WHISTLER, BC (Feb. 17) – It was a mixed day for the U.S. Olympic Cross Country Team on Wednesday. On the bright side, Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) scored a U.S. Olympic record with eighth place in the women's individual classic sprint, but the team's medal hopes took a hit when expected men's contender Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) slipped off course and finished 45th.
Russia's Alexander Panzhinskiy took gold in the men's competition, beating compatriot Nikita Kriukov in a photo finish, while Norway's Marit Bjoergen won top honors for the women.
"My goal going in today was to make the top 12, and I did that," said Randall, the lucky loser in quarterfinals before bowing out in a semifinal heat that included Bjoergen. "All season, I've been feeling like there was one gear missing, and it showed up at just the right time. What a fun day out there."
Randall was ninth in Torino's freestyle sprint, but her only other top-10 result in a major international classic sprint was seventh in China three years ago.
Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) had the best classic sprint of his career to lead the U.S. men in 29th.
Although the individual progress of Randall and Hamilton was encouraging, U.S. Olympic Cross Country Team Head Coach Pete Vordenberg had higher hopes for the team.
"It's Kikkan's best classic sprint ever and also Simi's best classic sprint ever, so those are for sure the highlights. Doing better than you've ever done before is great, especially on the Olympic stage. As far as overall, sport comes with disappointment and sometimes it doesn't go as well as you want. Sport brings ups and downs, and we've got ups in our future."
Hamilton said he's improved his double-polling technique, but got "bogged down" on the last 150 meters of the course. He was the only U.S. male to advance to the quarterfinals.
"I'm happy with the race, but it's always a bummer to not finish your day in the A finals," he said. "But you live to ski another day and take a bunch of things I learned out here and apply them to the next race."
Newell, who consistently ranks among the top 10 in World Cup sprint events, fell during qualification and wound up 45th.
"I tried to ski conservatively on this course, but it's a tricky thing," Newell said. "I just found some ice."
Three-time Olympian Torin Koos (Leavenworth, WA) finished 36th, while Garrott Kuzzy (Minneapolis) was 47th.
Holly Brooks (Anchorage) was 38 as the only other competitor for the women's team, which rested athletes with designs on the pursuit Friday at 1 p.m. PT.
The men's pursuit follows Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
2010 WINTER OLYMPIC GAMES
Whistler Olympic Park, BC (Feb. 17) Men's Individual Sprint
Gold - Alexander Panzhinskiy, Russia, 3:36.3
Silver - Nikita Kriukov, Russia, +0.0
Bronze – Petter Northug, Norway, +9.2
4. Ola Vigen Hattestad, Kazakhstan, +13.7
5. Alexey Poltaranin, Norway, +18.1
29. Simi Hamilton, Aspen, CO
36. Torin Koos, Leavenworth, WA
45. Andy Newell, Shaftsbury, VT
47. Garrott Kuzzy, Minneapolis
Women's Individual Sprint
Gold – Marit Bjoergen, Norway, 3:39.2
Silver – Justyna Kowalczyk, Poland, +1.1
Bronze – Petra Majdic, Slovenia, +1.8
4. Anna Olsson, Sweden, +2.5
5. Magda Genuin, +9.9
8. Kikkan Randall, Anchorage
38. Holly Brooks, Anchorage