ALPENSIA, South Korea (Feb. 3, 2017) (USSA) – On a grueling course with treacherous downhills and wind-sucking climbs, Ida Sargent of Orleans, VT skied smart through the entire day to achieve a career first podium. The race was the Olympic classic sprint test at Alpensia in PyeongChang, site of the 2018 Olympic Games. Sargent was third in an all first-timers podium with Slovenia’s Anamarija Lampic taking the win with Norway’s Silje Oeyre Slind second.
Sophie Caldwell (Peru, VT) was fastest qualifier and led five U.S. women into the heats. Sargent was fifth fastest with Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT), Caitlin Patterson (Anchorage) and Liz Guiney (Park City, UT) also making the field. Sargent and Caldwell each won their opening heat to advance to the semifinals.
“I learned a little with each heat,” said Sargent. “In the quarterfinal I was impatient trying to move up and wasted some energy trying to pass on the outside. So in the semifinal I just tried to stay a little more patient.”
In the next round, Sargent skied strong in the faster of the two semifinal heats, holding off Russia’s Alisa Zhambalova in a photofinisher to claim second and advance to the finals for the third time in her career.
“In the semi I saw an opening out of the tracks on the final uphill and just went for it,” said Sargent. “I had figured out a good line on the last downhill and knew I had fast skis so I was able to position myself well there for the finish.”
In the final, Sargent got a good start, double poling out to take the lead early in the race – at times building as much as a five-meter gap. She eventually paired up with Slovenia’s Katja Visnar to set the pace through the midway mark. At that point, the pack shuffled with Lampic and Slind coming up, along with Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk. Sargent kept the pace, but coming into the final hundred meters had to battle with a hard-charging Kowalczyk – furiously double poling into the finish for her first podium.
“In the final I tried to get a fast start so that I didn’t have to worry about passing,” she said. “I was pretty tired going over the second hill and was just trying to hold it together and then I was pretty confident with my downhill and then just double poled for my life into the finish! We had really fast skis all day so I was really grateful for the awesome work by all the wax techs.”
“Ida has been consciously working on her race tactics,” said Coach Matt Whitcomb. “Today she made a few moves which put her in the right position to demonstrate that her work is paying off.”
It was a unique podium with all three women there for the first time. “It was fun to have a bunch of newbies on the podium,” laughed Sargent. “None of us knew what was going on so it was fun to experience it all together.”
For the men, Andy Newell (Shaftesbury, VT) qualified seventh to lead three U.S. men, including Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) and Matt Gelso (Ketchum, ID) into the heats. Gelso failed to advance from the opening quarterfinal heat. Newell finished second to advance while Hamilton ended up fourth after a crash when a Norwegian stepped in front of him, causing him to fall and break a pole.
In his semifinal, Newell skied well, attacking hard on the hills to retain position and skillfully negotiating the harrowing downhills. He held off France’s Lucas Chanavat at the finish line to make his first final since November.
In the final heat, the Russians set a torrid early pace with Newell not able to establish contact with the leaders, eventually falling back on an uphill and finishing sixth. Both Newell and qualifying leader Alexander Panzhinskiy of Russia had been in the second semifinal. Organizers reduced the recovery time between races and Newell simply ran out of gas on the second climb.
“Andy skied really well in the quarter and semi, sticking with AP as he broke the field at the top of the second climb,” said Head Cross Country Coach Chris Grover. “We had great skis and Andy’s shape has been getting better and better through the middle of the season. It was great to see him back in a final.”
The race was especially good to the athletes who joined the World Cup tour recently in Sweden including Gelso, Patterson and Guiney who all qualified well and had a chance to ski in the heats.
The Olympic course was imposing, to say the least. The elevation is modest at around 700 meters. But it features several significantly steep climbs with corresponding off camber downhill turns that truly test athletes’ alpine skills.
“The course is one of the hardest we’ve encountered with two big climbs and almost no flats,” said Grover. “The fast corner coming into the stadium is challenging since athletes have legs flooded with lactic acid after reaching to the top of the second climb.”
The Alpensia course is located at the epicenter of the PyeongChang Olympic venues. It stands just 100 meters from the Olympic ski jump and just minutes from the medals plaza and opening ceremony stadium.
Said Matt Whitcomb, Cross Country Coach ” This is possibly the most aerobically challenging sprint course Ida has encountered in her career, so it’s noteworthy that Ida had her first career podium today. She loves the hilly classic courses like this and Ruka [where she had her career best fifth], and we always find it inspiring to watch an athlete ski to their strengths. Ida has been consciously working on her race tactics, and today she made a few moves, which put her in the right position to demonstrate that her work is paying off.
Sophie had a good day as well, but said she made a tactical error in the finish stretch that left her out of the final. Still, it was encouraging to see her blaze the qualifier, and I know she’s hungry for a podium. She’s in great shape so I think we’ll see it soon.
The course designers have put together an incredible venue. To accompany the two brutal climbs on the sprint course, the downhills are screamers and require high-speed cornering skills. They ski very well.
The Olympic test event continues Saturday with skiathlon for men and women, wrapping up Sunday with freestyle team sprint.
- Ida Sargent (Orleans, VT) scored a career first podium finishing third in the Olympic classic sprint test event at the Alpensia cross country center in PyeongChang.
- Eight Americans qualified for the heats, including Sophie Caldwell (Peru, VT) who led all women’s qualifiers.
- Andy Newell (Shaftesbury, VT) made the finals heat and finished sixth.
- The Olympic sprint course proved to be grueling with steep climbs and treacherous downhill turns.
Reported by USSA/U.S. Ski Team