FILE UNDER -- Nordic

TORINO: XC: Randall, Wagner earn trip to finals in team sprint

TORINO: XC: Randall, Wagner earn trip to finals in team sprint{mosimage}PRAGELATO, Italy – The cross-country duo of Kikkan Randall and Wendy Wagner finished 10th in the Olympic team Sprint Monday, marking the first time U.S. women have made finals in a top international contest.

Chris Cook and Andy Newell did not advance out of the semifinals.

Anna Dahlberg and Lina Andersson of Sweden took gold, while the silver medal went to Canada’s Sara Renner and Beckie Scott. Finland’s Aino Kaisa Gjomle and Marit Bjoergen earned the bronze.

“This is the first time we, as Americans, ever made the finals,” said Randall. “So it was our first opportunity to see what it was like. It was one of the hardest races I’ve ever done with the format, and to have to do it twice in one day is pretty tough. This is our first time experiencing that and I think it went pretty well considering.”

It was a big step for the U.S. women in an event where the entire team has been finding some success this season. “We just were confident. We knew we were in a tough heat with the Germans, the Swedes and Norwegians, but we felt we could be right in there and qualify – so that was just the goal.”

Cook and Newell were unable to advance beyond the semifinals, where they finished seventh. Cook was a replacement for Torin Koos, who has been sick.

“It’s a disapointment,” said Newell. “This was one of our good days, we had a chance for a medal today. But it was just too much to make up on that last lap. I feel we can ski with the best. I feel like we just fell off the pack a tiny bit. We were skiing just as fast as those guys, but I just couldn’t close the gap on that last lap.

Newell has been blazing new territory for the U.S. cross-country ski team with a fourth last month in a World Cup sprint in Germany. He will get another shot in the individual event on Feb. 22. “I’m still feeling good and confident towards the individual sprint.”

It was the debut of the team sprint at the Olympics. The individual sprint was added to the 2001 World Championships schedule and debuted at the ’02 Olympics, while the team sprint was an official event at the 2003 worlds. Each skier runs a total of three laps in classic technique (1.4 km per lap for the men, 1.2 km per lap for the women), alternating laps with each other until six are complete.

Randall was one of two U.S. cross-country skiers placed on a no-start list for five days last week due to elevated hemoglobin levels. The sprint relay was her first scheduled Olympic event.

“It’s definitely been a roller coaster,” said Randall. “When I first heard about it I was pretty unconcerned because I knew I was a little dehydrated and I knew my next test would be fine. I didn’t expect the negative media blowout from it.

“It was a simple test for our health, really, and all of a sudden it was turned negative. That was unfortunate. But I see it as an opportunity to promote being a good athlete. This test really is a good thing.

“I had a lot of good support from my team. I had a lot of well wishes and shows of support from back home. And that helped me stay confident and focus on what I’m here to do and that’s racing well at the Olympics.”

The men and women are off Wednesday before action resumes Thursday with the women’s 10 km.

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