If you knew nothing about the competitors at the International Ski Federation (FIS) Junior World Championships throughout the last week in Liberec, Czech Republic, all you had to look for were the blue-and-red suits with white Adidas stripes. Those were the Russians, and man, were they fast.
Led by 19-year-old anchor Dmitry Rostovtsev, who won two of three individual world titles just days earlier, the Russian men rallied to a resounding victory in 4 x 5 k relay, beating runner-up Norway by 18.7 seconds in 45:35.5.
The Russians faltered just once – during the second leg – when two-time 2013 Junior Worlds silver medalist Artem Maltsev fell 12.6 seconds out of the lead into fourth. Alexey Chervotkin had put the Russians in first early, and Maltsev tagged off to Roman Tarasov, who brought them back up front. At the final exchange, Rostovtsev surged ahead with a four-second lead on Norway’s anchor Haavard Solaas Taugboel.
The Norwegians (Bjørn Vidar Suhr, Simen Hegstad Krueger, Magne Haga, and Taugboel) hung in for silver, more than 30 seconds ahead of Sweden in third (+52.2) out of 19 teams. With Oskar Svensson, Marcus Ruus, Oscar Ivars, and Rasmus Hornfeldt, the Swedes led after the second leg, but dropped 19.4 seconds off the pace in the third leg and remained in third thereafter.
“To win gold medal with the team is always something special, ” Rostovtsev said in a Liberec 2013 press release.
He previously won two Junior Worlds titles in this year’s 10 k freestyle and 20 k skiathlon. Maltsev, who stuggled during his classic leg Sunday, was the runner-up in both individual distance races.
“The boys did their best on their leg so I could control the race but I still wanted to ski fast and secure the victory, ” Rostovtsev added.
Rostovtsev and Maltsev defended their relay title from last year’s Junior Worlds in Erzurum, Turkey, where they beat Kazakhstan by nearly 45 seconds. Norway, with Taugboel, was third in the 2012 relay.
“I knew Rostovtsev is a tough guy; he is very strong, ” Taugboel said. “In the second 2.5 km lap he went away so fast, I just did not have enough power. I am satisfied with the silver medal. I have not been in a best shape during the championships, so it is a great satisfaction for us.”
It was the Norwegians’ first silver of the week, and Sweden made the podium for the first time at this Junior Worlds.
“I am very happy for the bronze medal, ” Swedish anchor Hornfeldt said. “Everybody gave the best performance of the week so we deserve the medal today. I felt pretty good. I saved same energy for the last uphill!”
Swedish Women Oust Russia
The women’s 4 x 3.3 k turned out to be less predictable, with Sweden’s Stina Nilsson giving Russian Nadezhda Shuniaeva a run to the finish. Trailing Shuniaeva closely in second at the last exchange, Nilsson charged ahead late to seal the Swedish victory by 2.2 seconds in 35:41.1. It was Nilsson’s second win of the week after she claimed the classic-sprint title last Monday.
She repeated the feat with the help of teammates Julia Svan, Sofia Henriksson and Jonna Sundling, and Russia took second of 14 teams with Alisa Zhambalova, Natalia Nepryaeva, Anastasia Sedova and Shuniaeva. Germany was third, 50.3 seconds out of first, with Laura Gimmler, Katharina Hennig, Julia Belger, and Victoria Carl. The 5 k freestyle champion, Carl collected a different medal in every event she competed in this week, including silver in the classic sprint.
Early in Sunday’s relay, it became clear that the race would likely boil down to two teams: Russia and Sweden. With Nepryaeva, Russia built its biggest lead of 2.9 seconds after the second exchange. Sweden stuck in second and Germany was nearly 30 seconds back in third.
Sweden’s Sundling then latched on to Sedova on the third leg, closing within 0.4 seconds of her at the last tagoff. Not long after winning silver in a World Cup team sprint in Liberec a couple weeks ago, Nilsson made a late surge to capture the victory on Sunday.
“It is amazing to win the relay, ” the 19-year-old said. “I knew I would be strong in the finish and I was confident I could go for victory. The whole team did a great job. We have a big potential for the future.”
After she helped Russia win last year’s Junior Worlds relay, 13.4 seconds ahead of Sweden (with Henriksson, Sundling and Nilsson), Shuniaeva said silver was a “very good result.”
“I gave my best in the last leg but Stina was very fast in the finish,” she added.
Germany’s Carl was also satisfied with her team’s finish.
“I am very happy for the bronze medal,“ Carl said. “We have a young team and it is a great success for us. It gives us big motivation for the future work.”