One misstep and one mistake, and it was all over for the American women in Hinterzarten.
50 meters into her quarterfinal here, Jessie Diggins found herself on the ground, seeing stars. Sophie Caldwell lasted longer, and was in contention to advance, but she lost crucial ground coming into the final turn that she could not make up in the finishing sprint.
Sitting in third on the final downhill, Caldwell swung to the outside of the ensuing righthand corner to try move up. But two more skiers snuck inside Caldwell as she tried to advance into second place, then held her off on the finishing straight, relegating the American to fifth place in the heat.
“I kind of made a tactical error,” she said, adding that her fitness was not what held her back in the heats. “It was felt good to be in there, but it was a pretty big bummer not to be up there.”
Diggins’ heat was more spectacular, even if it was still no more successful. Soon after the start of the sprint, the course makes a hard left into a downhill, and Diggins, with a middle lane choice, found herself getting squeezed by the Russian on her right. Before she knew it, she was on the ground.
“Diggins took a digger,” said Matt Whitcomb said.
Chasing fiercely, it looked like Diggins might have made up some ground on the pack in front of her. But they were too far ahead to be caught.
Sprinting never leaves a lot of margin for error, but the races here today seemed especially tight. Many stayed together for their durations, separating only in the last few hundred meters.
“There were a lot of tactics involved today,” Caldwell said.
The racing is cutthroat in Europe—certainly more so than at Nationals.
“It’s as aggressive as you’ll find on the World Cup here,” Whitcomb said. “Our guys know that, and they’re just as aggressive as the next…we have no excuses for today.”
Sweden’s Hanna Brodin took the final, avenging last year’s loss to today’s second place finisher, Invild Flugstad Oesberg of Norway. Kari Oeyre Slind (NOR) was third.
Brodin is a short, stocky chunk of muscle, her legs almost as large as some of the other girls’ waists. She had a blistering start from the gun, almost gapping the field into the first corner, and led wire-to-wire, although it wasn’t certain until the finishing stretch
Three quarters of the way through the heat, it looked like Brodin might be petering out after her fast start, and Oestberg seemed to be making up ground. But coming around the final corner, the 19-year-old Swede put in one last acceleration, and was able to hold her gap to the finish, giving a half-hearted lunge that it didn’t look like she really needed.
Both races were delayed for nearly an hour between the quarterfinals and the semis, as officials had to turn to the manual timing to determine the lucky losers after a snafu with the starting gun.
The athletes were all subjected to the same wait, though, and Brodin said she wasn’t fazed.
Racing continues here tomorrow with an identical sprint for the U-23 men and women. The next junior race is a 5/10k classic on Wednesday.
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.