Russians finish 1-2 in sprint; Aspen’s Hamilton takes 29th |

Russians finish 1-2 in sprint; Aspen’s Hamilton takes 29th

Aspen Times staff and wire reports
Aspen, CO Colorado

WHISTLER, British Columbia – Russia’s Nikita Kriukov edged countryman Alexander Panzhinskiy in a photo finish to win the gold medal in the men’s individual classic cross-country sprint at Whistler Olympic Park.

Kriukov’s winning time Wednesday was 3 minutes, 36.3 seconds. The bronze medal went to Norway’s Petter Northug, who finished a whopping 9.2 seconds later.

The Russians set a quick pace from the start, and it became a two-man race over the final third of the 1.6-kilometer competition.

The Russian teammates scooted the tips of their skis across the finish line after a furious scamper down the stadium’s straightaway, then waited for the judge’s review.

When Kriukov was announced as the winner, he and Panzhinskiy held the Russian flag between them, trotting down the track-side stands in triumph, their skis held high on either side.

Aspen’s Simi Hamilton, the lone American man to qualify for the quarterfinals – where the top 30 skiers compete in elimination heats consisting of six competitors each – wound up 29th in his second Olympic race.

With family and friends watching him, the 22-year-old appeared poised to make some noise during his heat. He orchestrated a well-timed downhill pass to vault into third position, and was right on the heels of Sweden’s Bjoern Lind, the 2006 Olympic individual and team sprint champion. Hamilton faded to the back of the pack, however, as the racers entered the stadium and sped toward the finish line.

Teammate Andy Newell, who placed second in the 80-man field in qualifying at the Turin Games, slid off the slick course during the qualification round this time and finished in 45th.

Another of the top U.S. sprinters, Torin Koos, of Leavenworth, Wash., followed up his illness-plagued Turin Games with a disappointing 36th-place finish.

“I’ve thought of this every single day since the closing ceremonies in 2006,” said Koos, the son of former U.S. biathlete Shaun Koos. “I remember thinking when they were taking down the flag and I will be better, I have four years to get it right. And I didn’t get it right.”

Aspen’s Hamilton, in 29th, was almost seven seconds behind the leader Panzhinskiy.

He didn’t advance past the quarterfinals. Nor did defending gold medalist Bjoern Lind of Sweden, who won the race in Turin when it was a freestyle event.

Switzerland’s Dario Cologna, who won the 15K on Monday, didn’t enter this race as he focuses on the distance competitions.

Northug, the World Cup leader who was expected to dominate the Vancouver Games, gained a measure of redemption for his performance in the 15K, when he quickly realized he didn’t have the skis or stamina to challenge the leaders and settled for 41st place.

Norway failed to win a cross-country gold medal in Italy, and Northug, the 24-year-old World Cup leader and best Norwegian skier since the great Bjoern Daehlie, was facing enormous pressure to end that drought in Vancouver. Instead, teammate Marit Bjoergen took care of that, winning the women’s individual cross-country sprint just minutes before.

Northug will race in each of the four remaining cross-country competitions.

Swedish skier Emil Joensson, one of the favorites in this race, didn’t make it out of the semifinal round.

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