19-year old Marthe Kristoffersen out-sprinted Riita-Liisa Roponen to give Norway the victory over Finland in the women's 4x5km relay in Gaellivare, Sweden.
The Norweigans and and Finns battled for the entire race, matching leg for leg. The pack broke up quickly, with Italy's Arianna Follis the only skier able to keep up with Marit Bjoergen (NOR) and Pirjo Muranen (FIN) on the first leg. Virpi Kuitunen set the pace for the Finns after the handoff with Therese Johaug, coming off a fourth place in yesterday's 10km freestyle skiing for Norway. Italy stayed close, with Marianna Longa coming into the second transition just 8.5 seconds in back of the leaders.
The top two continued to pull away with the technique switching to skate, growing their lead to 47 seconds over third place Italy. Host nation Sweden closed to within 8 seconds of Italy after spending the first half of the race over 30 seconds out of third.
It all came down to the final stretch, with the World Cup relay rookie Kristoffersen skiing the anchor against the veteran Roponen, and Kristoffersen just eking out the victory.
Said Bjoergen after the race “We had some problems in the past. We had been the same people on the team for a long time and maybe needed some inspiration and new people. We’ve done a lot of things that made us get along much better. Now it’s very good. We’re a nice gang traveling around together.”
With the first and second ostensibly out of reach, Charlotte Kalla, the hometown hero who won yesterday's race, took over the last leg for Sweden. She chased down Italy, posting the top time for the leg while catching and dropping Sabina Valbusa to claim third.
“I love to hunt,” Kalla said. “The weekend has been amazing!”
– Despite dominating the race, only one of the fastest leg times came from the top two teams. Kristin Stoermer Steira (NOR) turned in the fastest time for the third leg.
– Follis was fastest on leg 1, Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) on leg 2, and Kalla on leg 4.
The relay will be shown later today on Universal Sports – watch on the Universal Sports cable channel or for free on the internet at www.universalsports.com
Sun. Nov. 23 — Women's 4x5K Relay, Gallivare, Sweden — 12:00 p.m. ET
Sun. Nov. 23 — Men's 4x10K Relay, Gallivare, Sweden — 2:00 p.m. ET
Marit Bjoergen leading the first leg (Photo Credit: Fischer Skis)