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Koos struggles to 36th in cross-country sprint

WHISTLER, British Columbia — Torin Koos' four-year obsession ended with the abruptness of a trap door.Koos, 29, skiing in his specialty, failed to make it out of the qualification round of the Olympic men's classic individual cross-country sprint at Wednesday at Whistler Olympic Park.

The veteran Koos, skiing in his third Olympics, finished 36th, taking 3 minutes, 42.72 seconds to cover the 1.6-kilometer course. The top 30 advance. Koos was 94 hundredths of a second from moving on to the elimination round.

Russia's Nikita Kriukov and Alexander Panzhinskiy were first and second in the race, while Petter Northug of Norway took bronze.

On a day when the clouds lifted and the mountains surrounding this stunning venue stood in grandeur, Koos' most anticipated moment fell flat, over in the time it takes to boil an egg.

"Literally, I've thought about this every single day since Closing Ceremony in 2006," Koos said of the last Olympics, where he finished 36th while suffering from illness. "I remember watching them taking down the flag and thinking, 'There's no way I won't be better. I have four years to get it right.' And I didn't get it right."

Join the club. The U.S. men, who for the first time in years could be considered medal contenders, failed to advance anyone to the six-man final. Simi Hamilton, a late addition to the team when other countries failed to fill their quotas, was the best American men's finisher, in 29th of 62 overall. He reached the quarterfinals.

Anchorage's Kikkan Randall finished eighth, reaching the semifinal round in the women's event before being eliminated. Seattle-raised Holly Brooks, the coach-turned-Olympian who also lives in Anchorage, was 38th of 54.

Marit Bjoergen took gold, giving Norway two medals for the day. Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk won silver and Petra Majdic of Slovenia overcame a training-run crash earlier in the day to win bronze.

U.S. star Andy Newell, who started second and was the only seeded U.S. skier, finished 45th after wiping out on a hill made icy by chilly overnight temperatures. Garrott Kuzzy was 47th.

"I'm crushed for Newell, crushed for Koos," said John Farra, U.S. Nordic director.

Koos said he felt tentative on his skis on the icy, hilly sections of the highly technical course that features steep ups and downs and sharp turns. The sun softened the course by afternoon, but it was too late for most of the Americans.

"Torin had a poor day," said U.S. coach Pete Vordenberg. "Why that happened is something we'll discuss later. He came in in really good shape. The Olympics bring their own kind of pressure."

Koos' early exit was mystifying, considering he was second in qualifying in a World Cup race as recently as Feb. 8, winding up 11th overall, the top American. He is in prime shape and said he was relaxed.

"I felt good yesterday. Things felt like they were rolling really well. Today I just didn't have the pop. I didn't feel I could attack the downhills."

Koos, who started 26 places after Newell, said Newell's crash didn't affect him_he missed it when it was shown on the stadium's big screen and didn't know Newell had crashed.

U.S. hopes are still high for the next event, the freestyle team sprint, on Feb. 22. Koos said a coach told him he and Newell would compete. The U.S. has finished in the top 15 in the last three world championships.

"We have a lot of Olympics left," said U.S. coach Pete Vordenberg. "We have no reason to hang our heads."

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