There were thrills and there were spills, it was rainy and with 4000m3 of artificial snow trucked in, it was another round of Düsseldorf sprints. Action picked up with the men’s quarter final, so unfortunately, I can’t comment on any of the women’s quarter-final heats…

THE RACE

HEAT 2: (Tomas) Northug, Eisenlauer, Newell, Petukhov, Gløersen, Huen

Newell was the fastest out of the gates, but it was Huen to take the righter-hander first. Gløersen took a fall as he got caught tangled in poles as Petukhov took the lead. The carnage continued as Newell snapped a pole, but luckily for Gløersen and Newell Petukhov didn’t look behind him and slowed the pace so Newell was able to remain in the heat and Gløersen was able to ski into the back of the pack. Coming through the lap, Newell did well to re-assert himself I the heat and moved from 5th to 2nd place and slotted in behind Petukhov. Coming into the finish, Northug moved alongside Newell and both were side-by-side and at the line and Northug lunged enough to beat Newell by a toe.

HEAT 3; Bogdanov, Pellegrino, Peterson, Kriukov, Kershaw, Bryntesson

It was the Swede’s who tactically took the front as they were two wide going around the first corner before Peterson took the lead ahead. The tactics were full on and the pace was a crawl as the athletes went through the back-end. Kershaw tried to move up from the back but was blocked by Bryntesson and as the athletes came through the lap, the pace picked up immediately as the Swede’s tried to maintain their two-man lead, but Bryntesson was overtaken by Bogdanov and Kriukov. Peterson continued to lead and at the finish did enough. On the home stretch, Kershaw free-skated desperately and took the long road and lunged for the line with Pellegrino and Kriukov, but the Italian did enough to take the second qualifying spot.

HEAT 4: Devjatiarov, Dahl, Lindblad, Kjølstad, Jaeger, Tambornino

Devjiatarov led the race and once again the pace was quite slow on the first lap as the atheltes skied leisurely in single file. Coming through the lap, Tambornino went by the Russian to take the lead. Tambornino’s increase in the pace stretched the heat and the Swiss man did well to stay out of the congestion and his teammate Jaeger was able to beat Kjølstad and Devjiatarov to earn the second qualifying spot.

Qualifying: Tambornino & Jaeger

HEAT 5: Tscharnke, Wenzl, Kindschi, Jylhae, Pentsinen, Darragon

Kindschi took the lead early on, but it was Pentsinen to take the lead at the back part of the course and Pentsinen pushed the right to the finish and took the heat win while Kindschi did very well to hold of Jylhae to qualify second. Unfortunately, for Darragon, the ice track got the better of him and he lost an edge and slid across the finish in last place.

Qualifiers: Pentsinen and Kindschi

WOMEN’S SEMI-FINALS

HEAT 1: Sarasoja-Lilja, Randall, Brodin, Crawford, Eriksson, Eide

Broding had a very powerful start and took the lead as Crawford and Randall bumped in behind the Swede. Brodin continued to hammer, but was met up front with Randall and the American took the lead over the little bump on the back straight. All the athletes made it clean through the difficult right hander and on the home stretch Randall and Brodin pulled away to qualify by right while Crawford was third and would have to see if she was fast enough to grab a lucky loser spot.

Qualify: Brodin, Randall

HEAT 2: Østberg, Kolb, Falla, Ostenberg, Matveeva, Malvaleto

Right off the start, Kolb caught a ski tip or pole and went head over heels. Matveeva took the lead from the start and led the head all the way to the home stretch when van der Graaf slung+shot herself from behind Matveeva to take the heat win while Malvalehto and Falla had a photo finish for third.

Qualify: van der Graaf, Matveeva

Lucky Losers: Crawford, Sarasoja-Lilja

MEN’S SEMI-FINALS

HEAT 1: Northug, Brandsdal, Pellegrino, Petukhov, Golberg, Hattestad

It was the fastest qualifier Golberg who was the first to lead the heat with Pellegrino in right behind. That athletes remained single file until the lap when Hattestad and Petukhov moved out and looked to move up the pack and both did successfully. Hatetstad move into the lead and Petukhov moved to third before the track got skinnier again. Petukhov was having a good ski and passed Golberg to move into second on the back stretch. On the home straight, Hattestad was out in front while Petukhov and Golberg lunged for the finish.

Qualify: Golberg, Pellegrino

HEAT 2: Strandvall, Kindschi, Peterson, Pentsinen, Jaeger, Tambornino

Right from the start Jaeger tripped on his pole and ate snow and broke his pole in the process. In the front, Pentsinen was the skier to lead with Peterson right on his tails. Like his quarter-final, Pentsinen didn’t relinquish his lead going through the lap and the other athletes were stuck behind him. Going over the hump on the back straight, Peterson was able to go past the Finn. However, on the home stretch, both Pentsinen and Strandvall went wide and all three were in a photo finish with Pentsinen taking the win and Peterson doing enough to deny Strandvall a trip to the finals.

