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UPDATED: Newell Just Misses Medal in Sprint

FIS Nordic World Ski Championships

Thu, Feb  22, 2007 - By US Ski Team

SAPPORO, Japan (Feb. 22) - Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) earned the best U.S. sprint finish, men's or women's, at the Worlds or Olympic level Thursday night, finishing fifth in the1.4K classic technique sprint to open the 2007 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships.

Three other U.S. skiers - Torin Koos (Leavenworth, WA), Kikkan Randall (Anchorage, AK) and Laura Valaas (Wenatchee, WA) - reached the final heats, but none moved past the quarterfinals. The team event (with Newell and Koos for the men, Randall and Valaas for the women) is the next cross country event - Friday, over the same loops but in freestyle technique. Live timing is available at http://livetiming.usskiteam.com beginning at 2 a.m. ET.

Norway swept both gold medals, Astrid Johansen winning the women's race in a close finish with Slovenian Petra Majdic while Jens Arne Svartedal was the men's champion by a stride over Mats Larsson of Sweden.

Newell posted the fastest qualifying time for the men with Torin Koos (Leavenworth, WA) 13th fastest after two disqualifications. Chris Cook (Rhinelander, WI), starting to emerge from sickness, which kept him out of the last World Cup a week ago in China, was 32nd, less than a half-second away from qualifying, while Lars Flora (also Anchorage) was 49th.

In the final, Newell couldn't get past a Scandinavian roadblock - two Norwegians and two Swedes - despite jumping lanes several times in search of harder snow conditions as the temperatures moved into the upper 30s. Still, it was the highest U.S. result at Worlds or the Olympics since the sprints were added with the 2001 World Championships in Lahti, Finland.

Scandinavian roadblock nothing new
"I'm used to getting ganged-up on by the Swedes and Norwegians in the final heat," Newell said, "so that wasn't new...or a big problem, but I wish I could've been there at the [finish] line with them. I was just a few meters out, but...

"Part of it was the tracks were getting so skied in on the uphill and I was just trying to find the best track, the one that wasn't as wet as the others...so I was changing tracks a lot. And it was pretty windy, so it helped to tuck in behind someone sometimes," he said.

The course began inside the Sapporo Dome, which prior to the heats had been the scene of Opening Ceremonies with 30,000 people filling the seats through the qualifying round. After the opening 125 meters, the athletes skied outside, up and over two small hills, and went back into the Dome for the last 250 meters.

In the sprint, the field skis the race loop for a time, and the top 30 finishers move into the quarterfinals, racing in five six-skier heats. The top two automatically advance to the next round and the two fastest times from among the other skiers are used to complete the semifinal field for two more six-skier heats; again, the top two skiers in each heat advance and the two fastest losing times fill the medal round.

"I was feeling good all day and definitely felt strong in the qualifier, and felt I could ski the hills faster than anybody. My tactics for the day were to hang in on the hills and then have a fast final 200 meters."

In quarterfinals, Newell got out of the prepared track with about 250 meters left and finished with a flourish, one-tenth of a second ahead of German Josef Wenzel. In semis, he was third - behind Svartedal and Larsson - but his fast time pushed him into the final round.

On the women's side, Randall and Valaas qualified for finals, but Randall missed a pole plant at the start of her quarterfinal heat and never caught up as she finished 22nd while Valaas lost ground on the final short downhill and came in 24th overall.

Coach: "stoked" with first race
"It was disappointing," Randall said. "I just didn't plant my poles as deeply as I needed to. It was a fast heat and I skied hard to get back up there [with the leaders]. I got close but couldn't catch 'em."

"It was a great effort, not just with Andy," said Head Coach Pete Vordenberg. "Koos was in there and Chris was so close, but he's not 100 percent yet, so that made it even more impressive to get that close...and those were good ladies' results, although we were looking for more."

Waxing as it can be in classic races, was not an issue, even with temperatures in the mid to upper 30s outside. "It was humid inside the dome, too, with that crowd, but it wasn't a problem," he said. "This is one of the coolest venues, just so creative...

"I'm stoked with this start. It was awesome - Andy [was] so near a medal, and Laura moving right in there, into the top 30. She wasn't intimidated at all. It's a little strange, having someone fifth and saying 'We could've done better.'

"The team sprint will be fun to watch," Vordenberg went on, "because all four of 'em are ready to go. The girls left the Dome saying they didn't get to race tonight as much as they wanted [because they were out after the quarters] and Andy and Torin know they can be in there."

The next cross country title race is the two-man team sprint Friday, with its tag-team format in freestyle technique. All teams ski a qualifying round with the 10 fastest teams advancing to the medal round.

Multimedia:
Photos from Sapporo are available at http://ussa.smugmug.com.

Audio of Newell, Randall, Valaas and sprint Coach Chris Grover is available at www.ussamedia.com.

2007 FIS NORDIC WORLD SKI CHAMPIONSHIPS
Sapporo Dome
Sapporo, JPN - Feb. 22, 2007
Men's Classic Technique Sprint
(6 make medal round)
1. Jens Arne Svartedal, Norway
2. Mats Larsson, Sweden
3. Eldar Roenning, Norway
4. Bjoern Lind, Sweden
5. Andy Newell, Shaftsbury, VT
6. Emil Joensson, Sweden
-
22. Torin Koos, Leavenworth, WA
32. Chris Cook, Rhinelander, WI
49. Lars Flora, Anchorage, AK
--
Women's CL Sprint
1. Astrid Johansen, Norway
2. Petra Majdic, Slovenia
3. Virpi Kuitunen, Finland
4. Anna Dahlberg, Sweden
5. Madoka Natsumi, Japan
6. Lina Andersson, Sweden
-
22. Kikkan Randall, Anchorage, AK
24. Laura Valaas, Wenatchee, WA

For complete results:
http://www.fis-ski.com/uk/604/1228.html?cal_suchsector=CC&event_id=22246