It took her three tries, but Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg would not be denied.
Undefeated at the World Junior Championships last year, Oestberg had been relegated to silver in this week’s skate sprint and distance classic races. But today, despite having to race in soft-snow conditions that don’t suit her, she easily stamped her authority on the women’s 10k pursuit here, leading a Norwegian sweep with the help of her teammates Heidi Weng and Tuva Toftdahl.
It was redemption for Oestberg—undefeated at World Juniors last year in France—who had been relegated to silver in both the sprint and classic distance races earlier this week.
With many of them coming from far back in the mass start, three of the American women made the top-25, led by Joanne Reid in 18th. Caitlin Patterson followed in 23rd, with Jessie Diggins in 25th and Annie Hart in 38th.
After the race, Oestberg told reporters that she doesn’t like soft skiing, and so when she woke up this morning to heavy snowfall, she wasn’t happy.
But the groomers here had been working since 5:00 a.m., according to Chief of Competition Georg Zipfel. And they had multiple Pisten Bullies working the 2.5k women’s course until just half an hour before the race—only stopping to give the course crew enough time to set up the stadium and the rest of the race loop.
So while there was a significant layer of powder on the trails by the time the women headed out, Oestberg said that it was actually still firm underneath.
For the skate portion of the race, the women also received some help from the coaches and spectators here.
Because the trails in Hinterzarten are so wide, both legs of the pursuit were held on the same course, which was split into two parallel sections. During the first half of the race, the spectators and coaches were standing on and cheering from the skate trail, inadvertently doing some grooming of their own by packing down the powder with their feet.
While the effect of the trampling wasn’t huge, it probably helped, and the athletes needed all the help they could get today. At the end of the race, the finishing pen was littered with limp, exhausted bodies, entirely spent.
For Patterson, the weather on top of the mass start made for a taxing combination—“really hard” were the words that she used to describe the race. Stronger over longer distances, Patterson had high hopes going into the 10k pursuit, after finishing 17th in the 5k classic on Wednesday.
But she said that she got pushed towards the tail end of the pack during the mass start, and had to expend a lot of energy working her way back towards the front. Though Patterson still moved up two places in the skate leg, it was clear afterwards that she was not satisfied.
But with three women in the top-25, Matt Whitcomb wasn’t complaining. Head coach of the juniors here, he said that his athletes handled a challenging day with aplomb—as they have all week. He related an anecdote from the morning’s trip up to the venue in the team van, which involved getting all eight passengers—athletes and coaches—in the front seat to give the wheels more traction.
“When we almost got stuck on the first corner going up the ten-mile climb,” he said, “we knew it was going to be an adventure, and that’s about what it was out there for all of the races.”
The Canadian women struggled here today, with Marlis Kromm the team’s top finisher in 41st. She was followed by Rebecca Reid, Dahria Beatty, and Heidi Widmer in 60th, 65th, and 71st, respectively.
Also of note was Michiko Kashiwabara’s (JAP) fourth place finish. She almost caught Toftdahl in the finishing sprint with a huge effort, and ended up just one tenth of a second behind for Japan’s second fourth-place finish in two days. For a quick video with one of the Japanese coaches, and one of their men who cracked the top ten, check out this post on the this post on the junior nationals blog.
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.