World Cup Report: Falun Recap, Overall Standings
In the final weekend of the World Cup season, athletes took on a mix of new formats and old, battling it out one last time for a chance at improved positions in the standings and personal best results. It was an exciting few days for the Americans, who brought home a relay victory, a third place finish, and several personal bests. Sweden also performed well on their home turf, taking victories and podiums alike in front of crowds of fans.
- March 11 Classic Sprint
- March 12 Freestyle 10/15km
- March 13 Mixed Relay, Mixed Team Sprint
The final weekend of this World Cup season kicked off with a classic sprint in Falun. With such warm weather, the deep slushy snow was difficult to navigate, and some fared better than others. In the women’s race, Jonna Sundling of Sweden showed no signs of weakness, posting the top qualifying time. The next fastest time came from Jasmine Joensuu of Finland, with Johanna Matintalo of Finland qualifying third. Rosie Brennan had the fastest time of the Americans in 7th, with teammates Julia Kern and Jessie Diggins qualifying in 17th and 18th respectively. In the quarterfinals, Sundling continued to dominate, winning the second heat, with teammates Johanna Haegstroem and Maja Dahlqvist also qualifying for the semifinals. Diggins and Brennan both failed to advance, placing fourth in their respective heats, while Kern qualified first in her heat after Lotta Udnes Weng of Norway, who crossed the line first, was disqualified for a technique violation. Maiken Casperson Falla of Norway, who recently won the classic sprint in Drammen, qualified first in her quarterfinal, as did Anamarija Lampic of Slovenia.
In the first semifinal, Sundling continued to outperform the field, winning the round by a significant margin. Lampic took a comfortable second place, with the next four trickling in behind. In the second semifinal, Falla and Heidi Weng of Norway led the field, while Kern and Dahlqvist sat mid-pack. An unfortunately timed ski catch resulted in Weng falling on the slushy uphill, while Kern took the opportunity to move up. In the final straightaway, Kern had another gear, outsprinting both Falla and Dahlqvist to finish first. Dahlqvist took the second qualifying spot, while Falla advanced as a lucky loser alongside Nadine Faehndrich of Switzerland.
In the final round, Sundling and Lampic started hard, creating separation from the rest of the field. Sundling’s gap only increased throughout the race, while Lampic secured a comfortable second place. Kern moved up into the third position, opening space between her and the rest of the field, but by the final stretch Dahlqvist and Faehndrich caught up to her. Sundling took the victory in her home country, and Lampic finished second. Thanks to her strong final kick, Dahlqvist placed third, while Julia lunged with Faehndrich to place fourth. Although fourth place can be a bittersweet place to be, it was Kern’s best ever result in a classic sprint.
In the men’s race, Joni Maki of Finland had the top qualifying time, and Sivert Wiig of Norway had the next fastest time. Calle Halfvarsson of Sweden was third in the qualifying round, much to the delight of the crowd. None of the American men finished well enough to qualify for the quarterfinal, but Zak Ketterson was the highest finisher in 38th place. In the quarterfinals, Joni Maki continued to ski well, winning the first heat and advancing despite a verbal warning for obstruction. Lucas Chanavat of France also performed well in the heats, as did Lars Agnar Hjelmeset who won his quarterfinal in his second ever World Cup race. Richard Jouve of France, who recently won the sprints in Drammen, struggled a bit in his quarterfinal, but was able to move from last to second place in the final stretch and advance. Others also had trouble in their rounds; Jincal Shang of China was disqualified after a false start, and eight men received warnings or yellow cards for classical technique infractions throughout the day.
In the first semifinal, Jouve showed that he’s still on form after all, placing first in the semifinal and skiing primarily at the front of the field. Wiig claimed the second qualifying spot, while Chanavat and Maki advanced as lucky losers. The second semifinal was much more dramatic. Like many others had done already that day, Halfvarsson caught a ski in the deep snow on the herringbone section, falling and essentially giving up on racing hard. When Jules Chappaz of France fell on the downhill, however, Halfvarsson picked his pace back up to finish fifth. At the front of the race, Pellegrino was leading, and finished first by a comfortable margin. Hjelmeset finished second, claiming the last spot in the final.
