The Russian men put on another demonstration of their astonishing strength and depth in Liberec, Czech Republic, on Thursday in the men’s 15 k freestyle individual start.
Sergey Ustiugov (RUS) stomped the field, leading from every checkpoint. He finished the course in 35:44.1, a commanding 19.7 seconds ahead of his teammate Evgeniy Belov (RUS). Thomas Bing (GER) completed the podium, trailing in 42.4 seconds after Ustiugov in a time of 36.26.5.
Ustiugov, a 20 year old wunderkind, was elated. “It is fantastic! I feel really wonderful. I achieved my goal: I was in first position for the whole race. I feel really happy.”
He is no stranger to the podium. Last year in Turkey the promising young Russian claimed 4 goal medals. He is a rising star in the Russian team building strength ahead of Sochi.
His teammate, Evgeniy Belov (RUS), improved upon his third place performance in the classic sprint to silver.
“I am really satisfied with the result of the race,” Belov said. “Today’s race was just training for the next month — I will start at the FIS Nordic World Ski in Val di Fiemme in Italy, so I did not expect the medal. That pleased me more.”
Belov started the first of the four 3.75 k loops conservatively in 6th position before accelerating to 2nd position. The 22 year old, who won a gold medal in last years 15 k classic race in Turkey, looks to be on good form leading to Val di Fiemme as he completes his final U23 Championships.
Thomas Bing used excellent pacing to earn his first U23 medal.
“I am incredibly happy,” He said. ” Today, it was a really tough race. I did not want to overvalue the start. I saved my energy for the end.”
Bing skied the first lap in second place before being overtaken by Belov. He would maintain his third place position into the finish.
Another notable result was Andrew Musgrave (GRB), whom finished agonizingly-close to a medal in fourth place in a time of 36:40.6, 56.5 seconds behind the Ustiugov.
Damien Tarantola (FRA) finished behind Musgrave in 5th position narrowly ahead of Fabio Clementi (ITA). Dmitriy Salnikov (RUS) made it 3 Russians in the top 8, finishing ahead of of Baptiste Gros (FRA) in 9th position. Mark Startostin (KAZ) rounded out the top 10.
Ragnhild Haga (NOR) secured Norway’s first gold medal of the U23 championships in the 10km individual start in a time of 27:50.4
Haga overcame new fallen snow and frigid conditions to cross the line 29.5 seconds clear of second place Anastasia Slonova (KAZ).
“I am really satisfied,” Haga said. “Today, it was an exhausting race; I could not afford to relax. Two years ago I triumphed at the junior world championships so I am happy that I managed to pick up on this success.”
Haga, 21, improved upon her fifth place finish in the classic sprint to fulfill the promise shown in the 2011 U18 World Championships in Otepää, Finland, where she won a gold medal.
She began the first 3.3 k loop in fourth position before accelerating impressively into first by the next check point and widening her lead by nearly half a minute.
The second place finisher, Anastasia Slonova (KAZ), overcame a sluggish first lap in eighth position to overtake six skiers by the finish.
“I feel good after the race,” She said. “I am really pleased with the result. We watched the weather carefully, so we were able to prepare the skis well. It is a great achievement for us, indeed.”
Third place finisher Debora Agreiter (ITA) was a happy, if not subdued, bronze medal winner in a time of 28:20.3, just 0.4 seconds behind the surging Slonova (KAZ).
“I do not know what I lacked for being second placed. I guess I did not have enough strength at the end; after all, it was a difficult race. But I am still excited about the third place,” Agreiter said.
Her slight disappointment is justified given the astonishing final split of Slonova, who moved from fifth in the second intermediate split to overtake Agreiter, who had been holding steady in second position throughout the race.
Sandra Ringwald (GER) finished in fourth position, narrowly edged out by Agreiter. Fifth and Sixth positions were occupied by two Norwegians, Tuva Toftdahl Staver and Kari Oeyre Slind, respectively. A succession of Russians followed: Anna Nechaevskaya in seventh, Natalia Zhukova in eight, Ekaterina Khramtsova in 9th, and Elena Soboleva in 10th.