(This article has been updated to include comments from Americans Hailey Swirbul and Gus Schumacher.)
Junior World Championships (Goms, Switzerland): 10/20 k skiathlons
Hailey Swirbul is 2-for-2 when it comes to podiums at this year’s Junior World Championships; in her second-straight race this week in Goms, the 19-year-old American earned a medal in a distance race. On Thursday, it was bronze in the women’s 10-kilometer skiathlon.
Swirbul, a sophomore at the University of Alaska Anchorage, closed the gap to the leaders over the final 5 k skate portion of Thursday’s race, doing so in tough, slow conditions with heavy snowfall. She ended up third in a sprint finish with Norway’s Lone Johansen, who took second by 0.7 seconds, as the two finished 35.5 seconds and 36.2 seconds behind the winner, Sweden’s Frida Karlsson, respectively.
Karlsson won it in 32:55.7 minutes. She had been second at the transition from classic to skate halfway through the race, just behind France’s Laura Chamiot-Maitral in first. Four women came through the exchange together within 2.6 seconds of first, while Swirbul was about 15 seconds back in eighth.
“Coming into the exchange I was right where I wanted to be,” Swirbul wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “I knew that some of the girls ahead of me would not be able to sustain their pace the entire skate leg. It was important for me to remember that and not try to close the gap too quickly with the Norwegian I was skiing with.”
While Karlsson broke away over the final 5 k, Swirbul helped lead the chase, moving into second and 31 seconds back on a long, steep climb at 6.7 k.
“I won’t lie, the skate leg was tough! I think everyone was suffering out there in the fresh snow,” Swirbul wrote. “I tried to conserve energy on the gradual downhill before the big climb to use on the hill.”
On the last lap, she worked to distance herself from fourth place.
“I knew that the fourth place skier was closing in on us the last lap,” she wrote. “Going up the final hill, I had to make a move to secure a podium spot and give what I had to ski away form the fourth place girl over the second to last big climb. The last few hundred meters were so intense! I didn’t have anything left to sprint it out for second place. Gotta work on that!”
Two days ago, Swirbul placed second in the 5 k classic for her first individual medal and the best-ever finish for the U.S. at Junior Worlds.
“This means so much,” she told race organizers after taking third in Thursday’s skiathlon. “I’m so happy to represent the United States here and show how we can improve in the future and what we have in our country.”
In her email to FasterSkier, Swirbul explained that she entered Thursday’s race confident yet calm.
“After my silver medal I believed in myself more than before,” she wrote. “However, I managed to stay calm and not put high expectations on myself for the skiathlon which allowed me to race my best. I was hoping to ski smart and relaxed and not be afraid to make it hurt! In a mass start that is really all I can control.”
For much of the first leg, about 4 k, she skied with what she described as “a huge pack of girls, which was kind of stressful for me.”
“It’s harder for me to match the stride of someone almost a foot smaller than I am in a classic track, so once the group broke up I was able to find my rhythm,” Swirbul wrote. “The snow storm made the tracks super slow where they weren’t skied in, so it was a waste of energy to try to pass people outside of the skied in track. I made that mistake a few times and ended up not passing anyone, just wasting energy plowing through powder.”
But her skis felt fast in both the classic and skate legs, she noted. “The wax techs have been killing it!”
With one race left, the women’s 4 x 3.3-kilometer relay on Sunday, Swirbul wrote that she was eyeing another podium.
“I think it is fair to think that our relay team has a good shot at the podium. That would be the cherry on top :)”
Karlsson told organizers that she was focused solely on the gold on Thursday.
“It was very fun today and my body felt very good, then I was just going for the gold today,” Karlsson said. In her first Junior Worlds, she had previously placed third in the skate sprint earlier in the week.
“It means a lot,” Karlsson, 18, added. “This is a very good sign that I’m doing the right thing. I have one more year left as a junior so I’m looking forward to next year’s Junior World Championships as well.”
Also for the U.S., Kathleen O’Connell (Montana State University) placed 20th (+2:18.2), Molly Gellert was 40th (+3:59.4) and Sofia Shomento was 58th (+6:25.7).
Canada’s Natalie Hynes (University of Alaska Anchorage) placed 24th (+2:40.0), Hannah Mehain was 37th (+3:54.9), Alexandra Racine 51st(+5:16.1), and Catherine Reed-Metayer 62nd (+7:17.7).
In the junior men’s 20 k skiathlon that followed, Harald Østberg Amundsen pulled out a 34.7-second victory over fellow Norwegian Jon Rolf Skamo Hope, who won the 10 k classic two days ago. Norway swept the podium with Jørgen Lippert in third, 1:00.1 minutes back, two days after Lippert placed third in the 10 k individual start.
