World Cup Report: Lillehammer Recap, Davos Preview
What a weekend for the US Ski Team! The Americans left Lillehammer with two podium finishes and breakout performances across the board. Race conditions proved to be a bit milder than last weekend’s events in Ruka with temperatures in the 10-20ºF range and the debut of new, slightly flatter courses. This made tactics that much more important; drafting, cornering, and pacing were essential to success.
- December 4 Freestyle Sprints
- December 5 Freestyle 10/15km Individual Start
- December 6 4 x 5/7.5km Relay, Mixed Technique
Friday was a strong day from start to finish for the American team, headlined by Jessie Diggins who earned her first podium finish of the season in second place. Rosie Brennan also qualified for the finals, finishing in fifth. The top performers on the men’s side were JC Schoonmaker in 11th and Kevin Bolger in 12th, both qualifying for the semifinal rounds. Julia Kern also skied a strong race, posting the 7th fastest qualifying time and nearly missing the semifinals to take 13th overall, and teammates Hannah Halvorsen and Ben Ogden made the top 30.
The new 1.6km course began with a rolling downhill and a tight corner leading into the first of two gradual climbs, making positioning important from the start of the race. The climbs were rarely the deciding point on the course; instead, it was crucial to maintain a good position over the top to be near the front on the last corner heading into the finishing stretch. Maja Dahlqvist of Sweden proved she is just as tactical as she is powerful, posting the fastest women’s qualifying time and advancing easily through the heats and semis. Diggins also skied strategically in the early rounds, picking good lines and using her downhill skills to advance to the final. Others had a tougher time in the pack, however: Sweden’s Johanna Haegstrom ended up falling after getting tangled with Slovenia’s Anamarija Lampic in their semifinal, leading to broken poles for both women. Lampic was able to stay upright, though, and made it through as a lucky loser. Brennan clinched the other lucky loser spot, taking third to Swedish skiers Dahlqvist and Emma Ribom.
The two Swedes took the lead early in the final, but every change in direction and elevation shook up the places in the pack. Picking lines was important to maintain and improve position, as demonstrated by Diggins, who seemed to be moving up around every corner. Dahlqvist managed to regain her place at the front despite losing a few spots on the final ascent, and kept it to the end to take the victory. Diggins cut the final corner to battle it out with Norwegian Tirul Udnes Weng, and was able to outsprint her to take second, with Weng rounding out the podium. Brennan finished close behind in fifth.
On the men’s side, Norwegian Johannes Høsflot Klæbo managed to find redemption after losing to Russian Alexander Terentev in Ruka. Terentev was eliminated in the quarterfinals, while Klæbo easily won his heat and semifinal as well as the qualifier, advancing to the last round alongside teammates Haavard Solaas Taugboel and Thomas Helland Larsen. Despite taking part in a four-way photo finish for third, Schoonmaker was unable to qualify out of the semifinals, and was knocked out along with Bolger. Klæbo continued to race strategically in the finals, sitting in second place for most of the race and coming around before the final corner, increasing his lead to win decisively. Larsen stayed close to take second, with Frenchman Richard Jouve in third. “It was a really tough race today,” said Klæbo in a post-race interview with FIS. “I was really satisfied with crossing the finish line first, and it was a special day.”
Saturday’s course featured a 3.75km lap with a significant hill early on and rolling climbs to follow. In the women’s race, fresh snowfall throughout the event only made the course more difficult for many. For Rosie Brennan, however, the tough conditions worked in her favor as she placed third in the 10km race, building on her ever-improving form. She was bested only by top performers Frida Karlsson of Sweden and Therese Johaug of Norway, who struggled closely for the lead the whole race with Karlsson emerging triumphant by a margin of only 0.3 seconds. The 20-year old Norwegian Helene Marie Fossesholm also fought hard for the podium, but came up short to take fourth place by five seconds. Diggins was the next placing American in 18th.
