Hometown hero Charlotte Kalla skied to an impressive 24.4 second victory over Norweigan star Marit Bjoergen in Gaellivare, Sweden, as the World Cup got underway this morning. Kalla, who grew up in Gaellivare led at every checkpoint in the 10km freestyle event, expanding her lead from .4 seconds at 2.3 kilometers, to 12.1 at the 6.7km mark.
Bjoergen, the top Norweigan woman, has struggled over the past several years to place consistently at the top of the World Cup, but looked strong at the FIS races in Beitostolen last weekend where she won two events, and carried that success into today's race. She finished 7.6 seconds ahead of Finn Aino Kaisa Saarinen. For Saarinen, a strong all around skier who has four times placed in the top ten in the overall World Cup, this was her first podium finish in a 10km freestyle.
The 21-year old Kalla made her mark as one of the world's elite skiers last season when she overtook Virpi Kuitunen on the last day to win the Tour de Ski. Today was her first ever World Cup victory.
“It is just unbelievable — what an amazing day,” the young Swede said. “It’s absolutely fantastic to have such a good race here in GÃ¤llivare and win my first World Cup in front of my home crowd.”
Bjoergen, while happy with her result, was not satisifed with second place. “I feel good and it was a great race, but still I have to improve as I’m not first. But it is great that Charlotte was able to perform well here in GÃ¤llivare — it is her home and to have such a result is not so easy.”
Norway had the strongest day as a team, placing three in the top six. 20 year-old Therese Johaug took fourth, a mere 1.7 seconds out of third. Johaug skied most of the race in the top three, ranking 2nd at the first time check and third at 6.7km, before slipping off the podium. Her teammate Kristin Stoermer Steria was 6th in what ended up being a very tight field. She was only 4.5 seconds off the podium and .9 seconds behind Italian Arianna Follis in fifth.
Follis raced an impressive second half – she was in 18th at the 2.3km mark, and slowly climbed through the field with each passing kilometer. Justyna Kowalzyck rounded out the top seven, only .2 seconds behind Steira.
The individual start race featured several tight “packs” on the result sheet. Only 4.7 seconds separated 3 and 7th. After a 16 second gap, 4.5 seconds separated 8th and 13th.
No Americans or Canadians started the event.
Racing continues tomorrow with a 4x5km relay. Neither Canada nor the US has a team entered in the competition.
Riitta-Liisa Roponen (FIN) moved up from 24th at the 2.3km mark to finish tied for 8th.
Host Sweden's second finisher was Anna Haag in 15th.
19 year old Marthe Kristofferesen (NOR) , who skied very well in Beitostolen last weekend, finished 16th.
Former Olympic Champion Julia Tchepalova (RUS) who is making a comeback, finished 32nd.
82 women finished the race.
Marit Bjoergen on her way to second place. (Photo Credit: Fischer Skis)
http://www.UniversalSports.com will provide same-day coverage from Gaellivare starting with the women at 11:50 a.m. ET. Universal Sports broadcasts into 30 million cable households, as well as providing free access to full race coverage online with commentary from Steve Schlanger and noted cross country expert Peter Graves.