WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. — A lot of people might not know who Emil Johansson is. To SuperTour spectators and most of the 200-plus racers (between the men’s and the women’s races) on Friday, he was an unknown: a Swede racing in the green suit of his home club IK Jarl Rättvik. An exchange student at the University of Colorado in Boulder, he’s not part of the nordic team there. It was hard to know what he was capable of.
A SuperTour staple, Ryan Scott (Ski and Snowboard Club Vail/Team HomeGrown) won Friday’s qualifier and a quarterfinal in the 1.3-kilometer freestyle sprint, yet didn’t know half the men he was racing once he got to the final. Last year’s West Yellowstone skate prologue winner, Scott quickly learned who Johansson was.
He had just advanced from the semifinal with a three-way photo finish for first with Johansson and Reese Hanneman, of Alaska Pacific University (APU). All three were in the final, along with Pierre Guedon (University of Denver), Sam Naney (Methow Olympic Development), and Dmitriy Ozerskiy (CXC).
Johansson turned on the jets at the opportune time — on the last of two climbs on the short course — to win the SuperTour-opening sprint in 2:28.90. He hadn’t been the fastest throughout the day, ranking seventh in the qualifier (+5.17 off Scott’s time of 2:27.14), and winning the slowest quarterfinal in 2:30. But Johansson knew the game and beat Hanneman in second (+1.7), Scott in third (+1.8). Guedon, Naney and Ozerskiy finished separately in fourth through sixth, respectively.
“Both the quarterfinal and semifinal was really close, but the final was pretty easy,” Johansson said. “Actually, it was the easiest round. Ryan was in the lead and I think he was kind of tired. I just got in his draft all the time and my plan was to push it hard on the last uphill. I thought someone should keep up with me, but they didn’t. I was pretty tired the last 200 meters, but I made it.”
Johansson had enough time to look around before finishing, throwing with his arms into the air while cruising across the line. He pulled an upset on both Hanneman and Scott, whom he had gapped on the hill. Unable to respond, they lunged for second, which Hanneman took by 0.1 second. The two rolled across the line together, untangled themselves and showed respect for each other after.
“He was clean coming up behind and I never had any real contact with him,” Scott said of Hanneman, after leading the final up to the one-and-only hill, but failing to respond to Johansson’s attack on it. “I was loosing speed. I was trying to keep my tempo up; I know Reese had good cadence coming into that [finishing] stretch and a lot of power.”
Unlike some the men in Friday’s heats, Scott made it through the rounds without falling victim to roughhousing “minus my poles being stepped on a couple times.” Others, like Pat O’Brien (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) and Noe Bellet (University of Utah), weren’t so lucky. The two crashed about a few meters before the finish of their semifinal when O’Brien tried to avoid tripping up with another skier on his left. He moved to the right, stepping into Bellet, and the two fell out of the running.
Hanneman, who qualified in 21st, lunged at the finish of every round, finishing 0.5 seconds behind Scott in the quarterfinal. Not too thrilled with his qualifier, Hanneman made a point to push it in the heats and ended up with his career best in a SuperTour skate sprint.
“I’ve been really focusing on my skating this summer so this is a great way to affirm to myself that I’ve hopefully made some progress,” he said.
As for the course, Hanneman said it was “really fast” with many tight corners in the middle section that made it “one of the most physical courses as far as contact between the skiers.” About 200 meters into the final, all six men converged on a single line, and Hanneman was caught in the middle. He said he double poled until there was room to move again, at which point he was in “dead last.”
“Halfway through … I worked really hard to accelerate out of a couple of those corners and take some really aggressive far-outside and far-inside lines and pass some people,” Hanneman said. He got behind Scott and failed to latch onto Johansson on the uphill.
“That’s where most people were [making a move] in the heats,” Scott said. “I think everyone was ramping up and expecting it, but people were just unable to answer that surge. It was a decisive move and impressive victory.”
A student from Sweden’s Uppsala University currently on exchange at CU, Johansson was a big fan of the sprint course at the Rendezvous Ski Trails. “It’s a good course; I love it,” he said. “And on a day like this I love it even more.”
For the two-day SuperTour series, the first of the season, Johansson said he was staying the CU nordic team. “When I came here I knew there was a ski team so I’ve been training with them sometimes,” he said. “Now I’m living with them this week, but I’m competing for my home club in Sweden.”
For Scott, third was short of his goal, but he’d take it.
“Obviously my goal for today was to win the prologue and to win overall,” he said. “To be that close is tough, but I think it sets me up well for the weekends [ahead].” SuperTour leaders, including the top male and female sprinters, through the next weekend of racing in Bozeman, Mont., can earn World Cup starts in January.
Scott was off to a solid start after winning the qualifier by 0.62 seconds ahead of teammate Sylvan Ellefson. According to Scott, Ellefson said he was “boxed out” in the quarterfinal, losing some finishing speed and placing third in the heat, 0.1 seconds behind Alex Schulz (CGRP) and Bellet, respectively.
According to U.S. Ski Team and APU member Erik Bjornsen, something similar happened to him. After qualifying in 16th, Bjornsen placed fourth in his quarterfinal, 0.5 seconds back from winner Ozerskiy, and did not advance to the semis. After leaving “a little too much in the tank” for the qualifier, Bjornsen made a move up to third on the final hill, but wasn’t in good enough position coming into the flat finishing stretch.
“I tried to go right and [Guedon] kind of closed me off,” Bjornsen said. “That’s the way sprinting goes.”
“It’s hard to say I feel good after posting that result; but honestly I didn’t feel that bad,” he added. “Everyone seems to be in really good shape which is awesome for the U.S. team. I’ll definitely go into the next races shooting for that podium!”
Friday morning, Bjornsen woke up to discover his older sister and fellow USST member, Sadie, placed third in the classic sprint qualifier at the opening World Cup in Kuusamo, Finland. She ended up 26th on the day.
“I was so excited for her,” Erik said. “I can tell she is in great shape and she has more to show. It’s been so fun to watch her train this past summer. She finally seems to be injury free and she deserves to have great results after all the hard work she has put in the last few years.”