Think short-track has crazy crashes? Take a look at the final of an eventful men’s sprint, in which several favorites fell short in elimination rounds, a couple more were wiped out in a NASCAR-style crash, and another literally fell across the finish line to take bronze.
Sport: Cross-country skiing
Event: Men’s sprint
Medalists: Ola Vigen Hattestad (Norway), Teodor Peterson (Sweden), Emil Joensson (Sweden)
SportsMyriad projections: Emil Joensson (Sweden), Petter Northug (Norway), Nikita Kriukov (Russia)
How U.S. fared: Andy Newell qualified 17th, Simi Hamilton 21st. Not advancing to the elimination rounds: Torin Koos (t-37th) and Erik Bjornsen (39th).
Hamilton was in the first heat and immediately broke a pole, as if extending the U.S. misery from Kikkan Randall’s shocking elimination a couple of minutes earlier. He got back in the mix but couldn’t fight through traffic at the line, finishing sixth in the heat.
Newell did well to get in contention in his heat, but he couldn’t catch Norway’s Eirik Brandsdal for second or hold off France’s Renaud Jay for third. The heat was fast, so Newell had a shot to go through as a “lucky loser” (the two fastest times aside among third- and fourth-place finishers), but three Swedish skiers took off fast in the next heat and bumped Newell out of contention.
What happened: It was a rough start for some of the contenders. Nikita Kriukov needed a photo finish just to get third in his heat, and he was quickly bumped out of lucky loser contention. Petter Northug was left in the dust in his heat, but it was fast enough to get him through. Emil Joensson was the exception, taking first in the fastest of the five heats.
Switzerland’s Dario Cologna defended his skiathlon title a couple of days ago after overcoming an ankle injury this season, but it was costly in the sprint — he fell twice in his heat and barely finished. Not his best event, anyway.
First semifinal: Russia’s Anton Gafarov fell on a sharp downhill turn and stayed down, coming into the stadium nearly three minutes after the leaders in an event that takes less than four minutes. The other five had a blanket finish — 0.76 seconds between first and fifth. Norway’s Ola Vigen Hattestad had a little bit of daylight for first, followed by Sweden’s Teodor Peterson and one more from each country — Norway’s Anders Gloeersen and Sweden’s Marcus Hellner. They went through as lucky losers.
The second semi was slower and more tactical. But Northug, the 2010 bronze medalist in this and four-time medalist overall in Whistler, still couldn’t get in and wound up 16 minutes back. Joensson and Russian favorite Sergey Ustiugov got ahead and held off a challenge from Austria’s Bernhard Tritscher.
The final: Joensson, who has tons of World Cup hardware but no success in the Olympics, dropped far back a few seconds in. Then a massive crash in the downhill turn! Hellner and Gloeersen fell separately, and Ustiugov tripped over Hellner. Joensson, who looked like he was on the verge of dropping out, suddenly pulled into third.
Hattestad and Peterson were ahead of the drama, and there was no way anyone would catch them. Hattestad got a comfortable lead (in sprint terms), and Peterson pulled up on the straightaway, unable to catch him. Then the improbable bronze for Joensson, who collapsed after the finish line, nearly 20 seconds back. Gloeersen came in fourth. The disappointed Ustiugov made his way across 30 seconds later. Then it was Hellner.
Joensson needed to be helped away from the line. The gold and silver medalists, though, felt no pain.