So much for home snow advantage. None of Canada’s cross-country skiers—men or women—were fast enough to advance any further than the quarterfinals at this afternoon’s Individual Sprint Classic. Stefan Kuhn of Canmore, Alta., was the top Canadian in the men’s competition, finishing 15th; Daria Gaizova was the top female, placing 22nd.
But for those fans not waving a Canadian flag, there was plenty to cheer about at the Whistler Olympic Park—including a gutsy performance from top-ranked Slovenian sprinter Petra Majdic, who injured her ribs in a nasty training spill, was treated by medics in between heats, yet somehow managed to squeak out a bronze in the final race of the day. When she crossed the finish line, the 30-year-old had to be carried off the course. “I was screaming through the whole track from the pain,” she said later, still limping. “It was the first time that all coaches from all nations were cheering for me, because they could hear how painful this was for me.”
Norway’s Marit Bjoergen took home the gold in the women’s 1.4 km sprint (3:39.2), while Justyna Kowalkczyk of Poland captured silver. “I saw in the end that nobody was behind me and I thought: ‘This is my chance,’ ” said Bjoergen, who already won a bronze in the 10km event on Monday. “I had a very good day today.”
The men’s final (1.6 km) was equally dramatic—a photo finish between two Russians. Alexander Panzhinskiy led for most of the race, but his teammate (and roommate) Nikita Kriukov passed him down the stretch and stole the gold by the edge of his boot. “It was really a dream for us to be together on the podium, and we didn’t realize it was going to come true,” Panzhinskiy said afterwards. “[The silver medal] comes with a little of a bittersweet taste for me because I lost it in the last few metres. Perhaps I made a mistake in the very last 10 metres. Maybe I should have made more of an effort. Who knows? But right now I still feel very happy.”
Canada’s cross-country team cannot say the same. Chandra Crawford—the defending gold medalist from the 2006 Turin Games—was ousted in the quarterfinal round and finished a disappointing 26th. To be fair, Crawford did not expect another podium appearance in Vancouver. The sprint event alternates every four years between the “classic” technique, which requires more finesse, and the “freestyle” technique, which relies more on brute power and force. When Crawford captured gold in Italy, she was skiing freestyle, her strength. But for this Olympics, it was classic. “I gave it my all in that race, trying to hang with the big dogs, but it was a hard race today and classical is certainly not my forté,” she said after being eliminated. “I get a little down at this classical thing. I look at my fans and wish I’d been able to defend my gold in skate [freestyle] technique.”
Sara Renner, who won an Olympic silver medal in the team sprint four years ago—and who has never been shy when it comes to accusing fellow competitors of blood doping—failed to qualify for the quarterfinals, as did Perianne Jones. Both are from Canmore. “I had a good race and I caught a girl in front of me,” Renner said. “There was only one track and she wouldn’t get out of the track. In a race where it’s seconds and you have to get out of the track and go around, it’s difficult.”
Other than Khun, Sudbury’s Devon Kershaw was the only Canadian on the men’s side to advance past the qualification round. He ended the day in 24th place. (The other two Canadian men, Drew Goldsack and Brent McMurtry, finished 40th and 41st respectively.) “The heat did not go as I wanted,” Kershaw said. “I was just lacking a little bit of the punch that I thought I had.”
He was certainly not the only one.