After a strong day by the U.S. U-23 team yesterday, the American junior women said they were feeling the pressure for a strong performance today in the 5k classic.
“We’ve got to step it up and show that we mean business here,” said Annie Hart.
While they didn’t exactly match yesterday’s fourth place by Ida Sargent, the juniors did manage a decent show of depth today, putting three of their four women in the top 27. Caitlin Patterson led the way in 17th, with Sophie Caldwell and Hart following in 24th and 27th. All three were within a minute and fifteen seconds of the winner, Krista Lahteenmaki of Finland, while Adele Espy was the fourth American, in 51st.
Lahteenmaki was followed closely by Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg, a Norwegian who frequently races on the World Cup circuit. Oestberg led halfway through the race by six seconds, but she gave it all up on her second loop to finish three seconds down.
“I didn’t feel that I went slowly at the end—Krista was tough,” Oestberg said afterwards.
Monday’s sprint winner, Hanna Brodin (SWE), was another second back, in third.
Matt Whitcomb, head coach of the American juniors, said that three top-30 results for his women are nothing to scoff at—they used to be “unheard of for the U.S.—we’d get a couple a year. Now we’re shooting for dozens.”
“The standard has been higher for the last several years,” he said. “The athletes feel it.”
One of the strengths of the group here, Whitcomb said, is its depth.
“We don’t have just single athletes that are our only hope in any of these races—we have a full team of athletes that can contend,” he said.
A slow starter, Patterson said that she favors longer races, and is more jazzed for the upcoming pursuit 10k pursuit on Friday.
“Do this race and then tack a five k skate on the end of it, plus mass start, I’m really excited,” Patterson said.
Racing for the U-23 athletes resumes here tomorrow with another individual start classic race. With snow in the forecast, conditions could be more challenging than today’s, but the temperature is expected to stay cold enough to avert any chaotic waxing.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.