Lahti, Finland – The Olympics have come and gone, but there is still plenty of racing to be done. The World Cup did not miss a beat, restarting less than a week after the Olympic 50k with a 15/30km pursuit as part of the annual Lahti Ski Games.
The fields were competitive, but lacked many of the top skiers who are taking some time to recover after the Games.
In the women’s event, the “Queen of Whistler,” Marit Bjoergen (NOR), skied to an 11.1 second victory over Justyna Kowalczyk (POL), proving that her domination in Whistler was not jsut due to the courses. Kowalczyk repeatedly stated that the relatively rolling Whistler tracks did not suit her. But Bjoergen, who won a stunning 5 medals, including three golds, was once again able to ski away from her Polish rival.
The race broke apart relatively early, with Bjoergen, Kowalczyk, and Therese Johaug (NOR) gapped the field by the 5.5km mark and never looked back. The three shared duties at the front and extended their lead, remaining together until the final kilometer. Johaug was unable to match Bjoergen and Kowalczyk, but a rejuvenation that started at the Olympics.
“It was a great race,” said Bjoergen. “Therese and I were working together, and at the end I was able to make the gapon Justyna. I am in great shape and hope that I will be able to show that as well tomorrow.”
Intermediate bonus points were awarded twice during the race, with Johaug taking 25, Kowalczyk 20, and Bjoergen 15. With her performance, Kowalczyk has all but secured the overall World Cup for the second straight year.
“It was a great race for me today,” she said. “With my second place I am sure that I secured overall World Cup victory. Nevertheless I still have goals this season. I have been skiing full throttle all comeptitions and I will do that in remaininng races.”
Johaug, who started the seaosn with a string of poor results, and was not guranteed a spot on the Norwegian Olympic team, was thrilled with her race.
“I am very happy about my race today. It is first time on the podium at a World Cup this year and it is great. I have been in a good shape after Olympics.”
Riita-Liisa Roponen (FIN) took 4th, leading the chase pack across the line. Mether Kristoffersen and Kristin Stoermer Steira finished 5th and 8th respectively, giving Norway four skiers in the top-8.
Amazingly, Kristoffersen tied Evi Sachenbacher Stehle (GER) and Mariana Longa (ITA) for 5th in the mass start event.
Astrid Jacobsen, better known as a sprinter, took 12th, adding another strong performance for the Norwegians.
Kikkan Randall (USA), coming off an excellent Olympics, finished well in the points, taking 24th. While her result was good, she was well back of the leaders, and ended the day with a 92 FIS point race, her worst World Cup distance points of the year.
This was due in part to the the strong break by the lead group, and the large margin of victory over the rest of the field, and the fact that results were enhanced due to the lack of depth on the start line. As a comparison, Randall had a 68 point race when she finished 24th a week ago in the 30km in Whistler.
US Ski Team head coach Pete Vordenberg was pleased with Randall’s race.
“She definitely hasn’t done a lot of pursuits, but this year I think her distance racing has come a long way,” Vordenberg said. “For her, 24th is a pretty encouraging result. It wasn’t too long ago when there was just no way she was going to get in the top 30. I think she’s still rolling well.”
Morgan Arritola also cracked the top-30, taking 29th, but like Randall, this was not a great points race, and the result not indicative of overall performance.
Liz Stephen continued her olympic struggles, placing 40th, well off the pace.
No Canadian women raced.
In an interesting aside, there were 11,000 spectators at the races. Attendance was right around 5,000 at the Olympic events in Whistler.
The young German biathlete, Miriam Goessner, raced the pursuit, skiing classic for the first time at the World Cup level. Goessner raced the 15km freestyle and was on the medal winning German relay team. After the Olympics she told media that she was going to continue with biathlon but would also race cross-country.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.