That blood-curdling scream and shouts in Norwegian were sounds of elation from Therese Johaug at the finish of World Cup Finals Sunday. Usually a bridesmaid to her veteran teammate Marit Bjørgen, 33, Johaug was finally a bride — even better, a World Cup overall champion in the final race of the season.
Johaug had started with a 15-second lead in the 10-kilometer freestyle pursuit and just seven points separating her from Bjørgen in the race for the World Cup crown. A six-time Olympic gold medalist, Bjørgen had won the overall title three times. Johaug had yet to do so.
This time around, Bjørgen was the underdog, ever so slightly. She cut down her starting deficit to 11 seconds in the first kilometer, then held it for the next couple. By 3.2 k, however, Johaug started to pull away and regained her 15-second cushion halfway point.
Less than a kilometer later, the younger Norwegian laid it out definitively, putting five more seconds between her and Bjørgen.
On what will be the 2015 World Championships course in Falun, Sweden, catching Johaug would be no easy task over the next two loops. With 2.5 k to go, Johaug was nearly 23 seconds ahead of Bjørgen and almost two minutes up on Finland’s Kerttu Niskanen, who was having a race of her own to hang onto third after starting 1:18 back from Johaug.
At this point, Norway’s Heidi Weng had made up 20 seconds on Niskanen after starting in fifth. She passed Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla, who started two seconds ahead of her in fourth, and stalked Niskanen, letting the Finn lead until just before the finish.
Johaug was so far ahead — almost 29 seconds by 8.2 k — she started to take in her surroundings as she entered the finish. By the final straightaway, without Bjørgen anywhere in sight, it hit her. She started screaming then yelling something along the lines of, “What happens!” repeatedly at the finish, according to NRK.
At the finish, she waited for Bjørgen, who came across the line smiling and immediately hugged Johaug, who had captured her first Crystal Globe by 29.2 seconds in 24:25.5.
“This is a feeling that I never thought I would experience,” Johaug told NRK, according to a translation. “Winning the World Cup has been a dream since I was a little girl. But I really thought that I should not do it because I have been too bad in the short races.”
Bjørgen won Friday’s classic sprint to start World Cup Finals, but it was Johaug who used the fear of getting caught to fuel her to victories in both Saturday’s skiathlon (by 33.6 seconds over Bjørgen) and Sunday’s pursuit.
“I tried to catch Therese but she was very strong the whole way today,” Bjørgen told FIS. “I would have had to skied better yesterday to be able to do something about the result today. I am very happy for Therese.”
With the 200 points she got Sunday, Johaug won the overall title by 47 points. Norway’s Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen, who did not race on Sunday, held her position in third, 524 points behind Bjørgen. According to FIS, it was the first time since 1995 that one nation dominated the overall World Cup podium.
Weng, who edged Niskanen by 0.5 seconds for third after a drag race to the line — in which she initially led the downhill into the stadium, then Niskanen caught her on the last rise before the finish — finished fourth in the overall World Cup. She was 68 points ahead of Niskanen, who rose to fifth in the overall standings, 42 points ahead of American Kikkan Randall.
The World Cup sprint champion, Randall placed 13th on Sunday. Chasing down 10th with 500 meters to go, Randall said she fell while taking a downhill corner a little too aggressively.
“I was trying to get every bit of speed I could to get into the stadium,” she said. Her skis suddenly skid out into different directions, sending her into a face plant and leaving her chasing two women that passed her.
“That was really tough because you cary a lot of momentum out of that turn,” Randall said.
Annoyed with her blunder for some 20 minutes after the race, Randall said she eventually put it into perspective. Niskanen had made up considerable ground to take fifth overall, and considering Randall’s sprint-heavy training and Olympic focus, in which she skipped the Tour de Ski and its potential World Cup points to train, she had to be satisfied with sixth.
Last year, she was third overall — a first for a U.S. woman — and Randall said she’d like to be on the overall World Cup podium again. But looking back on this season, she said it’s “certainly been fun.”
“Definitely yesterday and today the legs were pretty tired, but it’s a good feeling to be tired,” she said. “It’s an amazing opportunity to be here racing the World Cup, but it’s been a long year of living in hotel rooms being away from home.”
Randall said she’ll miss the World Cup grind in a couple weekends, but for now, she’s looking forward to her homecoming in Anchorage, Alaska, and racing there March 22-28 at SuperTour Finals and U.S. Distance Nationals.
“I know being back home will be an energy boost,” she said.