Italy's Renato Pasini and Arianna Follis won freestyle sprint races Sunday for their first cross-country World Cup titles this season. American Kikkan Randall had her best result of the season and her career, finishing third.
DEMINO, Russia — Italy's Renato Pasini and Arianna Follis won freestyle sprint races Sunday for their first cross-country World Cup titles this season. American Kikkan Randall had her best result of the season and her career, finishing third. Andy Newell was 10th in the men's sprint with Torin Koos 19th.
In the women's race, Follis was timed at 2 minutes, 49.9 seconds — 0.3 seconds ahead of Germany's Claudia Nystad-Kunzel and Randall. A photo finish left the American in third place for her first career World Cup podium.
Randall was second to overall World Cup leader Virpi Kuitunen of Finland in the quarterfinal run and beat the Finn by 0.1 seconds in the semifinal race. The two-time Olympian earned a historic first World Cup podium by a U.S. woman.
Randall, who set U.S. marks for women's Olympic and World Cup cross-country results last season, qualified ninth, was second in her quarterfinal heat, led her semifinal heat and lost the photo finish to the German, who is married to former U.S. coach Trond Nystad. The podium tops Randall's fifth-place result in Borlaenge, Sweden, and her ninth-place finish in the FR (skate) sprint at the 2006 Olympics.
"Claudia got me by an inch or two and I got [Kuitunen] by an inch or two. It was wild," Randall said.
Randall came up with a strong tempo in the finals heats, where the top two skiers advance. She was second in the quarterfinal (behind Kuitunen), led her semifinal heat (ahead of Kuitunen) and was in the final charge to the finish line, again just ahead of Kuitunen.
Head coach Pete Vordenberg said, "Kikkan's a crafty racer besides being fit and fast. She's the right kind of mean — when you're racing, and she blasts her way through a spot too small to get through. Kikkan's really crafty."
"I had a dream last night that I'd qualified third, but I didn't see how I did in the finals heats because the dream didn't go on long enough," Randall laughed. "I was happy when I woke up and saw it had cooled off [after Saturday's rain] and the track had firmed up."
She described the course as "kinda tough with a gradual climb out of the start, then a short downhill, an uphill and then a steep climb, a big fast downhill that brought you close to the finish." The finish was a slight uphill "with the finish line was kind of a bump. I stumbled but managed to stay on my feet," she said.
Randall, who has trained on the Eagle Glacier outside Anchorage with Alaska Pacific University Nordic club members, said, "Conditions were what you might see on a glacier in Alaska during the summer, and I've asked myself, 'When am I ever gonna race on this?' It was good to have that experience …
"Coming up the climb, I was back in, like, fourth or fifth — I got closed out just as I was rarin' too because climbing is one of my strengths. I worked my way up to third as we went over the top of the hill and I thought, 'Man, I'm in a perfect position on this downhill. I can draft … and just as I got ready to make my move [in the final sprint], I was blocked. So I had to go to the right, go to the outside, and then Arianna Follis was right there, so I had to go even farther out. As we entered the finish lane, I was in fourth, but I worked my way up and we all went for the finish line …
"I didn't know what happened, what place I got, and they said photo finish, and then Claudia was second, I was third. She got me by an inch this time," Randall said.
She thanked Vordenberg for great skis — "He did a great job as a one-man show getting my Fischers ready. I mean I was up against skiers with big waxing teams, a dozen or more, and Pete did it all himself, just great work."
Randall also credited team dynamics, starting with Kris Freeman finishing fourth at the 2003 World Championships and producing two World Cup top 10s in the 2005 season plus Newell's performance, including the first U.S. podium since 1983 last season when he was third in the inaugural World Cup in China. "I'm just excited being in the momentum of the team, what Kris started and Andy's continued with his good results. It's contagious and I'm happy to do my part. I knew this was coming and today was a good day to make it happen," she said.
"I'm happy to have skied in there and felt competitive with those guys. At the start, I looked to one side and there were [Czech Olympic champion Katerina] Neumannova and Kuitunen [recent winner of the first Tour de Ski], and on the other side, there was Claudia Kuenzel and Follis, and all of them have won World Cups. So, that's what I want to do and it was fun to be competitive with them."
Vordenberg said simply, "Kikkan knows what she's doing every day, she's so professional. But I gotta tell you, my heart was in my mouth in that final. I could barely stand it."
Kuitunen leads standings
Kuitunen now has 917 points. Marit Bjoergen of Norway, who skipped the event, is second with 634 points, followed by Katerina Neumannova of the Czech Republic with 552.
Pasini entered the final sprint in front to beat Russia's Nikolai Pankratov by 0.8 seconds. Pasini, competing in his only second race this season, clocked 2 minutes, 27.9 seconds at a new course at Demino, 350 kilometers (218 miles) north of Moscow.
Overall World Cup leader Tobias Angerer of Germany came in third, 1.2 seconds behind, and retained his lead with 722 points after nine of 20 races. Russia's Alexander Legkov (567) is second overall and and Arne Hetland of Norway (448) is third. Both missed this race.
Sunday's individual sprint races originally were scheduled to be held in Aosta, Italy, in December but were canceled due to lack of snow.
The World Cup event is the first in Russia since the International Ski Federation stripped the country of races because of badly organized runs in the Kavgolovo, Leningrad region, in 2003.
The next World Cup event will be held in Otepaa, Estonia, on Jan. 27-28.
— USSA and The Associated Press contributed to this report
Demino World Cup cross-country results
Men's 1.2 km freestyle sprint
1. Renato Pasini, Italy, 2 minutes, 27.9 seconds.
2. Nikolai Pankratov, Russia, 0.8 seconds behind.
3. Tobias Angerer, Germany, 1.2.
4. Vassili Rotchev, Russia, 2.0.
5. Martin Stockinger, Austria, 4.4.
6. Jon Kristian Dahl, Norway, 43.1.
Overall World Cup standings (after 9 of 20 races)
1. Tobias Angerer, Germany, 722 points.
2. Alexander Legkov, Russia, 567.
3. Tor Arne Hetland, Norway, 448.
4. Eldar Roenning, Norway, 388.
5. Evgenji Dementiev, Russia, 290.
6. Siemen Oestensen, Norway, 240.
7. Petter Northug, Norway, 231.
8. Jens Filbrich, Germany, 230.
9. Sami Jauhojaervi, Finland, 228.
10. Franz Goerling, Germany, 220.
Women's 1.2 km freestyle sprint
1. Arianna Follis, Italy, 2 minutes, 49.9 seconds.
2. Claudia Nystad-Kunzel, Germany, 0.3 seconds behind.
3. Kikkan Randall, United States, 0.3.
4. Virpi Kuitunen, Finland, 0.4.
5. Natalia Matveeva, Russia, 0.7.
6. Katerina Neumannova, Czech Republic, 1.4.
Overall World Cup standings (after 9 of 20 races)
1. Virpi Kuitunen, Finland, 917 points.
2. Marit Bjoergen, Norway, 634.
3. Katerina Neumannova, Czech Republic, 552.
4. Petra Majdic, Slovenia, 466.
5. Aino Kaisa Saarinen, Finland, 463.
6. Valentina Shevchenko, Ukraine, 399.
7. Riitta Liisa Roponen, Finland, 363.
8. Arianna Follis, Italy, 323.
9. Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle, Germany, 294.
10. Vibeke Skofterud, Norway, 262.