World Cup Update: Lahti
Skinnyski: Well the Norwegians returned to the World Cup scene and certainly picked up where they left off. Jessie had a strong skiathlon on Saturday, remaining in the mix throughout. What's your take on the women's skiathlon?
Jeremy: This was a race similar to many races over the past several years. Norway has returned to the World Cup circuit and has picked up on the dominance that they have always had. Johaug looks as if she hasn’t lost a step skiing away from the field early in the 15km race with only a handful of women daring to chase (Diggins, Andersson, Nepryaeva). During the skate portion of the race, Weng and Fosselholm moved up from the 2nd chase group to join the lead three. As the race dwindled to the end it was clear that the skis from Diggins were not as competitive compared to the rest of the group which put her at a disadvantage. The 5th place finish is a spectacular result for her, showing that fitness is still there being in the hunt for a podium position.
Skinnyski: On the men's side, the most impressive result had to be Gus Schumacher finishing 18th when Norwegians were sweeping the podium. He seems to be getting better every race?
Jeremy: Schumacher has been on a spectacular trajectory this season. He has now had a string of top 20 results, and this may be his most impressive since his 8th place finish in Val di Fiemme. This was a much stronger field with the addition of Norway to the results so to still finish in the top 20 is great. There were some other impressive finishes by US men in Saturday's race as well. Scott Patterson finished in the top 30 for the second time this season only a few seconds behind Schumacer. David Norris also made his season debut after missing the first portion of the season due to a Covid-19 infection at the opening of the racing year. It will be great to see how these Alaskans improve through the season.
Skinnyski: Relay's are typically one of the hallmark events for the season, especially for the US women. But this weekend, it didn't have all of our best skiers available. First, what's the scoop with Hailey Swirbul and Katherine Ogden, are they preparing for World Juniors/U23s? And can you provide an update on the status of Sadie Bjornsen?
Jeremy: This was a really interesting relay to watch. Like you had mentioned, the team relays are typically an event that the US tries to focus on each year. One of the core elements in US skiing is around teamwork and there is no other event that focuses on that like the relay does. For this race the US team decided to give some of our strongest athletes more time to rest and fielded a weaker than usual team. Because of this, they decided to switch things up for Brennan and Diggins who are usually in the freestyle portions of the relay and gave them a crack in the classic legs. They both showed that they have the ability to handle the pressure from the best in the world and handed off within contact of the podium. Looking to later on in the season there will be another team relay at the World Championships where the US team should be able to field a strong team with the addition of either Swirbul, Ogden, Hamilton Caldwell, or Maubet Bjornsen that will make them a serious contender for the podium.
It is sometimes difficult to find some of the details regarding the decisions to rest/sit out of races from afar. I believe that both Swirbul and Ogden are trying to prepare/rest for the next part of the season and I know that Hailey has actually made the trip back to the US for a short break. Bjornsen has been targeting Falun (Jan 30-31) for a return to World Cup racing to focus on life outside of the race course for the first part of the season. She seems to be returning ready both mentally and physically to push for the top results that she is capable of.
Skinnyski: The men's relay was an all-Alaskan squad - definitely speaks well for the Alaskan pipeline! But the story on Sunday was the fireworks at the finish between Finland and Russian. What happened exactly, and will there be further repercussions?
Jeremy: It was fun to watch the Americans throw it down with the rest of the field on Saturday. It is pretty impressive when the state with the one of the smallest population masses has all four starters in a World Cup race! It definitely shows the strength of the Alaskan skiers and how great the Alaska Pacific University (APU) and Alaska Winter Stars (AWS) programs are in Anchorage.
The big story from the day came from the finish between the Russian and Finnish men’s teams. I won’t go into details about the aftermath of the event as I believe that there is no room for this type of behavior in our sport. I will discuss the events that led up to that and give my two cents on what should have happened.
