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Oberstdorf X-C: American Andy Newell fourth in sprint

Oberstdorf X-C: American Andy Newell fourth in sprint{mosimage}OBERSTDORF, Germany – Olympics-bound cross-country racer Andy Newell registered the best-ever World Cup sprint result by a U.S. skier Sunday, finishing fourth behind fast-closing Norwegian Odd-Bjoern Kjelmeset in a 1.2-kilometer classic technique sprint event. Newell’s Olympic teammate Torin Koos was 11th.

Hjelmeset out-lunged teammate Johan Kjoelstad at the finish for the win with sprint world champion Vassili Rotchev of Russia edging Newell in a squeaker of a finish for third place.

The best previous U.S. sprint finish had been Newell’s 11th in a freestyle technique sprint Dec. 11 at Sovereign Lake outside Vernon, B.C.

‘It was fun – a little disappointing at the finish’ Newell said, ‘but not too bad, really. It’s my first sprint final, so I’m pretty excited about that.”

In sprints, the entire field skis over the course in a time trial. The top 30 skiers are broken into five heats of six with the top two skiers in each heat advancing; then two heats of five skiers, and finally the final foursome.

‘Getting through that first heat of six has been something we’ve had to practice a little bit. You need different tactics in the heat of six than a heat of four. Today, it worked out for us’ said Newell, a Stratton Mountain School graduate who, as a junior, was ranked No. 1 worldwide among junior sprinters.

After rain Saturday, and snow during the night, conditions were tricky for waxing and skiing, according to Newell. ‘Tracks got glazed – they stayed firm but they were glazed and our wax guys did a sweet job at finding skis because it was changing conditions all the way through to the final heat.’

Coach Trond Nystad said the key was a strong qualifying time – Koos was second, Newell fourth – and the experience they have picked up in sprints during the last month. ‘Andy was maybe a centimeter from beating Rotchev, but that’s not too bad, considering you lose to the current world champion in sprints’ he said.

‘The guys have been getting better every sprint, every race,” Nystad added. “We know they have the speed – they show that in every prologue [time trial] … and now they’re building that experience in learning good tactics of racing in a pack’ he added. ‘It’s so important to be patient, and stick to the plan.

‘Andy and Torin are making steps forward every day. This was not a fluke result. If Andy were skiing for second or third place, he probably would have finished second or third’ Nystad said, ‘but he was skiing to win, and you can lose big or you can win big. I think that’s the right attitude for the victory. There’s no sense going for second place, especially when it’s your first final. Make it memorable.’

Ella Gjoemle made it a sprints sweep for Norway, edging Sweden’s Lina Andersson, with Guro Stroem Solli, another Norwegian, in third place and Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk completing the final foursome among the women.

The World Cup takes a two-week break before regrouping Feb. 4-5 in Davos, Switzerland, for final tuneup races before the Olympics Feb. 10-26 in Torino, Italy.

- Courtesy USSA News Bureau

Cross-country World Cup results
Oberstdorf, Germany – Jan. 22, 2006
1.2 km classic technique sprints
(Eight make semifinals)
Men

1. Odd-Bjoern Hjelmeset, Norway
2. Johan Kjoelstad, Norway
3. Vassilli Rotchev, Russia
4. Andy Newell, Shaftsbury, Vt.
5. Jens Arne Svartedal, Norway
Other U.S. men
11. Torin Koos, Leavenworth, Wash.

Women
1. Ellen Gjoemle, Norway
2. Lina Andersson, Sweden
3. Guro Stroem Solli, Norway
4. Justyna Kowalczyk, Poland
5. Beckie Scott, Canada
(No American women raced)

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