Short courses, long courses, steep hills, flats, dicey corners: you name it, and Emil Joensson will ski it.
In Lahti, Finland on Sunday, the Swede raced to his fifth World Cup sprint victory in seven starts this season, with Eirik Brandsdal (NOR) in second and his teammate Paal Golberg in third.
Joensson’s win secured his second straight title in the World Cup sprint standings—which at this point is a merely a restatement of the obvious fact that the Swede is the fastest man on the planet.
“I appreciate winning the [overall],” he said afterwards. “It means I was strong the whole season.”
Only two North American men cracked the heats in Andy Newell and Alex Harvey, but neither managed to successfully emerge from a notorious corner that took out several men. Newell got tangled up with a Finnish skier in his quarterfinal and was relegated, ending up 29th, while Harvey crashed in his quarter and finished 25th.
Joensson also set the pace in the morning qualifying, finishing nearly a second ahead of Golberg, a 20-year-old Norwegian who had never stood on a World Cup podium prior to Sunday. He’s not an unknown quantity, though: Golberg owns a gold medal from last year’s World Junior Championships in Germany.
While things really started getting messy in the quarterfinals, there were a number of North Americans who didn’t even get a chance to contest the heats.
Canadians Devon Kershaw, Len Valjas, and Graham Nishikawa, along with American Kris Freeman, all failed to crack the quarterfinals. Kershaw was the closest, in 49th, but even he wasn’t all that close, nearly three-and-a-half seconds behind the 30th qualifier.
A report from Norwegian broadcaster NRK made it sound like the weather was tricky for waxing—they said that Norwegian Oystein Pettersen used zero skis, while in the women’s race, Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk had to fight ice that was building up on her klister. But at least in Kershaw’s case, the problems didn’t sound like they were related to equipment.
“Lahti, you are one tough motha’,” he tweeted after the race. “Not the weekend I was looking for.”
His teammate Harvey qualified 13th, and looked primed to continue his recent strong sprint campaign. In the last three weeks, he’s taken a second place in an individual World Cup, along with a World Championships gold medal in the team sprint with Kershaw.
According to a press release from Cross Country Canada, Harvey was among the leaders of his quarterfinal heat when he entered the Lahti Corner—a sharp, downhill righthander that brings the men back into the stadium.
There, Harvey had to watch the race slip away from him when he got mixed up with Estonia’s Kein Einaste and Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson and crashed, losing contact with the leaders—including Golberg, who just managed to sneak to the outside of Einaste.
“What kind of course was that?” Harvey tweeted afterwards.
Newell fared a little better than Harvey did—he still managed to negotiate the Lahti Corner on his two skis. But in doing so, he took out Finland’s Matias Strandvall, who had tried to block Newell while the American was in the process of passing.
Newell still ended up getting third in the heat, and would have advanced as a lucky loser on the basis of his time for the quarterfinal. But the race jury didn’t like what they saw in the corner, and opted to relegate Newell down to last in his heat.
“There’s no doubt we had contact,” he said in a U.S. Ski Team press release. “Once, he hit me on the back, and going into the turn, which was tricky, he put his poles out to block, and I just grabbed onto his poles to try and go under them. I haven’t seen the tape, but I’m pretty sure I obstructed him. You can never grab someone’s poles like I did. After the race we spoke to each other and we both apologized—those things happen in the heat of racing.”
Joensson, the Swede managed to avoid the crashes that stymied others—no small accomplishment, based on how treacherous the Lahti Corner became by the end of the day. Even with no one around him, reigning Olympic sprint champion Nikita Kriukov (RUS) still couldn’t even stay on his feet in the finals, and after stumbling, he ended up doing a posterior-over-teakettle that left him far off the leaders.
For his part, Joensson stayed at the front of the heat, then easily pulled away from Brandsdal on the homestretch, according to a report from the Swedish newspaper Aftenposten.
Joensson’s win on Sunday was surely gratifying, but he said that he’s more excited about the next—and final—World Cup sprint, which comes on Wednesday in Stockholm.
“My absolutely favorite race is just ahead,” Joensson told Aftenposten, “and there, I want to show a great performance.”
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.