I found a great clip that shows a birds eye view of the finish where you can clearly see Maki and Bolshunov coming around the final corner and into the finish lane. Maki is in the lead and Bolshunov is trying to overtake on the outside. Maki can sense him overtaking and decides to make a move for the outside lane that would give him the best finish lane and effectively block Bolshunov from being able to pass. While the leading skier has the right to pick his finish lane, he is not able to intentionally block a competitor. In the video I do not see any intent from Maki to actively block Bolshunov as he never looks back or around to see where he is at. As a former coach, it is not my place to weigh in on decisions like this on race day. Any and all reprimands, relegations, disqualifications would come from the Technical Delegates and the race jury. The reactions by Bolshunov after the move and in the finish pen ultimately cost his team the podium. No further repercussions have been implemented as of yet for Bolshunov, which could be construed as controversial in itself!
[ Editor’s Note: We asked technical delegate Allan Serrano his opinion on the finish: “An action must be determined to be intentional to be obstruction and the burden of responsibility is given to the overtaking competitor. In this case, Maki was clearly in the lead and gave no indication that he was changing his line to intentionally block or impede. Bolshunov was the overtaking competitor but ran out of space to overtake on Maki's right. This is pretty typical. There are many cases where the person in Bolshunov's position has caused the person they are trying to pass to crash and been charged with obstruction.” and further added, “Both these guys know this stadium well and what it takes to have the advantage going into the corridors. Because of the speed though the 180 degree curve and relatively short length of the finish corridors, the left most corridor is virtually useless and getting into the second from left takes planning way back before entering the curve. Maki maximized his advantage of being in the lead and knowledge that Bolshunov had committed to passing on the right by choosing to go for the corridor on the right. It is a fine line, but Maki stayed on the right side of it.”
Bolshunov has since issued an apology for his reaction. ]
Skinnyski: Weather looked very gray all weekend in Lahti, and very foggy on Sunday. What were waxing conditions like?
Jeremy: It was clearly going to be soupy weather for the team with a fairly stable, warm forecast heading into the weekends races. The classic races were going to be focused on who could make the klister work, and skate races were more about skis and structure than wax. The wax team would have had some time to prepare for these events and clearly were able to get on top of the classic wax without any issues. All of the Americans looked confident in their ability to handle their kick well. During the skate portions of the skiathlon it looked as if the skis were behind the competitors a little bit which made me think that either ski choice or grind was off just a little bit.
Skinnyski: One of the highlights on the women's side for the weekend was Sophia Laukli. What's the background on her?
Jeremy: Laukli is a newcomer to the US D-Team. She narrowly missed the points finishing in 33rd position in her debut World Cup race. Hailing from Yarmouth, Maine, she grew up in Norway and is now a sophomore at Middlebury College in Vermont. After a stellar 2019/2020 season where she finished in the top 5 at the Junior World Championships and runner up at the NCAA National Championships she was given a spot on the US D-Team. She spent the last couple of weeks racing in Norway preparing for her World Cup debut and was able to string together some very respectable finishes at their National championships last week.
Skinnyski: What's up next for the US squad?
Jeremy: The team will be traveling to Falun, Sweden for the next set of races. There will be three races taking place in Falun with two distance events (interval start skate and mass start classic) in addition to a classic sprint.
- Jan 29th - 10/15 KM Freestyle - men’s 15K at 4:15 am CST, women’s 10K at 6:00 am CST
- Jan 30th - 10/15 KM Classic - men’s 15K at 6:30 am CST, women’s 10K at 7:55 am CST
- Jan 31st - Classic Sprint - sprint heats at 6:30 am CST
About the author...
Jeremy Hecker is the current racing service manager at Pioneer Midwest and Rex Ski Wax technical representative for the US. He has been skiing for his entire lifetime, racing competitively in college for St. Scholastica. Since graduating in 2013 he has coached for numerous teams including Endurance United, Stratton Mountain School, and the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. In addition to his coaching experience, Jeremy has a Masters degree in the Biology of Physical Activity which he obtained from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland.