Seventeen Days to the Olympics
In the women's 2x7.5k event, a five-woman lead pack entered the equipment-exchange "pit" area together. Beckie Scott (Canada) barely made the sharp turn into the pits and nearly fell; she and Katerina Neumannova (Czech Republic) then both stumbled in their exchange lanes when their wax caught. Claudia Kuenzel (Germany) lead the group into the second half of the race, but Scott reasserted herself on the long climb at the end of the fourth lap, leading Kuenzel , Neumannova, and Katerina Shevchenko (Ukraine). Surprisingly, Shevchenko retook the lead on the same hill on the penultimate lap, and seemed poised to challenge Scott for the win. No sprint ever materialized, however. After Scott moved ahead again, Neumannova tried to take advantage of a long flat straightaway to position herself for the final climb. Sneaking past Kuenzel, the Czech bumped her ski, spun, and fell. Kuenzel stayed up, but Shevchenko, unable to get past, went down as well. Instantly Scott and Kuenzel had a decisive gap, and then on the last climb Scott pulled away as if the German had been standing still. With the win, Scott took her third win in five WC races this season. Neumannova skied in for an abashed third, with Shevchenko in fourth. Though two Italians and four Germans made the the top ten, Scott themerged from the race as the clear favorite for the Olympic pursuit - the very first event of the cross-country program, on February 12. The Eurosport commentators even speculated that she could win three golds.
The men's 2x15k pursuit was equally exciting, if more conventional. A large group at the end of the classic phase was quickly whittled down by Tobias Angerer (Germany), who dropped everyone but Anders Soedergren (Sweden) by the 25k mark; behind them Rene Sommerfeldt and Jens Fillbrich (Germany) and Martin Tauber (Austria) futilely to close a gap of about twenty seconds. At the top of the last climb, with about 1500 meters to go, Soedergren accelerated, mindful of the German's long-range sprinting skills. But Angerer responded expertly, riding Soedergren's slipstream into the stadium, then surging past for the win. Angerer's win makes him the favorite for the Olympic race. Soedergren's podium finish vaults him into consideration, as well, along with Sommerfeldt and fifth-placed Giorgio di Centa (
In the classic style sprints the next day, though, America enjoyed very different results, thanks to two racers who have been abroad since before Christmas. Torin Koos finished 11th overall, and Andy Newell finished an amazing fourth - a centimeter behind third-placed Vassili Rotchev (Russia). Newell had done well in all his heats, and controlled the first half of the final 1.3k sprint. (Only in cross-country skiing is 1300 meters a "sprint.") Eventual winner Odd-Bjorn Hjelmeset and second-placing Johan Kjoelstad (both Norwegians) passed Newell on the last uphill with about 200 meters to run, and then Rotchev - the world sprint champion in 2005 - snuck past at the line in a photo finish, keeping Newell off America's first podium in years. With lots of good racing behind them, Newell and Koos look to be on form for the individual Olympic sprints on February 22 - and maybe even for the team sprint event on Valentine's Day. (Full coverage on Eurosport and Fasterskier.com.)