A quality international field featuring Olympic medallists and world champions provided spectacular action at the Audi quattro Winter Games NZ FIS Australia New Zealand Continental Cup (ANC) Cross-Country Skiing Sprint at Snow Farm today with top honours going to USA’s Andy Newell and Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland.
Newell, a prominent World Cup skier and Olympian, sent a strong message in the prologue that he meant business when he clocked a time of 2.52.96 over the 1.6km sprint course. He headed off 2010 Olympic bronze medallist Alexey Petukhov of Russia who claimed second place in 2.56.54 followed by two-time Olympian Devon Kershaw of Canada in 3.00.10.
Newell, ranked ninth in the field, clearly won his heat and semi-final and stamped his name on the gold medal in the final after a tight finish, again beating 9th ranked Petukhov and Kershaw, ranked 70th, respectively.
Top seed Nikita Kriukov of Russia who is ranked second in the world finished 5th in the prologue in 3.01.51 behind team mate Anton Gafarov 3.00.54 in fourth place. Kriukov won the men’s B final with Maciej Kreczmer of Poland second and Alexander Panzhinskiy of Russia third.
Newell was pleased with his ANC title win having just arrived in New Zealand from the US two days ago.
“It’s good to get on snow following summer training and the results let me know that my training is going well. It was great to race the others, particularly the Russians, and get in the zone and pass them where possible. There were Olympic medallists and world champions in the field and I haven’t been any of those yet so I am hoping maybe now my turn is coming on the podium,” he said.
Highly rated Olympic champion and world champion Kowalczyk, currently ranked second in the world in sprint, displayed her prowess when she won the prologue in 3.27.25 ahead of 2010 Olympic biathlon gold medallist Anastasiya Kuzmina of Slovakia in 3.32.24 and Olympian and World Cup skier Perianne Jones of Canada in 3.36.42.
Kowalczyk, who was first across the line in her semi-final, clearly won the final and the women’s ANC title ahead of World Cup and Olympian athlete Daria Gaiazova of Canada in second place and Kuzmina who took out third.
Kowalczyk was upbeat about her performance. “It was a good race on a very good track. I am very happy and racing here at Snow Farm and the Winter Games is very important for me for Sochi,” she said.
New Zealand’s sole entrant Sarah Murphy, who competed at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver as the first-ever Kiwi Olympic biathlete, tested her skills on the sprint course completing the prologue in seventh place in 3.50.5. Following the semi-final she competed in the B final where she placed third behind Japanese competitors Michiko Kashiwabara and Chisa Obayashi.
“I am more of an endurance racer but it was great to have the sprint experience and ski against some of the best in the world. You just had to put your head down and fight to stay with the others. I had trouble in the semi-final because of my start position but overall it was a good race.”
Chief of Race, John Burridge commended the standard of the Winter Games NZ event which saw an outstanding level of competition.
“It was a tremendous field featuring several Olympic standard skiers. The men’s race was like a potential semi-final at the Sochi Olympics.”
Winter Games NZ 2013 takes place over 11-days from 15-25 August at the international resorts of Coronet Peak, Cardrona Alpine Resort and Snow Farm, along with the Maniototo Curling International Rink. Set against the spectacular backdrop of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, the Games also include a full Downtown Sessions festival programme featuring films, live music and entertainment in Queenstown and Lake Wanaka.
For further information, visit www.wintergamesnz.com.
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