Broken pole costs Aspen skier in Sochi
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — A broken pole cost Aspen cross country sprinter Simi Hamilton at the worst possible time.
Hamilton, in the quarterfinal heat of the men’s individual sprint Tuesday at the Sochi Winter Olympics, broke a pole barely 20 meters into the race.
He had to ski nearly 100 more meters before another pole was passed to him. By that time, the sprint was a good as over.
Hamilton and all three of his U.S. teammates did not advance into the semifinals of the cross country sprint.
“Just got caught in the deep snow, my left pole, and just kind of clicked it with my (ski) tip,” Hamilton said in an interview with The Denver Post.
““Our pace was pretty slow for the first bit there, so I don’t think I spent too much extra energy dealing with that. I’m most frustrated about the second part of the race, getting stuck in a boxed-out position on the inside on the big climb. My energy felt good up that climb, and I was really hoping to get past some people there, but just found myself stuck on the inside.”
Hamilton said he was disappointed on the big Olympic stage.
“But, I’ve got some more World Cups this season, and we’ve got a lot more years of ski racing to come,” Hamilton told The Denver Post. “You’ve jsut got to lock on the positive side, wake up tomorrow and go skiing — which is a good thing to do,” said the Aspen native, who is competing in his second Olympic Games.
The hopes for a women’s medal in the cross country sprint also hit a snap Tuesday.
Kikkan Randall’s attempt at becoming the first American woman to win an Olympic cross country skiing medal fell well short when she was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the women’s individual freestyle sprint.
Randall finished fourth of six skiers in a tough heat that featured defending champion Marit Bjoergen of Norway and German sprint specialist Denise Herrmann.
Those two advanced, along with Gaia Vuerich of Italy, who had the second best time of the third-place finishers in the five heats.
Randall, a two-time World Cup sprint champion, waited to see if her time would be good enough as well, but then shrugged to the camera when she found out it wasn’t.
“I’ve been thinking about this race for a long time,” Randall said. “I was really happy with the way the preparation has been coming into the games. I felt really strong and ready to go. My No. 1 goal was to come in ready to go and fight for the medal and give it everything I had. And I did do that.”
It wasn’t supposed to end so quickly though. Randall had won two World Cup sprint races in January and was seen one of the biggest challengers to Bjoergen coming into the Olympics. Randall led her quarterfinal heat coming into the final straight but was quickly overtaken by Bjoergen and Herrmann, before Vuerich pipped her at the line. The Italian finished 0.05 seconds ahead of Randall, which was good enough to advance.
“I knew it was going to be a really tough quarterfinal with Herrmann, Bjoergen, these are all women you can easily see in the final,” Randall said.
“I was feeling really good and was ready to come off that final turn and have a good finish stretch, but that final gear wasn’t quite there and unfortunately I fell apart a little bit before the finish. (Five) hundreds of a second is an incredibly close margin and I am sure I will be living those moments hundreds of times in my head.”
There was an American in the final, however, as Sophie Caldwell surprisingly advanced and finished sixth. Maiken Caspersen Falla of Norway won the race, while Bjoergen was knocked out in the semis after falling on the final straight.
Randall is also likely to compete for the U.S. in the 4×5-kilometer relay and team sprint, but this was her best chance at a medal.
“Just to come in the games as a gold medal contender was incredible,” Randall said. “I wish I would have been able to fight for that in a few more rounds.”
Norway’s Ola Vigen Hattestad took the safest route to an Olympic gold in the men’s sprint final— staying in front from beginning to end.
The Norwegian won the men’s cross country freestyle sprint Tuesday after dominating every stage from qualifying to an eventful final, where three of his rivals were involved in one big crash. Hattestad avoided the mayhem by staying well in front, and then held off Teodor Peterson of Sweden for the gold medal.
“The final was maybe a little crazy,” Hattestad said.
It certainly was for Emil Joensson of Sweden, who had all but given up earlier in the race after running out of energy but ended up with the bronze after Sergey Ustiugov, Marcus Hellner and Anders Gloeersen crashed.
Joensson had dropped far back and was cruising home when Gloeersen, who was in third, fell in the treacherous downhill curve and hit the protective barrier. That ended up dragging down Ustiugov and Hellner as well, and suddenly Joensson had passed them all and had a clear path to the bronze.
After crossing the line, an exhausted Joensson needed help from a Swedish team official to get up off the snow and leave the finish area.
Hattestad said he didn’t realize what had happened behind him until one of the Norwegian coaches yelled that he was alone with Peterson when they were on the final uphill section.
“I didn’t know those guys had fallen,” he said. “That was the first time I realized we were away. I was just focused on my own race.”
Peterson couldn’t seriously threaten Hattestad in the two-way race to the finish line, and seemed pleased with the silver.
“I’ve had the best day of ski racing of my entire life,” he said.
Warm temperatures have softened the snow over the last two days at the Laura Cross Country Ski and Biathlon Center, and a number of skiers fell on the same downhill section in the qualifying run.
Hattestad, however, said that’s just part of the sport.
“I guess that’s sprint,” he said, adding that organizers had actually made that downhill section easier than it was at last year’s World Cup race at the same venue.
“The organizers, they worked well,” he said. “I don’t know if they can do anything more.”
Skiathlon champion Dario Cologna also fell twice in his quarterfinal and was knocked out. Petter Northug of Norway, another pre-race favorite, again looked sluggish and was knocked out in the semifinals.
Cologna refused to blame the snow conditions for his mishaps. Both his falls came on relatively flat sections, seemingly without contact from other skiers.
“No, no, the track is all good,” he said. “There are many falls today, I am not the only one but that is bad luck.”
Hattestad, meanwhile, had dominant performances throughout the day. He was nearly 2 seconds faster than anyone else in qualifying and won both his quarterfinal and semifinal heats.
Hattestad won both the individual and team sprint at the 2009 worlds, but had to settle for a disappointing fourth place at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
“I didn’t want that to happen again,” he said.
Hattestad has struggled for much of this season, but won the last World Cup sprint race before the Olympics. That led to the Norwegian coaches dropping another skier from the sprint team in favor of Hattestad.
The Norwegian proved Tuesday they made the right decision.