In the final round, many athletes switched up their styles of tactics. Chanavat, who usually leads from the start and tries to hang on to it, stuck to the back of the pack for the majority of the race, while Jouve decided to lead from the gun. In the end, it worked out for both of them; Jouve kept his spot at the front to take the win despite a powerful challenge from Maki, who placed second, and Chanavat moved up around the final corner to land on the podium in third. Pellegrino was less successful; after spending most of the race right on Jouve’s tail, he didn’t have the gas in the final stretch to compete with the rest of the field. Wiig finished fourth, Pellegrino placed fifth, and Hjelmeset came in sixth.
The last individual race of the World Cup season was an individual start 10/15km freestyle race on Saturday. The race took place in very warm conditions; the air temperature was around 45ºF at the start of the race with snow temperatures just below freezing. It was a strong day for the Americans all around, headlined by Diggins who placed third. Frida Karlsson of Sweden was one of the first favorites to start, taking the lead at most of the checkpoints she passed, but Krista Parmakoski of Finland, who started just behind Karlsson, was a few seconds faster. The big names were yet to come, however; Diggins started 42nd, with Sundling 50th and Therese Johaug of Norway 56th.
Sundling started quick, posting the fastest time at the 1.5 kilometer mark, but Johaug soon took over the lead in the following kilometers. It was clear that Johaug was the strongest on the day when she was leading by over 30 seconds with just under three kilometers to go, but second place was still up for grabs. Karlsson had faded to 9th place at 7.2k, but Diggins’ times were tough to beat. Sundling was just two seconds behind Diggins at 7.2k, and by 9.1k Sundling had moved ahead by three seconds. After a strong final kilometer, Diggins was the leading finisher, but she had to relinquish her spot on the throne when Sundling crossed the line. With the home crowd cheering her on, Sundling finished just in time to take the lead from Diggins by a mere 0.4 seconds. With Johaug yet to finish, however, Sundling’s spot was all but secure. In her final individual World Cup race, Johaug blew the field away, winning by 35.9 seconds and celebrating with a “ja!” at the line. After Diggins, the highest American finisher was Brennan, who placed eighth with another solid performance. Kern was 20th, with Caitlin Patterson 31st and Rosie Frankowski 41st.
The men’s race was predictably dominated by Norway, but there were plenty of notable results from other nations as well. Calle Halfvarsson of Sweden delivered a very strong performance on his home turf, starting early and keeping the lead for a long time. The only man to consistently beat Halfvarsson’s times was Didrik Toenseth of Norway, who led at every checkpoint after the first one. His teammate Harald Oestburg Amundsen skied faster in the first 1.8 kilometers, but Toenseth held the lead for the rest of the race. Several other Norwegians also performed well; Hans Christer Holund, Martin Loewstroem Nyenget, and Sjur Roethe were all high up on the standings at each checkpoint. Halfvarsson crossed the line as the leading finisher, but Toenseth bumped him out of the top spot shortly after.
The rest of the field delivered strong performances, but none strong enough to top Toenseth, who took his first ever victory in a freestyle race, and Halfvarsson, who finished second. Amundsen rallied for third place, with teammates Holund, Nyenget, and Roethe in positions 4-6 behind him. The next fastest skier was the American Scott Patterson, finishing strong in seventh place. His teammate Zak Ketterson, a Twin Cities local and member of Team Birkie, also performed well, finishing in a career-best 15th place. Iivo Niskanen of Finland tied for tenth place, a solid result for the classic specialist looking to do well in the distance World Cup standings.
On the final day of World Cup racing this season, athletes took part in two new racing formats: the mixed relay and the mixed team sprint. The relay is similar to the four-person single gender relays that we are familiar with, but with men and women racing in the same event. All legs of the relay were freestyle, with each athlete skiing two laps of a 2.5 kilometer course. The first and last legs were completed by the women, while the men skied second and third. It was another warm spring day in Falun, with temperatures slightly above freezing and the sun shining brightly.