Qualify: Pentsinen, Peterson

LL: Golberg, Pellegrino

WOMEN’S FINAL

Brodin, Falk, Crawford, Randall, Sarasoja-Lilja, van der Graaf, Matveeva

The start was no the cleanest of the day with the athletes all going full-bore and lots of bumping and elbows. Going around the first corner, the pushing and bumping continued and van der Graaf almost fell after being squeezed on the inside by Crawford but recovered well to stay on her feet. Sarasoja-Lilja lost balanced after Brodin’s ski tip hit her boot and went to ground on that same corner and was out of the race. On the back straight, the frantic nature continued as Matveeva lead as Crawford and Randall fought side-by-side for second place. Going over the bump, Randall tried to overtake the Russian but was pushed back to second. Coming into the finish, Randall free-skated right by the Russian to take the win while van der Graaf was able to beat Crawford in the final meters to take the bronze medal.

RESULTS

1. Kikkan Randall
2. Natalia Matveeva
3. Laurien van der Graaf

MEN’S FINAL

Golberg, Peterson, Petukhov, Pellegrino, Pentsinen, Hattestad

Peterson and Hattestad led the athletes into the first corner, but Petukhov came the long way around to take the lead going into the back-straight. Once Petukhov got the lead and went over the bump, he slowed it down slightly. The slowdown was lucky for Peterson as he broke a pole but was able to keep contact with the others and get a new pole rather quickly. No one was able to pass Petukhov coming through the lap as Petukhov increased the pace. The positions stayed the same until the home stretch when Petukhov, Hattestad and Golberg were three wide and Petukhov just ran out of steam and Hattestad was able to Russian, but Golberg was reserved for third after a lunge at the line with Petukhov.

RESULTS

1. Ola Vigen Hattestad
2. Alexei Petukhov
3. Pål Golberg

ANALYSIS

Today was one of the greatest sprint days for Switzerland. Even without Dario Cologna, they had three men in the semi-finals and then van der Graaf who won Switzerland’s first ever female sprint medal. Before today van der Graaf had only qualified for the top 30 three times in 13 tries. Truly a great result and one that will give her and the rest of the team a boat load of confidence for the rest of the season.

That’s has got to be the scrappiest women’s final I’ve ever watched, I couldn’t believe how much pushing and shoving there was, but it made for a great race, just showed that no one was willing to step down. It was unfortunate for Sarasoja-Lilja who was the fastest qualifier to fall in the final. Her 6th place today tied her personal best which was a 6th place from 2009 in Lahti. I’ve never thought of her as a sprinter before, but it seems like she has the chops for it now.

Crawford was so close to the medals and I think she would’ve had it over van der Graaf if she hadn’t lost balance in the last 20 meters and went back on her heels which meant she couldn’t pole right to the line. Regradless, it’s great to see the former Olympic sprint champ back in good form and while this type of course profile is perfect for her, hopefully we’ll see more of her as the season progresses.

As for Randall, it was really no doubt for anyone that the American would take the victory if she stayed on her feet and she did exactly that.

For the men, it was another day where we saw perhaps the new sprint stars of the sport take the stage. Pentsinen and Peterson showed that Kuusamo weren’t freak results and were once again in the finals. I’m becoming a fan of Pentsinen. While his tactics may not be the smartest in the sense that he goes hard from the gun and tries to control his heat, it’s certainly admirable and much more exciting to witness that type of race rather than the heats where athletes slow the pace and toy with the other athletes.

It was another strong day for the Norwegian men who had two men on the podium. This is the second race in a row in which Golberg has medalled. His last sprint race was last year in Lahti where he placed third too. With results like that, it should be more than enough reason to get his name on the sprint team for regular World Cup appearances. It was good to see Hattestad in top form too. I thought his 20th place last weekend was sub-par for an athlete of his calibre, but in the post-race interview he said that his form’s been great this season. Regardless, I’m glad to see the big man back on top.

Some odds and ends:

  • Kershaw’s new FIS pic is pretty nasty. That fu manchu is pretty damn riciulous.
  • How big were Kindschi’s poles today, must have been just as tall as him. When he went to pole his hands were probably a foot above his head.

For you European readers, I’ll be back Monday morning with the team sprint wrap and for North Americans, it might be out before you go to bed on Sunday, but I’m making no promises.

Til Next Time.