The win was Amundsen’s first individual gold after he was on Norway’s winning 4 x 5 k relay at last year’s Junior Worlds in Utah, where he placed third in the 10 k skiathlon. On Tuesday, he was fourth in the 10 k classic.
“Unbelievable,” he said during a post-race arena interview. “I tried to keep calm on the classic part, and on the skate part just tried to keep the speed up. … I tried to go fast on the beginning and end of the uphills, and a bit controlled in the middle. I think the final was great, unbelievable.”
American Gus Schumacher (Alaska Winter Stars) raced to 15th (+2:43.6) besting his two previous top 20’s this week (19th in the freestyle sprint and 17th in the 10 k classic) at his first Junior Worlds. He skied much of the race with Ben Ogden (Stratton Mountain School), who finished 18th (+2:51.2) for his second-straight top 20 (after placing seventh in the 10 k).
“My classic skis were great today,” Schumacher wrote in an email. “The techs nailed it and I had really solid kick and good glide. I was able to run up the steepest hills and kick the buildup off right at the top and glide right with everyone. During that first 10k I think I did a good job staying relaxed and now letting myself push too hard up the big climbs. The pace in the pack wasn’t bad, definitely a little rushed at the beginning but I was able to settle in well.
“On my second half I was still just focused on not pushing too hard and staying relaxed, while also keeping the pace fast and carrying speed through the corners,” he continued. “Generally I felt pretty good, but my body was just getting tired and I was hanging in there.”
While he dropped Ogden over the last kilometer, Schumacher wasn’t able to shake Italy’s Luca Del Fabbro, who finished half a second ahead of him in 15th.
“I pushed really hard up the last hill into first [ahead of Del Fabbro] but was a little weak over the top and he pulled up alongside me and crossed in front of me on the corner then almost fell,” Schumacher recalled. “Pulled up alongside on the flat, but had to get back on the inside and just couldn’t get past.
“Overall I’m pretty happy, I think I paced well and I generally executed well,” he concluded. “I think it wasn’t my best possible, but it was definitely a well-executed race.”
Also for the U.S., Hunter Wonders (Alaska Pacific University) placed 26th (+3:56.0), and Karl Schulz finished 60th (+8:30.3).
Félix Longpré led Canada in 28th (+4:07.0), Etienne Hebert followed in 30th (+4:33.3), Antoine Cyr was 32nd (+4:45.4), and Reed Godfrey 54th (+7:18.4).
Nordic Combined Junior World Championships (Kandersteg, Switzerland): Normal hill/4 x 5 k Team Event
In the nordic combined team event at Junior World Championships on Thursday, Austria stole the show, jumping to first then finishing the 4 x 5 k relay first by nearly 48 seconds over Germany in second.
On the 106-meter normal hill in Kandersteg, Austria’s Johannes Lamparter, Mika Vermeulen, Florian Dagn, and Dominik Terzer combined for the best jumping score of the day, 11.8 points ahead of Norway (Simen Kvarstad, Andreas Skoglund, Jens Lurås Oftebro, and Einar Lurås Oftebro) in second. Germany jumped to third with Constantin Schnurr, Julian Schmid, Tim Kopp, and Luis Lehnert another 26 points back.
That put Norway 16 seconds back for the start of the 4 x 5 k relay, and Germany 50 seconds out of first in third.
The four Americans in the event, Tucker Hoefler, Jared Shumate, Stephen Schumann, and Ben Loomis, jumped to 11th out of 13 teams, and started the relay 2:46 minutes back.
Austria went on to hold its lead throughout the race, crossing the finish line first in 56:33.0 for the gold. Norway held onto second first Jens Oftebro’s first leg, then slipped to second behind Germany on the second leg. Ultimately, Germany claimed second, 47.8 seconds back, and Norway was third (+1:53.2).
The field remained largely strung out, as the Czech Republic finished fourth (+2:39.7) after starting fourth, France placed fifth (+3:07.7), up from eighth at the start, and Finland finished sixth (+3:27.6), after starting ninth.
The U.S. men improved to seventh (+3:36.4) thanks to a strong first leg from Loomis, who put them in seventh with the fourth-fastest first-leg time. Schumann then skied the fastest second leg and picked off two more places to tag in fifth at the second exchange. Hoefler slipped to seventh on the third leg, and Shumate held them there with the third-fastest anchor leg.
Nordic combined has one more event at Junior Worlds: the individual normal hill/5 k on Saturday.