In the first leg, Kerttu Niskanen of Finland and Heidi Weng of Norway led out the field, wasting no time before pushing the pace. Ebba Andersson of Sweden also stayed near the front, as did Brennan for USA I and Kern for USA II. At the end of the first lap, Kern was leading the pack, and after letting others lead she made her way to the front before the first exchange. The rest of the first skiers stayed largely together, with the first 11 teams crossing the line in a group and the next few not far behind. In the next section of the race, Adam Martin (USA II) was unable to maintain Kern’s position in the lead pack, but Zak Ketterson kept USA I in a good position during his leg. Clement Parrisse of France went to the front of the pack, with Norwegian and Swedish athletes just behind him.
After their first lap, Sjur Roethe of Norway II took over the lead, with Sweden I and both German teams close behind and Parisse drifting to fourth by the exchange. In the third leg, both Norwegian teams stayed close to the front of the pack, with Didrik Toenseth (Norway I) going hard in the last kilometer to split the group apart. Although Scott Patterson had been sitting at the back for much of the last lap, he was able to stick with Toenseth and the now ten-person leading group, continuing to keep contact with the leaders for USA I. This was the perfect setup for Diggins, the anchor leg for USA I. She quickly moved to the front, creating separation in the field with Johaug (Norway I) by her side.
Johaug, Diggins, and Parmakoski broke away from the rest of the field on their second lap, with Frida Karlsson of Sweden I next. The gaps between groups were only a few seconds, but nevertheless enough to change the course of the race. For much of the lap, Johaug stayed at the front of the leading trio, but on the penultimate descent Diggins used her fast skis and downhill agility to make her way to the front. Johaug upped the tempo on the next climb, but Diggins continued to outperform her, staying at the front. Johaug and Parmakoski were persistent, staying right behind Diggins with only slight separation, and just seconds behind were Karlsson and Marte Skaanes for Norway II. On the final downhill, Diggins opened up a gap once again, increasing her lead on the next short climb. Behind her, however, Skaanes broke a pole, losing several places at a crucial point in the race.
In the finishing stretch, Diggins had increased her lead enough to all but secure the victory, and she gave it her all as her teammates celebrated at the finish line. After years of searching for a podium place in the women’s four person relay, Diggins had delivered the win for team USA in the first ever World Cup mixed gender relay. This was the first World Cup victory for Ketterson and Patterson, adding to an already strong weekend in Falun for both of them. Next across the line was Parmakoski, securing second place for Finland I in a head-to-head sprint with Johaug, who finished third. Laurien van der Graaff finished tenth for the Swiss team in her last ever World Cup race before retirement, met with a banner and balloons at the line to celebrate her career. Caitlin Patterson sprinted to take 14th for USA II, also completing her last race on the World Cup.
Mixed Team Sprint
Also taking place on Sunday was the first ever World Cup mixed team sprint event. Teams consisted of one woman and one man, each of whom completed an individual qualifying lap. Their times were then added together to determine the top 20 teams, which would advance to the final round. Each athlete completed six laps, alternating with their partner between each one and starting with the women. Unlike the usual same gender team sprint format where athletes must exchange with a hand-to-body tag, in this format the next partner started when their teammate crossed a line in the stadium. This made for much smoother exchanges, but also served a second purpose: after every even-numbered lap, the last two teams to cross the line were eliminated. This placed a lot of pressure on the male members of the teams; their placement each lap determined if their team remained in the race.
Because the team sprint took place on the same day as the mixed relay, many teams had to prioritize one race over the other in order when choosing athletes for each event. The deeper teams like Norway and Sweden tended to excel in both, while others like the United States chose not to field a team for the sprint event. Lotta Udnes Weng and Amundsen of Norway I had the fastest combined qualifying time, with Jonna Sundling and Calle Halfvarsson next for Sweden I and Tiril Udnes Weng and Nyenget third for Norway II.
