There’s a little more than six months to go until the opening ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. For the recently turned 30-year-old Charlotte Kalla, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time silver medalist from Sweden, nothing would be sweeter than to capture another gold this winter in South Korea.
Her last individual Olympic win came in 2010 in Vancouver, B.C., when she took first in the women’s 10-kilometer freestyle. A repeat podium in the PyeongChang 10 k skate is not far from her thoughts.
“It is a race that is certainly on my mind,” Kalla told NRK on Thursday, according to a translation.
What better way for Sweden’s 10 k favorite to practice than at the Blink Ski Festival’s Lysebotn Opp, an annual 7.5 k freestyle rollerski hill climb in Lysebotn, Norway? With names sure to contest her at the Olympics –including Norway’s Marit Bjørgen and Heidi Weng, as well as Finland’s Krista Pärmäkoski, Germany’s Stefanie Böhler and American Liz Stephen — on the start list for Thursday’s race, Kalla couldn’t resist entering herself.
If her performance in the rollerski race is any indication of where Kalla is headed this winter, it’s the direction she wants. After breaking away with Bjørgen, Pärmäkoski and Weng early on in the race to form a lead pack of four women, Kalla quickly decided to make the race her own.
Within the next few kilometers, Kalla dropped the two Norwegians and Pärmäkoski and went on to finish first in a time of 33 minutes, 18.3 seconds. Weng followed 40.3 seconds later and Bjørgen crossed in third, 1 minute and 50.5 seconds back.
Notably, Kalla’s time was faster than 57 out of 100 elite men that raced the same 7.5 k course later on Thursday.
“One shouldn’t focus too much on what happens in July, there is a lot left to be done before the season, but it’s been long since I’ve been in this good a shape in July. The last time was probably 2013,” Kalla told NRK.
The Lysebotn Opp’s 2014 champion,Stephen finished sixth overall (+3:35.7) on Thursday, after Norway’s Ragnhild Haga in fourth (+2:43.4) and Pärmäkoski in fifth (+2:47.0). Prior to winning three years ago, Stephen also placed third in the famous rollerski hill climb in 2012 (the Lysebotn Opp was added to the festival in 2010).
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In the men’s 7.5 k uphill race that followed, Hans Christer Holund broke away for the win in 27:37.6, besting fellow Norwegian Simen Hegstad Krüger in second (+1:13.9) and Finland’s Matti Heikkinen in third (1:25.6).
Holund took it out strong from the start, holding his lead through the climb’s entirety.
“I am healthy and have done some solid training this summer,” the 28-year-old Holund told NRK after. “It looks promising. There’s still a lot of time Olympics, but it does look promising. It is so competitive in Norway and it’s tough to just be selected. If I am selected for the Olympics when the time comes then I will be good enough and then an Olympic gold-medal is the next task.”
Norway occupied seven of the top eight on Thursday, with Henrik L’Abée-Lund in fourth (+1:59.6), Sjur Røthe in fifth (+2:05.7), Martin Johnsrud Sundby (Wednesday’s 60 k winner) in sixth (+2:11), Simen Andreas Sveen in seventh (+2:12.4), and Gaute Kvåle in eighth (+2:14.7).
Andy Newell of the U.S. Ski Team did not race the hill climb, but he was back for the 15 k mass start on Friday (as was Stephen for the women’s 10 k). Stay tuned for results in a separate report.
— Harald Zimmer & Aleks Tangen contributed