LIBEREC, Czech Republic (Feb. 25) - Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) and Torin Koos (Leavenworth, WA) narrowly missed qualifying in their semi-final head in the two-man team classic sprint at the FIS Nordic Ski World Championships in Liberec. The women's team of silver medalist Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) and Laura Valaas (Wenatchee, WA) also missed finals. Norway won the men's gold to takeover the medals count lead, while Finland won the women's.
Freeman and Koos were running in the top two or three most of the heat before dropping just mere seconds in the final lap to finish out of the money. Three of 11 teams in the semi-final heat qualified for finals, plus the 'lucky loser' on time for a fourth team out of the heat. The USA was just 3.6 seconds out of qualifying in a 22 minute race.
Conditions were grueling with warm temperatures and soft snow. Freeman, who was fourth in the 15K classic Friday, opened with a strong heat to put the USA in third. Koos dropped back to fifth on the opening leg. In the middle turn, Freeman brought the team back to second, just three seconds behind Kazakhstan and Koos held it on his leg. On his final leg, Freeman put the USA into the lead, building a four second lead over Kazakhstan. But in the final 200 meters of Koos' anchor leg, Finland, Sweden and Estonia sprinted into the lead to drop the USA just out of qualifying position.
"Both Kris Freeman and Torin Koos skied really well," said Sprint Coach Chris Grover. "We timed the splits for the previous semi-final and compared to Kris and Torin to see how they stacked up." The top three finishers from each semi-final heat qualified, plus the fastest four times as 'lucky losers.'
"If you were in the top seven, you had a chance if your time was fast enough," said Grover. "For the first two laps they were both ahead of the previous semi. But on the last leg, [Norway's Johan] Kjoelstad and [Ola Vigen] Hattestad laid down some really fast times. We sent from having a cushion to being out of contention."
Freeman continues to show that he's among the best in the world in classic right now, skiing with the leaders on every lap. Koos, meanwhile, was back a bit but consistent across all three legs.
Despite temperatures around freezing, Grover felt conditions were stable and skis were great. "The guys in the wax room hit another home run today," he said. "We had some guys on klister and some on hairies. We had great skis out there."
In the men's final, Norway led a three-team sprint to the finish with a half second margin over Germany, which was awarded silver in a photo finish with Finland.
In the women's semi-final, Valaas and Randall ran sixth and seventh most of the race, before finishing sixth, 53.7 seconds behind the heat winning Finns. Finland went on to win the gold with a 20 second margin over Sweden for the gold, with Italy bronze.
"We knew it was going to be tough for the women today," said Grover of the semi-final. "The Finnish team just blazed out of the start to separate from everyone and ski their own race. They built a huge gap right from the start."
The World Championships continue Thursday with the women's 4x5 relay with two legs classic and two freestyle. Randall will open with a skate leg, followed by Morgan Arritola (Sun Valley, ID) in classic. Liz Stephen (E. Monpelier, VT) skating and anchored by Caitlin Compton (Minneapolis). Arritola had a good performance in the 10K classic to open the championships while Stephen was seventh fastest in the skate leg of the women's pursuit.
2009 NORDIC SKI WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Liberec, Czech Republic - Feb. 25, 2009
Team Classic Sprint
1. Norway, 22:48.5
2. Germany, 22:49.0
3. Finland, 22:49.0
4. Russia, 22:50.7
5. France, 22:51.5
Did not qualify for final heat
1. Finland, 19:43.7
2. Sweden, 20:03.7
3. Italy, 20:07.5
4. Japan, 20:08.9
5. Norway, 20:31.4
Did not qualify for final heat