Before this winter, very few ski fans would have recognized the name Ronny Andre Hafsaas. The 24-year-old Norwegian had competed in just a single cross country World Cup in Switzerland, finishing in 36th place. But for the past two years, Hafsaas has been quietly collecting top-tens on the international biathlon circuit, and today, he stamped his authority on the first race of the World Cup season in Beitostolen.
Hafsaas beat all of the favorites in the 15 km skate race and just barely held off Frenchman Vincent Vittoz at the line, by less than a quarter of a second. Finland’s Matti Heikkinen finished third, seven seconds down.
Another Norwegian biathlete, Lars Berger, led the race at the 12.5 km mark, but appeared to have suffered some sort of collapse or fall; he lost thirty seconds over the last 2.5 km and ended in 13th. Favorite Petter Northug was in first through five km, but couldn’t quite hold onto the lead and ended in fourth, twelve seconds back.
The U.S. Ski Team’s Kris Freeman was the top North American in 22nd. At the halfway point he was sitting in twelfth, but lost thirty seconds in the last five km. But the race was close-ten seconds would have moved Freeman into the top 15.
Canadian Devon Kershaw had created some speculation by winning a training race in Sweden last weekend, but he couldn’t sustain the momentum, finishing just over a minute down in 37th. “I was like Bambi on ice,” he wrote on Twitter. Russian emigree Ivan Babikov was actually the first Canadian finisher, in 28th, and the young Alex Harvey was 43rd.
The race was both tight and “rocket fast,” as Andy Newell wrote on his own Twitter feed. Hafsaas’s time was under 35 minutes, and two-thirds of the 99-man field finished within two minutes.
Bjorgen Skis Away From the Rest
Marit Bjorgen is back. At the World Cup opener in Beitostolen, the Norwegian veteran showed that she’s ready to compete for Olympic medals by convincingly winning the women’s 10km freestyle race.
With a strong surge in the last half of the race, Bjorgen put thirty seconds into Swede Charlotte Kalla-her closest competition-and beat all but four others in the 90-woman field by more than a minute. Kalla’s teammate Anna Haag took the final spot on the podium.
“I knew that I was in good shape, but you never know what the other girls have done,” Bjorgen said in the post-race press conference. “It’s good to be back.”
Both Kalla and Bjorgen mentioned the challenge posed by the icy, slippery course. Fourth-place Kristin Stormer Steira took a fall, according to Langrenn.com, which cost her a chance for the top-three.
Video and photos from Beitostolen showed a clear day with what looked to be hard-packed, near-bulletproof conditions, and Bjorgen’s time was fast-less than 25 minutes for a 10km race.
American Kikkan Randall showed that she has stepped up her distance racing, finishing just over two minutes back, in 21st. The Alaskan skied her way up from 61st at the first time split, a quarter of the way through the race, and gained another 11 places in the last 2.5 km between the second time split and the finish.
Liz Stephen, eying a return to the top thirty after her strong performances at last year’s World Championships, ended up tied for 48th, just over two and a half minutes back and 25 seconds from scoring World Cup points. Morgan Arritola, the third American women, finished 71st, another 40 seconds behind Stephen and over three minutes behind Bjorgen.
And in her return to the World Cup after struggling with injuries last year, Canada’s Chandra Crawford-who’s primarily a sprinter-finished in 86th, five and a half minutes down.
A full recap and analysis to follow–check back soon! For complete results, click here.
Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.