Norway’s Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg only got one shot at a U-23 World Championship title this year, since she decided to race at Norwegian nationals earlier this week.
She made the most of it, skiing to a victory in her only start in Otepaa, Estonia on Monday, in the women’s 15 k pursuit.
Her teammate Britt Ingunn Nydal made a late charge to take second, just ahead of Finland’s Kerttu Niskanen, who had pushed the pace in the classic leg, her strength.
After some tough races in Norway, Oestberg said that her self-confidence wasn’t great coming into Estonia.
“That’s why it was great to win today,” she said.
Sadie Bjornsen led North American finishers in 17th—a decent day after a frustrating sprint on Saturday.
“It was a solid pursuit,” she said. She was caught at the back after hitting some traffic at the start, but worked her way up in the second half of the race.
“Classic skiing is definitely the better technique for me, so I was just trying to conserve,” she said. “I knew it was going to hurt on
With bib number one, Oestberg wasn’t dealing with traffic. But she still had other problems to contend with—namely Niskanen, who went out like a bullet. The Finn struggles with skating—she was ninth in the 10 k freestyle earlier this week, then won the classic sprint on Saturday—and she knew that her only chance for a result on Monday was to take as much as she could out of Oestberg’s legs before the exchange.
By the end of the classic portion, at the 7.5-kilometer mark, the field was already shattered under Niskanen’s fierce pace. Oestberg was the only one who could hang; she bent, clearly laboring , but she didn’t break.
With a consistent breeze blowing throughout the morning, Oestberg told FasterSkier that she drafted the Finn as much as possible. The two came into the exchange together, and after the switch to skate gear, Oestberg took over. She said it was harder to shake Niskanen than she anticipated.
“Skating was quite good for me, today,” Niskanen said.
Still, though, Niskanen’s efforts in the classic leg had taken their toll, and she looked totally gassed when she finally fell off the pace, At that point, Oestberg found herself alone at the front, with Nydal, to her surprise, still in striking distance of silver.
“Usually I get very tight when I change to skating,” she said.
She first brought back Niskanen, then managed to fight her way into contact with Oestberg.
The two Norwegians were together heading out onto their second of two 3.75-kilometer skate laps, but Oestberg had broken things open by the time the women came back into the stadium.
Niskanen almost brought back Nydal, but didn’t have quite enough in the sprint on the homestretch.
Behind the strength of the racing by Oestberg and Nydal—and throughout the last week—the Norwegians earned themselves the trophy that goes to the nation with the best results at the U-23 and World Junior Championships.
Their women’s team is so deep that Oestberg will not be heading to the World Senior Championships later this winter. After Monday’s race, she’ll head home.
A number of teams are continuing on from Estonia, though, to more racing in the Baltics. There’s a series scheduled for Latvia this weekend, a Scandinavian Cup, and many members from the American squad in Otepaa will be competing there.
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.