The cross-country trails at next year’s Olympic venue were shrouded in mist for their inaugural event, World Cup freestyle sprints.  Temperatures hovered just below zero with fine snow falling and at times the television cameras had difficulty picking up the skiers as the mist came and went.  Britain was represented by Andrew and Posy Musgrave – Andrew Young had gone down with a throat infection a couple of days earlier and so was not racing.

The women’s course was 1.2km long and undulated up through the trees before coming into a long flat run into the finish.  The prologue timetrial went almost as predicted in that Kikkan Randall from the US had the fastest time until late on when a much lower ranked skier, Mari Laukkanen, from Finland just  beat her time.  Laukkanen’s ranking was explained by the fact that as a biathlete she does not take part in as many cross-country races as most of the day’s participants.   Posy Musgrave went out in bib 64 and finished only 12 seconds behind the leader in 59th place and earned some of her best FIS points.  She said that she liked the course and hadn’t found the altitude too much of a problem.  In the finals Kikkan Randall went on to win all her heats and took the gold medal in front of Aurore Jean from France and Celine Brun-Lie of Norway.

The women’s course may have been of average length and difficulty but the men’s was far from average in every way.  At 1.8km it was the longest allowable sprint distance and it included two hills, the second of which was to prove crucial in the results.  It was very noticeable that in both the prologue and the final heats the skiers went out at a much slower speed than is normal in a sprint, knowing that they had to keep something in reserve for the second hill and for the long flat run into the finish.   As the results of the prologue came in it became obvious that this was not a good course for the specialist sprinters with many of them failing even to qualify for the heats.  Andrew Musgrave said that he kept his pace easy until he got to the big hill and then tried to push hard.  This tactic worked so well that he finished 13th in the prologue, a great World Cup result.

In the quarter-final heats Andrew was up against two of the 9 Russian skiers who got through the qualification round, as well as an Italian, a Kazakh and a Finn.  He tucked in behind the lead Russian through the first half of the race and up the big hill he stayed in the front four.  He said afterwards that he tried to overtake the second placed Russian, Morilov, on the hill but couldn’t quite do it, though he stayed close on his tail.  Coming down into the stadium area his skis were running well and as the front four came round the corner into the finish straight he sprinted back into contention.  In retrospect he said that he probably chose the wrong lane into the finish and couldn’t get past second placed Morilov.  Finishing in fourth place he was frustrated that he had not got through to the semi-finals which he felt he should have done, saying that the course had suited his skiing style.  Nonetheless a great result for British skiing!