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Davos, Switzerland – Irina Khazova (RUS) claimed her first career World Cup victory in the 10km freestyle this morning. Charlotte Kalla (SWE) was 2nd, and Kristina Smigun-Vähi (EST) took 3rd.
Khazova, a double World Junior Champion in 2004, improved upon her 2nd place finish in Kuusamo two weeks ago. Today, she skied away from the field with a margin of victoy of just under 30 seconds.
She started conservatively, ranking 8th at 2km, 6 seconds off the pace. But over the next 3k she turned on the afterburners, taking the lead, and opening a gap of 13 seconds. Said Khazova following the race, “I’m very happy about my victory. This morning I did not think I could win.”
Khazova is just off a two year ban for doping infractions, and prior to this season, hadn’t raced on the World Cup since spring of 2007. At that point she was known by her maiden name of Artemova.
Kalla was back on the podium, finishing 2nd for the second time this year. The Swede barely edged out Smigun-Vähi by half a second.
“I tried to start relaxed in the race, and then give everything in the second lap. I felt good after being here for a week,” said Kalla.
Smigun-Vähi, back on the World Cup after a two-year retirement, stood on the podium for the first time since March of 2007. A two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, she is clearly back in top form.
“I’m very satisfied with my race today. My goal was to be in top 10 – I didn’t believe I would be on the podium,” she said.
Smigun had her first child during her years off, and initially had no plans to return to the World Cup circuit.
“After having my baby I was not thinking about a comeback. But six months after the birth, I felt that I had to do something. I was initially training for myself, but I could still compete.”
She was disappointed after finishing 25th in Kuusamo. “If your goal is to go to the Olympics, 25th is not good enough. Today’s race shows that I can be at the top again.”
Marit Bjørgen (NOR) was just off the podium in 4th, Smigun-Vähi.
“For me, 4th place is good. This event showed that I am among the best. It is reassuring, ” Marit Bjørgen, who has never won in the thin air of Davos.
Sara Renner (CAN) was in the points for the first time this season, finishing 25th, +1:37.9. She was 32 seconds out of the top-10, after moving up consistently throughout the race. At each check point, she had improved several places, after ranking 34th at the 2km mark.
Despite Renner’s solid performance, the North American race of the day belonged to Morgan Arritola of the US. Arritola placed 34th, 11 seconds out of the top-30, and 2:06 behind the winner. This was by far her top European World Cup result (previous best, 49th) and her 64 FIS point performance was also a personal best on the World Cup, and second only to her 22nd place finish in last year’s World Championships where she scored 58.
Arritola started slowly, placing 55th at 2km and 49th at the halfway mark. With 3.2km to go, she was still 43rd.
Liz Stephen and Kikkan Randall also raced for the US. Like Arritola, Stephen also had her best European World Cup place and points race, and climbed as high as 36th at the 6.8km checkpoint.
Randall finished a disappointing 65th after cracking the the top-20 in her last World Cup distance race, and finishing in the points in both her starts.
“My legs have been feeling a little heavy all week,” Randall told FasterSkier. “I was hoping it was just nerves but I didn’t have my full zip during the race today. Hopefully this will help gets things going for tomorrow.”
Kritina Strandberg (SWE/XC Oregon) was 58th.
With her performance, Khazova took over the World Cup lead, displacing Aino Kaisa Saarinen (FIN) by three points. Kalla is now third.
– Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) finished 9th after leading early in the race.
– Russia, Sweden and Norway all placed two skiers in the top-10.
– Finns Saarinen and Virpi Kuitunen finished 11th and 15th respectively. Riita-Liisa Roponen was 5th.
– Norway and Russia had 5 skiers each in the top-30. Italy had 4, but no one in the top-15. Italy took places 16-19. Finland also had 4 top-30 finishers.
– Petra Majdic (SLO) finished 13th.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.