Over a blanket of new-fallen snow, the 2013 World Junior Championships got underway on Monday in Liberec, Czech Republic. Sweden’s Stina Nilsson won the first gold medal of the week by 1.9 seconds over German’s Victoria Carl. In the men’s sprint, Lennart Metz (GER) took the men’s title over Vadim Korolev (RUS).
Nilsson came to Liberec as a bit of a favorite. The 19-year-old won the opening freestyle sprint in Erzurum, Turkey, last year and two weeks ago was on Sweden’s second-place team sprint squad at the World Cup, where she also posted the eighth-fastest qualifying time in the individual sprint.
“Liberec is a very good place for me,” Nilsson said. “The track really suits me, I was fast today. I knew I was in a very good shape but I tried to save energy for the finals and it worked really well for me.”
The women’s runner-up is also no stranger to high-level competition. Carl, 17, took part in the first two stages of Tour de Ski for Germany this January and has aspirations to make her country’s regular World Cup team. Even with her experience she was still pretty pleased with silver at World Juniors.
“I am very very happy,” Carl said. “I absolutely did not expect to be on the podium today. I am still young, only 17 years old and the silver medal means a lot for me. I am happy I could start here in Liberec. I hope to develop my skiing and to make it in Germany’s World Cup squad.”
Bronze went to Evgenia Oschepkova (RUS), who won the qualifying but was unable to match Nilsson and Carl in the final stretch. “In the finals I tried to be in front and to follow Stina but she was too strong today,” Oschepkova said.
While Nilsson was no surprise at the top of the podium, the men’s victor was more unexpected; at 19 years old this is Metz’s first Junior Worlds appearance. Noway’s Bjørn Suhr appeared to have the A-final in the bag through the final climb, but expectations are made to be defied. Metz came on strong in the last few meters to win by 2.6 seconds over Korolev. Suhr dropped to third, +4.6.
“I’ve never though I could win here in Liberec,” Metz said. “This morning I was hoping to be in the top 5. During the heats I felt better and better… Today’s victory means a lot to me.”
The outcome of this first event stands in contrast to the first sprint of 2012 in Erzurum, where Russia started an impressive winning streak in Junior and U23 men’s events. Korolev wasn’t part of that team but was disappointed not to continue the tradition.
“I tried my best today,” Korolev said. “I was pushing really hard. Qualification went very fine for me but of course I am little bit disappointed about the second place. I really did all my best to win the gold medal.”
Suhr, relegated to third after leading so much of the final, was pleased to at least improve his qualifying place by two spots.
“I am satisfied with my performance today,” he said. “It was a very good but hard competition. I tried to be in front and ski well. I gave everything I had in the last 100 m.”
This is the first Junior World’s appearance for all three podium finishers.
The American and Canadian Junior World teams qualified a total of six athletes for the heats, all making it as far as the quarterfianls. Ben Saxton (USA) led the way for both teams in 14th followed closely by Logan Hanneman (USA) in 16th. Alexis Turgeon (CAN) took 30th.
On the women’s side, Heather Mooney (USA) was the top North American performer in 19th. Corey Stock (USA) finished 24th and Katherine Stewart-Jones (CAN) was 25th.