"Confirmed the authority"
Natalia Nepryaeva and Alexander Bolshunov replenished their collections of awards with another gold, this time in sprint races at the final stage of the Cup of Russia in cross-country skiing. But even with their undeniable leadership, the competition turned out to be bright and exciting.
In the women's qualification, somewhat unexpectedly, the first place was taken by Anna Grukhvina, who was ahead of Natalia by 0.38 seconds. The top five also included Daria Nepryaeva, Maria Istomina and Veronika Stepanova.
The quarterfinals went without losses among the favorites, but until the last she counted on the continuation of the struggle as a lucky loser Anastasia Prokofieva, who took third place in the first race. The athlete, who the day before presented a sensation in the cutting, sharing gold with Nepryaeva, the eldest, admitted that she had entered the taste and would like to fight the strongest in the sprint.
However, she was not lucky: the fifth race of the day was the fastest for the day, which was headed by Ekaterina Smirnova, so not two, but four athletes went to the next stage.
Such a jump of the Tyumen skier came out sideways - she no longer had the strength to make it to the final - especially since she got into the same race with Natalia Nepryaeva. She expectedly came to the finish line first, and in the struggle for the second place, both Smirnova and Elizaveta Pantrina and Alena Baranova lost to Stepanova. The company in the final was Istomina, Nepryaeva Jr., Grukhvina and Khrystyna Matsokina.
In the decisive race from the start, Istomina, who does not like to conduct a contact struggle on the track, predictably rushed forward. At first, Grukhvina tried to cling to her, but gradually pushed her to the third position of Nepryaeva-st. Anna was prevented from competing for a prize place by an accident: at high speed, her ski turned 90 degrees and the athlete fell. Stepanova took advantage of this moment. She sat behind Natalia's back and tried to get around her at the finish line, but in vain.
"There is no athlete in the country who can get ahead of Nepryaeva at the finish line," said Alexander Panzhinsky, the silver medalist of the 2010 Olympics.
The Olympic champion herself admitted that it is more pleasant to win sole gold than to share it with a teammate, as the day before.
"First place is first place! Although I am very happy for Nastya. It's nice that today I was able to confirm my authority, I do not hesitate to say this word. I hope that tomorrow I will feel normal and I will be able to hold my race without paying attention to anyone, because Veronika (Stepanova. - RT) has a lot of seconds behind. We will start from our well-being," Nepryaeva said on Match TV.
The athlete added that it is difficult for her to make early starts, so in the prologue she did not run at full strength. "At breakfast, I actually walked with my eyes closed. I love racing in the afternoon more," Natalia said with a smile.
The silver medalist of the race Stepanova noted that she also "dozed off" in qualifying, but with each appearance at the start she felt more confident. In the final, according to her, I really wanted to "pinch" Nepryaeva, but failed.
"In the course of the race, I watched how I felt, because sometimes it happens that I just don't have the strength. But I endured. Of course, Anna's unfortunate fall gave strength, "the Olympic champion noted.
A series of falls
The men's sprint was dramatic. A series of falls began at the quarterfinal stage: Artem Maltsev, in an attempt to rebuild, ran over Ilya Semikov's ski, broke his stick and fell himself. As a result, both lost the opportunity to continue the competition.
The second episode happened in the semifinals with the participation of Bolshunov. The race began very curiously: none of the skiers wanted to go forward on the descent and the whole six for a while lazily rolled side by side. Konstantin Tiunov could not stand it first and ran into the breakaway, but to the gentle part he was still "eaten". The athletes approached the stadium in a dense group and in this crowd Dmitry Zhul suddenly fell, and from the outside it looked quite scary - the skier turned over his head at great speed, but, fortunately, there were no injuries. And just a few seconds later, Anton Timashov fell like a mowed down at the finish line.
