The competitions in Khanty-Mansiysk became a real sports festival with all the attributes: a very professional television broadcast from nine cameras, prize money and gifts for the participants. In addition, they seemed to sum up the training camp of the two strongest brigades of the national team - Yegor Sorin and Yuri Borodavko and, in fact, were nothing more than extended control races. Not only skiers from different regions, but also biathletes could take part in them - just at the same time, the group of Artem Istomin and Vitaly Noritsyn was preparing for the season in full force.
Another issue is that the format dictated some limitations: it made no sense for those who constantly perform only skates to run classic sprints. Therefore, the biathletes considered for themselves mainly the second day of the competition - Saturday.
In the camp of skiers, closer to the weekend, unplanned withdrawals began. Natalia Nepryaeva, Tatyana Sorina, Alexander Bolshunov, Sergey Ustyugov — that is, those whose presence in the starting lineup immediately gives any event sharpness and spectacle — refused to perform due to lack of readiness. The fatigue accumulated by the end of the training camp also had an effect, this also had to be taken into account.
On the one hand, the test start does not seem to bind you too much to the result, rather it allows you to adjust the further training season, but this is how human perception works: if figures of such a scale as Bolshunov and Ustyugov find themselves on the same track, they are inevitably expected to fight not only for medals, but also with each other, and an irreconcilable one. Although neither one nor the other needs it now.
But even without the most high-profile names, the protocol looked decent. With the exception of Bolshunov, Borodavko's all-star men's brigade took part in the sprint. And on the part of Sorin's group, they were opposed, perhaps, by the brightest representative of the junior generation until recently, Saveliy Korostelev.
The skier himself noted on the eve of the competition that he relies on Sunday's distance of 10 km, and in the sprint he wants to run and work out his muscles before a more interesting performance for himself.
The format of the sprint races was shortened: quarter-finals of four people and no lucky losers. A well-known skier in the past, a medalist of the World Championships Sergey Kryanin noted in this regard: the format is insidious. And I remembered my own example, when, even being in great shape, I ran perfectly at the stages of the World Cup distance races, but did not get into the quarterfinals - there was not enough required speed.
Ski conditions in Khanty-Mansiysk are considered ideal this year. On the eve of the arrival of the national teams, the snow storage was reactivated here, a beautiful dense flooring was laid from very clean, without pebbles and sand, snow. The only drawback, which Borodavko immediately pointed out, was the lack of a second classic ski track.
"It's impossible to work on your technique when you're not on the track," the specialist explained.
At the stadium, where more than 500 athletes trained at the same time in the mornings, this "off-track" arose at every step. They promised to respond to the coach's request, especially since Borodavko made it clear that he liked Khanty-Mansiysk very much, which means that his group intends to come here regularly.
"It should be noted that they meet us halfway in everything. We ask you to make a highway or a specific section more difficult, and this will be implemented immediately. We really appreciate this attitude," Sorin said on Saturday.
The women's sprint, ahead of Anastasia Faleeva, was won by a local native, Anastasia Kirillova, about whom Kryanin said briefly: "A great specialist at short distances, and most importantly, a great fighter."
In the men's races, Korostelev looked more preferable. But in the final, Terentyev turned on his full strength on the final climb and ran away from his rivals, including Savely, as from the standing stage - he finished with an advantage of 2.02 seconds.
Quite unexpected, but pleasant was the presence of Veronika Stepanova in the women's protocol. In the sprint, she was also announced, but did not start. Sorin explained this by the fact that he did not see the point in putting the Olympic champion in the first race, since he did not consider the condition of the athlete optimal.
"Of course, it was possible to run both days, but it would probably have led to quite average results in both the sprint and the distance. And so Veronika showed everyone: she plays in a different league," the coach said.
Stepanova's result was really impressive: she won 5.25 seconds against her closest rival in the 3 km, but it is interesting that the second prize-winner was not a skier, but a biathlete - Elizaveta Kaplina. She, in turn, beat another athlete of Sorin's group, Elizaveta Pantrina.
In the men's 10-kilometer distance, Terentyev opened the "red group", starting 65th, and at the very end of the protocol Korostelev, Artyom Maltsev, Ivan Yakimushkin, Denis Spitsov and Alexei Chervotkin were located one after another. Theoretically, it was these athletes who had to compete for the podium, but there was a nuance: the leaders were not very directed to the start, since the test races are not a reason to lose loads for the sake of them, while there were enough people in the starting application who were seriously determined to "eat" with the recognized favorites.
And that's exactly what happened. It took some effort for Chervotkin to snatch victory from 31-year-old Andrey Melnichenko, whose most notable career was his participation in the 2017 World Championships (28th place in the marathon) and the relay silver at the World Cup in Lillehammer in 2019.
Spitsov stopped one step away from the podium, letting Pavel Solovyov go ahead, Yakimushkin and Korostelev closed the eight, inside which they were both beaten by Daniil Serohvostov. And it was not clear who should be considered the heroes of the day: skiers Veronika and Alexei or biathletes Elizaveta and Daniil.
On Sunday, the teams of the national cross-country skiing teams will charter to Khakassia, where they will prepare for the first start of the Russian Cup at the Top of Tyoi, and the biathletes will have their first club tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk next weekend. In another week, they will officially open the season at the same stadium.