FasterSkier’s coverage of the 2013 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, is brought to you by the generous support of Fischer Sports.
VAL DI FIEMME, Italy — Regardless of personal favorites at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, the finishing image from the men’s 1.5-kilometer classic sprint final on Thursday had to make you smile.
Russia’s Nikita Kriukov threw back his head and embraced his first World Championships victory with open arms, Canadian Alex Harvey fist-pumped in third and Petter Northug sort of grimaced in relief after placing second for his 10th World Championships medal.
Norway’s reigning 50 k and 30 k skiathlon champion, Northug has won seven golds in World Championships distance events, so Thursday’s silver – his third at worlds – was about as good as he could have asked for. He turned to Kriukov to congratulate him and the two chatted during the victory lap.
Given Northug’s typical reluctance to congratulate anyone, especially not Russians, that really says it all.
He didn’t extend quite the same geniality toward Emil Jönsson, because, well, he’s Swedish. According to NRK, when Swedish commentators asked Northug whether he wanted to beat Jönsson more than Kriukov, he said, “That’s right.”
“I see myself as an outsider in a classic sprint so usually Emil and other sprinters beat me,” Northug elaborated in another interview. “So for me to win silver today, I’m very happy.”
Jönsson, who was fourth and 2.61 seconds off the pace, responded respectfully. “Today Petter showed how strong he is,” he told NRK.
But the storyline wasn’t Northug, who intentionally stepped ahead of Jönsson on the final descent into the stadium to secure second. “I looked at the photos [showing] I cut in front of him today; it is one of the sweetest feelings I’ve had in the championship of all times,” Northug told NRK, according to a translation.
Kriukov, 27, was the big winner on the first day of his third World Championships. He started the morning off by winning the qualifier for the first time at the World-Cup level, 0.3 seconds ahead of Kazakhstan’s Alexey Poltoranin, who went on to place 11th after tripping out of the start and breaking his pole in his semifinal.
“I’m really very happy,” Kriukov told reporters after the race. “I said for myself today I can win, and I did it.”
In the quarterfinals, Kriukov placed second to Norwegian Paal Golberg in a photo finish, then went on to beat Golberg by 0.52 seconds in the semifinal. Golberg was third in that semi and Jönsson was 0.31 seconds back in second.
A false start delayed the final, which Northug said he did intentionally.
“I did it to get more rest,” Northug told NRK after winning the second semifinal in a photo finish with teammate Eirik Brandsdal. “Every minute counts.”
Brandsdal confirmed he made a pact with Northug in advance. “One of us had to make false start,” Brandsdal said.
While Brandsdal went on to place sixth, 27.17 seconds after Kriukov, Northug was just 0.4 seconds back in second and Harvey 0.84 seconds behind in third. For Harvey, it was his first individual title after winning the classic team sprint with Devon Kershaw at the 2011 World Championships in Oslo, Norway.
“I’m in heaven right now,” the 24-year-old Canadian told reporters after narrowly qualifying in 26th. “It’s been a rough start to the day with barely making it into the heats, but then we adjusted the skis and then it was really fast.”
In the final, Kriukov patiently followed Jönsson’s lead up the first long grind. Northug positioned himself in third and Harvey tucked behind Brandsdal in fourth at the top while Golberg skied in sixth.
On the downhill before the last climb, Kriukov slipped by Jönsson, who worked hard to keep up. Harvey ran outside of the tracks in third, and along the final bump and ensuing stadium downhill, Northug moved into second – a few meters behind Kriukov and just ahead of Jönsson.
Northug then stepped into Jönsson’s middle lane, and Harvey followed Kriukov on the inside track. Kriukov held off his challengers to the finish, which were clearly defined after a double-pole showdown for first through third. Jönsson finished two seconds later in fourth and Golberg was fifth to help Norway put three in the top six.
“I gave everything in the last hill and hoped for a little gap,” said Jönsson, the World Cup sprint leader, after failing to best his third-place finish in the skate sprint in Oslo. “Unfortunately the other guys have good glide, catch me and glide past me. It doesn’t feel so good, but ah, it’s a sprint.”
Kriukov, on the other hand, felt great. Asked when he knew he had gold, he replied, “Maybe only on the last 100 meters. After second uphill I stay only third place, but I understand that after downhill, I keep in the group and my speed was faster than the other guys.”
And the fight to hold off Northug? “It’s good,” he laughed. “I like beating Petter.”
He and Harvey also chatted while skiing back and fourth for fans along the finishing stretch. According to Harvey, Kriukov wanted the three of them to line up for a 100-meter sprint to celebrate, but Harvey and Northug wanted to do recovery.