On lap one of the finals, Sundling took no chances with pack dynamics or drafting tactics, opting to push the pace from the front and creating a slight bit of separation just in the first lap. Halfvarsson chose to slow up and draft on his first lap, but still ended his leg in front. Estonia and France II were the first teams eliminated, finishing with the group but not far enough up to stay in the competition. On the third lap, Sundling broke away from the field again, with Anamarija Lampic of Slovenia and Nadine Faehndrich of Switzerland leading the pack behind. On the fourth lap, Halfvarsson fought to keep the lead, this time finishing with a four second advantage over the next team. Benjamin Moser of Austria was the first to crash, wiping out on the downhill and failing to keep his team in the race. Latvia was also eliminated. On lap six, Sundling only increased Sweden’s lead, producing the fastest time in the field for that lap. Lampic and Faehndrich continued to lead the chase, but Faehndrich fell on the downhill, giving her teammate a lot of ground to make up. It wasn’t close enough for him to rejoin the group, however, and Switzerland was eliminated alongside Finland I after lap six.
On lap seven, Lampic and Tiril Udnes Weng got a gap on the rest of the field, aside from Sundling who was now over 20 seconds in front. However, Lampic’s partner Vili Crv didn’t quite make the cut on the next lap, losing a four-way lunge and getting eliminated with Finland II. Not knowing the results of the previous lap, Lampic made her way back to Weng on lap 9, but because her team was out it didn’t count. On lap 10, Nyenget and Amundsen went hard to drop their competitors, splitting the field apart. They finished the lap together after Halfvarsson, with Italy and Sweden II next, followed by Canada I and Germany. Canada II and France I were eliminated, finishing the lap together in the last two spots. On lap 11, the final leg for the women, Sundling was too far ahead for the rest of the field to worry about. Next were Lotta and Tiril Udnes Weng, battling for the remaining podium spots, with Nicole Monsorno and Johanna Haegstroem not far behind for Italy and Sweden II, respectively. Calle Halfvarsson skied a strong final leg to secure the victory for Sweden I, waving his country’s flag as he crossed the line. In a photo finish, Tiril Udnes Weng just edged out her sister Lotta to take second for Norway II, with Norway I in third.
With the Russian athletes unable to compete for the last few weeks, the overall standings certainly look different than anyone would have predicted. Because Russian athletes are allowed to remain in the standings, however, some have maintained good positions. In the men’s Overall Cup, Johannes Klaebo of Norway finished first despite the recent races he missed because of COVID, and Alexander Bolshunov of Russia finished second. Niskanen placed third after a recent string of good distance results, while Jouve’s sprinting victories have moved him into fourth place. In the Distance Cup, Niskanen placed first, while Bolshunov moved down to second place. Klaebo placed third just five points behind Bolshunov’s 418. After his two recent victories, Jouve was able to take the Sprint Cup win, a mere six points ahead of Klaebo, 2nd, with Chanavat in third. JC Schoonmaker was the top American in the Overall Cup in 45th and the Sprint Cup in 19th, while the top American in the Distance Cup was Gus Schumacher in 45th. Alexander Terentev of Russia was first in the U23 standings, with Schoonmaker finishing fourth, Ben Ogden sixth, Schumacher 13th, and Luke Jager 14th for the Americans.
In the women’s standings, Natalia Nepryaeva of Russia maintained her first place position in the Overall Cup, while Diggins took second place and Andersson finished third. Johaug won the Distance Cup by a large margin of 255 points, with Karlsson in second place and Parmakoski third. In the Sprint Cup, Dahlqvist’s many wins early in the season secured her the first place spot, while Lampic placed second and Sundling placed third. Diggins was fourth in the sprint standings, Kern was eighth, and Brennan finished 12th. Karlsson was first in the U23 standings, with Americans Sophia Laukli and Novie McCabe in fifth and sixth, respectively.
Norway won the overall Nations Cup, with Sweden second and Russia third. The USA was fifth.
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.