With over two weeks since the final events of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics this post-Olympic wrap-up is well overdue. Our mid-games update made it past the Women 10km and Men 15km Freestyle events. This post covers the final cross country events with Australians competing, plus an overall summary.
The Team Sprint on February 21 was one of the key events for the AUSXC Team at these games, after promising Team Sprint results in recent years and particularly at the Dresden World Cup in January. The field was split into two semi-finals, with the top 10 teams from a combination of places and times going through to the final. Jessica Yeaton and Barbara Jezersek were up first and gave the finals a red-hot shot, finishing 6th in their semi-final and ending up 12th overall out of 21 teams. From times, six teams qualified from the other semi-final and only four from our semi. Though they were disappointed not to make the final, it was a fantastic effort from this Australian duo and still the best ever AUS cross country skiing place at a Winter Olympics.
In the men’s Team Sprint Callum Watson and Phillip Bellingham shaped up in the fastest semi-final and the pace was hot from the start. Some bad luck on the first lap meant that the boys lost contact with the main group early on and had to fight hard the whole way to finish 13th in their heat and 25th overall out of 28 teams. It was a tough break; though making the finals would have been a long-shot, the race could have been a whole lot different if the guys had been mixing it in the pack instead of busting a lung trying in vain to close the gap.
After some speculation both Callum Watson and Phillip Bellingham took the field in the 50km Classic Mass Start on Saturday February 24 (incidentally Phil’s birthday). Callum had battled with an Achilles issue in the past two years, so starting any classic race over 15km wasn’t even contemplated until late January (thanks physios!). Conditions were challenging, with the winner Niskanen from Finland taking over 2:08 to complete the 5-lap course. Phil finished in 56th and Callum 58th from the field of 68 skiers, noting again that only A-qualified athletes can race the 30km and 50km events. The Aussies raced together with Callum Smith from GBR for much of the race (see image below), the Brit ending up 54th. This was the first time Australian skiers had raced the Olympic 50km since 1998!
Jessica Yeaton was the sole Australian in the 30km Classic Mass Start, the final event Pyeongchang 2018. Losing contact with the main pack earlier than expected, Jess gave it her all to finish 42nd in the field of 47 racers. After the race Jess said that the race was harder than expected, with the fatigue of a very full Olympic schedule taking its toll. Making her Olympic debut, Jess raced in all individual events, finishing 41st, 42nd, 48th and 50th, plus the team sprint with the ground-breaking 12th place result.
And that was that. The largest ever contingent of Australian cross country skiers at a Winter Olympics (six athletes, up from four in Sochi), racing in 10 out of 12 events (up from seven in Sochi), supported by our largest support team (five coaches/techs, compared to four in Vancouver) and achieving our best ever results (best team sprint result of 12th, equal best individual result of 33rd, two top 40’s and four top 50’s)! Congratulations to all athletes for their efforts both at the games and over the past four years to make it there!
L-R: Callum Watson,Barbara Jezersek, Randy Gibbs, Aimee Watson, Gus Kaeding, Jessica Yeaton, Finn Marsland, Casey Wright, Paul Moore, Valerio Leccardi, Phillip Bellingham.