Even by Norway’s standards, four out of six ain’t bad.
After the country’s women swept the podium in the World Junior Championships 5 k freestyle on Wednesday morning, Sindre Bjoernestad Skar collected the country’s fourth medal of the day by winning the men’s 10 k event, topping Germany’s Markus Weeger and Finland’s Perttu Hyvarinen. With the first of seven events down in Otepaa, Estonia, Norway is in possession of two-thirds of the hardware.
While Skar matched the performance of his female counterparts, the American men couldn’t equal Jessie Diggins’s seventh place finish from the morning’s race.
After previously professing his goal to crack the top 10 in Otepaa—with hopes for a medal—Scott Patterson just slipped inside the top 30, 1:44 down, in 28th place. His was the top North American result.
“It just didn’t come together today,” he said.
Patterson had raised eyebrows with his third-place finish at the Lake Placid SuperTour less than two weeks ago, where he was just 20 seconds down on Lars Flora in a 10 k classic.
At last year’s World Junior Championships in Germany, he had scored two top-20’s, and was aiming higher on Wednesday, especially on a climbing-heavy course that he said suited him.
But after a slow first lap left him in 44th place, Patterson never really got rolling on his next loops.
“My legs were heavy, and it just is a bit hard to keep pushing out there. It wasn’t great,” he said.
Patterson’s result may have been a letdown, but according to U.S. Team Leader Matt Whitcomb, the fact that a top-30 was disappointing “says something for the caliber of skier Scott is.”
“I do think he’s a top 10 skier—and if you’re a top 10 skier in a field like this, you can crack the podium,” Whitcomb said.
Whitcomb said that the first race in a European campaign is often be the toughest, and indeed, Patterson will get another crack at a solid placing in Sunday’s 20 k pursuit.
Canada’s top male, Andy Shields, was aiming similarly high, but ended up with a similarly dejecting day—although his trajectory
in the race was the opposite of Patterson’s.
Shields was in 17th place after his first lap, then faded to 49th—though he maintained that he should have been able to sustain his pace, given his fitness. (Earlier this month, Shields took convincing wins in two of Canada’s three World Junior Championships qualifying races.)
“I was looking for something a minute faster—[it’s] what I felt capable of,” he said. “I got off to a super-good start…it felt great; it felt so easy. I went up the hill starting the second lap—the quads just started to burn, and it was too much to handle.”
On a course that American Andrew Dougherty described as “punishing,” Shields wasn’t the only athlete whose position took a precipitous tumble after the opening laps.
Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov was the best example—he had the second-fastest time after his first 3.3 k lap, but fell all the way back to 14th by the finish.
Other athletes, though, were able to go out hard and hold on, like Skar, who had the fastest time after the first and second laps.
A stocky 18-year-old, with another year of junior eligibility, Skar said that his plan was to start fast in order to “scare” his rivals.
“I think that it worked,” he said.
There wasn’t much drama at the front of the race, as Skar’s cushion at the finish was a full 16 seconds. But behind him, things were tight—Weeger finished less than two seconds up on Hyvarinen, who in turn edged out fourth-placed Jonas Dobler (GER) by 1.2 seconds.
“The last lap was my best,” said Hyvarinen, who moved up from sixth place to third after his second loop. “I knew I could be good toward the end of the race.”
Other North American results included Dougherty in 46th, Canada’s Russell Kennedy in 50th, American Erik Bjornsen in 57th, Canadians Jordan Cascagnette and Aaron Gilmore in 64th and 68th, respectively, and the U.S.’s George Cartwright in 76th.
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.