Liberec, Cazech Republic. Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) won her second gold of the 2009 World Championships, skiing to victory in the woen’s 30km freestyle mass start. Liz Stephen led the US in 17th.
Kowalczyk made a move with under a kilometer to go, opening a gap she was able to hold to the finish. Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS) was second, +8.8. The battle for silver was extremely tight. Medvedeva outsprinted bronze medalist Valentina Schevchenko (UKR) and 4th place finisher Therese Johaug (NOR).
“I’m very tired, really tired. This is really a huge and amazing success – it was a dream for me. During the race I tried to be in the leading group and then at the end I planned to attack on the last uphill – my tactic worked and I was able to ski away. It’s good that there was so many people from Poland here and I’m happy that there is Evgenia and Valentina with me on the podium – they are my friends.”
Kowalczyk also won a bronze in the 10km classic.
Said Medvedeva, “I’m very satisfied. The entire race was very good for me. All was really perfectly prepared. I was little bit worried about the downhills, but after my last change of skies, I felt very happy with them. I knew that the last climb and the last downhill would decide the race and I felt confident because of my skis. It was also the reason that I tried to attack in the finish.“
For the frist time in a World Championship or OIympic event, skiers were allowed to exchange skis during the race. Many skiers took advantage of this opportunity and changed skis in the stadium at 11.25km and at 18.75 km.
Schevchenko liked this opportunity. “I felt very well and my skis were good. I really do not like mass starts, because there are too many issues that can influence your race. But I was changed my skis twice and I think it’s a very good thing. Most of the girls used this opportunity, except the Italians and I felt that in some parts of the track, they were a little worse.”
It has been 10 years since a Ukrainian won a World Championship medal – Irina Terelia won a bronze in Ramsau.
Liz Stephen and Morgan Arritola continued to post impressive results in their first World Championships. Stehpen, who finished 15th in the pursuit, cracked the top 20 again, finishing 17th in today’s freestyle race. Arritola just missed the top-30 in the pursuit, made that mark today. She finished 22nd, 30 seconds behind her teammate.
Stephen was 2:42 behind winner Justyna Kowalzcyk of Poland. One third of the way through the race, the pack remained large and Stephen was hanging at the back. But by 13km, along with skiers like Charlotte Kalla and Claudia Nystad, she fell off the back and a smaller chase pack formed.
“It was not the best start ever. I had a couple falls and a few tangle ups. Mass starts are kind of crazy,” Stephen said. “We just worked our way up through the field. It takes some energy to get up to the pack, then I just focused in and tried to chip away and keep pushing.”
“To have two in the top 25 in a distance race, I don’t know if we’ve ever done it,” U.S. Cross Country Head Coach Pete Vordenberg said. “It’s unbelievable, this is their first real taste, their first World Championships. The future is really exciting.”
“I started bib 42 and the start is always crazy. We were way back for first lap or two, but then worked our way up,” Arritola said from the finish area at Worlds where she and Stephen watched Billy Demong win gold in the final Nordic combined event. “You just have to trust your fitness and just be calm. This is a good confidence builder, to know your hard work is starting to pay off.”
Caitlin Compton finished 48th as the final US skier in the event.
Top Canadian Sara Renner did not start the race, and teammate Dari Gaiazova did not finish, leaving Shayla Swanson as the lone representative. Swanson skied to 40th place.
The women are done racing at the World Championships. Only the men’s 50km remains.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.