“This means we can do it at a World Cup and we can do it at the Olympics,” added Harvey, of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que. “I was in my bubble coming into the stadium and couldn’t hear anything. I just told myself to go and I fought as hard as I could.”
The US team finsihed 8th, just behind Russia II and France I. Koos and Newell had trouble maintaining position toward the front of the pack. After a slow start, they continuously tried to work their way up, succeeding on the climbs. On numerous laps, they would ski up to the top four halfway up the second big climb. By the time they returned to the stadium they would once again be at the pack of the pack. It is unclear whether ski speed was a factor, or if they lost ground over the top of the long climb.
Men’s Team Sprint Top 5:
2. Italy I
3. Canada I
4. Russia I
5. France II