Beitostolen, Norway – The Swedish women’s relay team of Anna Olsson, Sara Lindborg, Anna Lindborg, and Charlotte Kalla turned an early 17 second deficit into a 16 second victory over rival Norway.
Conditions were described as “midwinter” with new snow softening the icy tracks that welcomed racers in yesterday’s individual freestyle. The temperature was just under freezing at -1 C.
The top-5 teams plus one pulled away in the first leg – Sweden, Norway, Finland, Russia, Germany and a surprising Kazakhstan were grouped 10 seconds up at the first exchange. That quickly changed when Finland’s Virpi Kuitunen put on a strong move, breaking away and it appeared that the Finnish dominance of recent years would remain intact.
By the end of the second leg, Finland held a 16 second lead on Russia II, who had climbed back into contention. The rest of the top teams remaned within 25 seconds of the lead.
Riita-Liisa Roponen kept Finland in 1st, but lost most of Kuitunen’s hard earned margin, and the battle for the victory was set with Norway and Sweden back within 4 seconds. Strong legs from Anna Haag (SWE) who was third in yesterday’s 10km freestyle, and Kristin Stoermer Steira (NOR) brought the Scandinavian teams back into contention. Russia II remained in striking distance, just under 30 seconds back.
The last leg set up as a fight between the top two in yesterday’s race – Marit Bjoergen (NOR) and Kalla – plus the always dangerous Aino Kaisa Saarinen (FIN). But Saarinen and Bjoergen could not hold the pace and Kalla skied Sweden to the top of the podium with the fastest skate leg of the day. Bjoergen, continuing to show strong form, bested Saarinen, finishing second, 16.7 seconds back.
Bjoergen mentioned that she struggled a bit on the climbs – that Kalla “floats” better in the soft conditions. Coach Egil Kristiansen agreed, and was pleased overall with second place, noting that Norway needed four strong legs for a victory.
Said Haag following the race, “It has been a great weekend for me. Yesterday third and today on the top. A relay victory is always something special and I’m just really, really happy.”
Kuitunen was also pleased after her strong performance. “We are statisfied with our result here in the relay. It was good to breathe the World Cup air again. Yesterday was a normal skating race for me where I had some difficulties and today it was a good race.”
Russia I, powered by a strong anchor from Natalia Korosteleva was 4th. Russia II slipped to 6th, behind Germany.
The Canadian women did not complete the race. Perianne Jones skied the opening leg, and tagged to Chandra Crawford in last place, 7 seconds in back of the next closest team, Japan. Crawford, a sprinter, lost over a minute on 20th place, and Sara Renner did not take to the course. It is very possible that Canada did not plan to race more than the first two legs given their running order.
Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) and Petra Majdic (SLO), both skiing on relatively weak teams skied impressive legs – especially Kowalczyk who posted the fast time on the second leg by 19 seconds over Majdic. Other strong individual performances included Steira’s skate leg, Ingvil Flugstad Oesteberg (NOR), and Olga Rotcheva (RUS).
After the race, Sweden was looking froward to taking advantage of their team plane. Said Haag, “now we are going back this evening for the first time in our new airplane, the Ski Force Nr. 1. We will be in Oestersund at 7:00 and can have a relaxing time before the next World Cup.”
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.