But the most resonant fall occurred in the decisive race. It was expectedly headed by Bolshunov, who rushed from his rivals already 300 meters after the start. His escape was not supported by anyone, so the question of the winner was removed quickly enough. The remaining five fought for silver, and when entering the stadium, a tight contact struggle began, during which Andrei Krasnov pushed saveliy Korostelev's ski. The 19-year-old skier could not stand on his feet and fell on Gleb Retivykh, who held him on his shoulder for several seconds, but the fall was inevitable. And then on the track there was a contact of Pavel Solovyov with Denis Filimonov, as a result of which the latter had a broken one of the skis and a stick. The athlete was forced to finish the race literally on one leg. And the fight for silver eventually unfolded between Krasnov and Retivykh, but Gleb lost precious seconds in the episode with Savely, so he came to the finish only third.
The judges studied the episodes of collisions for a long time, but did not resort to disqualifications and left the results of the race in force.
"Crossing the skis was 100% there, but as Andrew says, he didn't even feel the push. But I could clearly see that he had knocked out almost half a meter of my ski with the heel of his boot. Even the video shows that the ski goes just into the other leg, "Korostelev shared.
In turn, Retivykh after the finish complained that he did not support Bolshunov's breakthrough, although he expected just such a scenario.
"I initially told Saveliy and Denis that when we got to the climb, Sasha would run away. The only thing is, I have no satisfaction, because today there was a lot of strength, and when Sasha went, I regretted that I did not rush after him. I could do it and then understand at the finish line, and not in this whistle," the athlete said.
Bolshunov did not know at all what was happening behind his back. He said he made an acceleration and worked to the finish line without even looking back. Also, the three-time Olympic champion spoke about the tactics for the pursuit race, which will be held on Sunday.
"The opponents will start a little later than me, but it will probably be easier for them, because they will be together, and I will have to fight as always – with myself. We can say that tomorrow is an individual race for me, and I will try to work for a clean time, "said Alexander.
In parallel with the stage of the Cup of Russia, the prestigious Ugra Marathon was held, which has been held since 2013. Most skiers preferred the competition in Kirovsk, but Sergey Ustyugov, Yulia Stupak and Anastasia Kuleshova decided to finish the season with races in Khanty-Mansiysk.
They were accompanied by a whole troop of biathletes, including Eduard Latypov, Nikita Porshnev, Daniil Serokhvostov, Karim Khalili, Pyotr Pashchenko, Victoria Slivko, Ksenia Dovgaya, Alina Kudisova and Ekaterina Noskova.
The favorite of the 50-kilometer freestyle race, of course, was Ustyugov, but a worthy competition was given to him by the three-time bronze medalist of the Beijing Olympics. Together they broke away from the group of biathletes, but Sergey still got to the finish line 2 minutes 19 seconds faster than Eduard. Porshnev closed the top three among men, losing to the winner by almost 4.5 minutes.
Among women, anastasia Kuleshova showed the best time, Kudisova became the second, and Natalia Babchina went to bronze. Stupak also retired from the race after 15 km.
For Kuleshova, this victory was the second in a row, and Ustyugov repeated the success of six years ago, and on his own birthday. On April 8, the athlete turned 31 years old.
"The feeling is great, the track today was heavy, strong wind. We were walking with the guys on the first lap, and I told them to get involved. When someone left, no one wanted to follow them. And when I came forward, I started to make a small breakaway, the guys immediately picked up. I realized that they were a little lazy to save energy on the last lap. I didn't give them a chance on the last lap, I decided to work it out. Edik and I worked, and then I was surprised when he fell behind. As a result, I managed to win on my birthday, as in 2017, "said Sergey after the race.
Latypov also noted the difficult weather conditions. He admitted that he wanted to impose a struggle on Ustyugov in the last meters, but did not have enough training for the marathon.
"For skiers, such a distance is a familiar element. We manage to run such distances once a year, and we approach the start without any special preparation. We're a little lacking in stamina to keep the speed. Sergey is in great shape now and I would have been happy to fight him to the finish line, but it didn't work out. I congratulate him on his birthday and on his victory," Eduard said.