The men’s field had fairly close finishing times as well, with no decisive leader emerging until the finish line. There was certainly a dominant team, however: Norway swept the podium in the 15km race, claiming nine of the top 12 spots and reminding us once again of their incredible depth of talent. Simen Hegstad Krueger secured the win by 1.6 seconds over Hans Christer Holund, with Martin Lowestroem Nyenget placing third. Distance leader Alexander Bolshunov of Russia placed below expectations in 14th, but it was enough for him to keep his place in the overall standings. Gus Schumacher was the top placing American in 38th.
The US entered two teams each for the men’s and women’s fields in Sunday’s mixed technique relay, but the strongest performance came from the first women’s team. Hailey Swirbul started the first classic leg, staying with the front group until a broken pole basket resulted in some lost time. Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and Germany broke away from the rest of the field in the first two laps, giving their second skiers an advantage. Because most teams put their fastest skiers in leg three of the race, Frida Karlsson was able to push the pace in leg two, narrowing the lead pack down to Sweden, Russia, and Norway. Thanks to a strong performance from Rosie Brennan, the US team moved up to fifth by the time third skier Jessie Diggins took to the course, with only 29 seconds standing in between her and the lead group. Johaug was unable to drop the Russian and Swedish teams after taking the lead on her second lap, and the top three came into their final exchange together, with the Americans now in fourth position followed closely by Norway II, Germany, and Finland. Russia’s Veronika Stepanova delivered the performance of the day in her second ever World Cup race weekend, closing down several attacks in the last leg but still saving enough for the final kick that won Russia the race. Norway’s Helene Marie Fossesholm and Sweden’s Moa Olsson threw boots for second place, with Sweden taking the photo finish in the end. Not far behind, Julia Kern was leaving her all on the course for Team USA, maintaining a good position behind Finland and taking fourth place with a lunge.
In the men’s race, Norway’s strong performance on Saturday certainly proved to be an accurate indication of their potential for the 4 x 7.5km relay. Always there to keep them in check, however, Russia also delivered an impressive race, with both nations entering two teams and together claiming the top four spots. USA I got off to a strong start, staying with the lead group through nearly the first two legs. Unwilling to settle for the current pace, however, Alexander Bolshunov put in a hard effort near the end of his leg, opening a slight gap to the rest of the field with Finnish skier Iivo Niskanen. By the final leg, Finland had been dropped, and Norway I, Norway II, Russia I, and Russia II made up the leading pack: it was up to the anchoring skiers to fight for their country’s place. Yakimushkin of Russia I led for nearly the entire last leg, but with the top four teams still together in the final stretch, no one could outsprint Johannes Høsflot Klæbo as he led Norway I to victory. Ustiugov finished second for Russia II, with Norway II taking third and Russia I fourth. The American teams finished ninth and 15th.
- December 11 Freestyle Sprints - heats 7:15 am CST
- December 12 Freestyle 10/15km - men’s 4:40 am CST, women’s 7:00 am CST
- Race Website
The World Cup continues next weekend in Davos, Switzerland, this time with only two weekend events. The sprint and distance freestyle races will offer a chance to see if this weekend’s winners can apply their strengths to new courses, and offer redemption for those whose Lillehammer races were less than ideal. Maja Dahlqvist has yet to show any signs of weakness in her sprinting form, but look for the Americans to challenge her again, along with Dahlqvist’s Swedish sprinting teammates. Terentev will also have an opportunity for a rematch against Klæbo in the sprints, but Klæbo surely won’t be giving up his number one position without a fight. In the distance events, everyone will be marking the Norwegians to see if they can maintain the strong showing they put on in Lillehammer, and the struggle between Karlsson and Johaug is sure to be interesting as always.
About the author...
Erika Peterson is a senior at South High School in Minneapolis. She skis for Loppet Nordic Racing as well as her high school team. When she’s not out on the trails, you can find her listening to Lorde and creating oatmeal recipes.