The cross-country trails at next year’s Olympic venue were shrouded in mist for their inaugural event, World Cup freestyle sprints. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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 Â beat her time. Â 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. Â 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. Â She said that she liked the course and hadn’t found the altitude too much of a problem. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â Andrew Musgrave said that he kept his pace easy until he got to the big hill and then tried to push hard. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â In retrospect he said that he probably chose the wrong lane into the finish and couldn’t get past second placed Morilov. Â 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. Â Nonetheless a great result for British skiing!