LAHTI, Finland — Yesterday’s lick of blue sky winter sun was fleeting, as Lahti woke to overcast skies and buzz that new snow was imminent. Race time temps hovered around 24 degrees Fahrenheit, but with 78-percent humidity and a brisk wind — some would say ripping — blowing out of the west, it felt wind-brief cold.
Wednesday’s kickoff events were an opportunity for volunteers, camera crews and even hundreds of local Finnish school children who spectated, to test the venue’s preparedness in a soft opening. For both the men and women on Wednesday, athletes from non-traditional ski countries — skiers without the prerequisite International Ski Federation (FIS) points — raced in 5/10-kilometer classic qualifiers for the 2017 FIS Nordic World Championships distance races. All registered racers are able to contest Thursday’s freestyle sprint qualification. However, only the top 10 from Wednesday’s men’s 10 k and women’s 5 k classic individual starts would qualify for Lahti’s distance events.
In both races the list of representative countries vying for precious world-champs starts was a testament to FIS’s attempt to market a more globalized brand. There was Ecuador, Brazil, Lebanon, Venezuela, and India to name a few. A colorful splash of international pizazz. But in the end, all these aspiring skiers had to qualify on a championship-level course.
On the women’s side Iceland’s Elsa-Gudrun Jonsdottir took the win, completing the the 5k loop in 15:23.9. Nansi Okoro from Bulgaria skied to second place (+20.1) with Australia’s Katerina Paul third (+34.2).
Top-10 Women’s Qualifiers:
- Elsa-Gudrun Jonsdottir (Iceland)
- Nansi Okoro (Bulgaria)
- Katerina Paul (Australia)
- Otgontsetseg Chinbat (Mongolia)
- Gabrijela Skender (Croatia)
- Kitija Auzina (Latvia)
- Katya Galstyan (Armenia)
- Maria Ntanou (Greece)
- Enkhtuul Ariunsanaa (Mongolia)
- Vanesa Emilova (Bulgaria)
In the men’s 10 k classic, Croatia’s Kresimir Crnkovic took the win in the non-medal event, covering the course in a time of 26:21.5.
Finishing 55.6 seconds back was Lithuania’s Deividas Klisevicius in second place. Rounding out the men’s podium in third (+1:05.5), was Achbadrakh Batmunkh of Mongolia.
Top-10 Men’s Qualifiers:
- Kresimir Crnkovic (Croatia)
- Deividas Klisevicius (Lithuania)
- Achbadrakh Batmunkh (Mongolia)
- Seyed Sattar Seyd (Iran)
- Jens Hulgård (Denmark)
- Thibaut De Marre (Belarus)
- Tue Rømer (Denmark)
- James Clugnet (Great Britain)
- Omer Aycicek (Turkey)
- Apostolos Angelis (Greece)
Lahti 2017 Freestyle Sprint
Seasoned heavy hitters to World Championships first timers will make their way to the race the venue on Thursday for the second World Championships event: a 1.4 k freestyle sprint.
In the women’s field, Sweden’s Stina Nilsson and Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla rank as the top-two favorites following this World Cup season. For the past three freestyle sprints Nilsson has entered, she has placed first, her most recent victory this past Saturday in Otepää, Estonia. Falla, however should not be counted out, she took the win in last year’s freestyle sprint held in Lahti, Finland, while American Jessie Diggins claimed second.
For the men, Italy’s Federico Pellegrino emerges as the top non-Scandinavian favorite for the sprint. He won the most recent freestyle sprint in Falun, Sweden, last month and placed second in this year’s Tour de Ski Stage 1 freestyle sprint.
Many men, however, will be vying Pellegrino for the top spot. This includes Norwegians Johannes Høsflot Klæbo, Finn Hågen Krogh, Emil Iversen, as well as Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov, to name a few.
U.S. Freestyle Sprint Entries:
- Jessie Diggins
- Sophie Caldwell
- Ida Sargent
- Kikkan Randall
- Simi Hamilton
- Andy Newell
- Erik Bjornsen
- Cole Morgan
Canada Freestyle Sprint Entries:
- Dahria Beatty
- Cendrine Browne
- Katherine Stewart-Jones
- Alex Harvey
- Len Valjas
- Jesse Cockney
- Knute Johnsgaard
Behind the scenes on Wednesday, FIS President Gian Franco Kasper was part of a press conference that in part discussed the latest doping news: the five Russian skiers who appealed to the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS) had been denied immediate reinstatement to race.
Sarah Lewis, FIS Secretary General made this statement regarding Norwegian star Therese Johaug’s doping case. “The other one on the table is the Norwegian Anti-Doping Agency’s decision that was issued last week in the case of Therese Johaug,” Lewis said. “It was received by FIS on the 14th of January. The present status is that it is being studied by FIS doping panel and this will continue until the 7th of March and at that time a communication will be issued. In the meantime, FIS has got no further statement to give on this case.”
That part of the press conference was administrative. Then during a question-and-answer period a journalist asked this of Kasper: “You gave an interview to The New York Times where you said the sport is clean and the athletes have been irritated with that quote from you. How do you respond to the criticism that’s been thrown your way?
(The most recent comment from Kasper in the Times was this past November. He reportedly said, “We need to stop pretending sport is clean. It’s a noble principle, but in practice? It’s entertainment. It’s drama.”)
Kasper was blunt and stern in his response. “Well don’t forget this, your colleague from The New York Times, she wrote whatever she wanted,” Kasper said during the press conference. “Her question to me was, it must really disturb or hurt the sport of skiing in particular cross country? I said of course it hurts our credibility of sport in general and also skiing is damaged by all the open cases we have at the moment. But at the end for the public watching at home, the Olympics in particular, it’s still the drama that comes up, the joy if you win, disappointment if you lose, that is part of the game. It’s more or less a mirror of the social world … I never said it doesn’t matter for the importance of the Games, of course not.”
Later on Wednesday, Kasper was part of a group that met with athletes to discuss his response to halt doping in nordic sport.