For the last time Petra Majdic (SLO) crossed the line, arms pumping madly, yelling with joy in what has become one of cross-country skiing’s most flamboyant and predictable celebrations.
The tall Slovenian, who will retire at the end of the season, locked up her 20th career World Cup caliber victory skiing away from Norwegians Marit Bjoergen and Maiken Caspersen Falla right out of the gate.
Kikkan Randall (USA), showing her fifth place qualification last weekend in Lahti was no fluke, finished 10th. Canadian Perianne Jones set a career-best with a semifinal appearance and a 12th place. Randall locked up third place in the overall Sprint Cup standings, becoming the first American to reach the podium in the season-long sprint rankings.
Regardless of what you think of Majdic’s showboating, she has become one of elite cross-country ski racing’s most entertaining personalities, and one of the all-time greatest sprinters.
From the get go it was clear that Majidc was out to win – both the race on the doorstep of the King of Sweden in downtown Stockholm, and the Sprint Cup, which she entered the day leading by just seven points over Arianna Follis (ITA).
Majdic won the qualification by exactly one half a second over teammate Katja Visnar, posting a time of 2:29.30 on the short one kilometer course. Bjoergen was 1.44 seconds behind in third.
“I like this track very much—I like every meter,” Majdic said after the race.
“I was after many months again first in qualifications—I was really feeling very strong,” she added.
The stage was set for a fairy tale ending to Majdic’s storied career – one that put Slovenian skiing on the map, and included an unprecedented run of eight victories in 11 World Cup starts in 2011 (for the record, her other finishes that season were 2,3,6).
But despite her numerous wins, three Sprint Cup titles, and a second and third in the overall World Cup, Majdic may be remembered best for her ability to overcome serious injury suffered during the warm-up to the Olympic sprint in 2010, and take the bronze.
The dramatics today would fortunately not involve a trip to the hospital, and in fact could be considered less than exciting – if only because Majdic so thoroughly dominated the field.
She systematically disassembled the best sprinters in the world, employing an identical tactic in each of her heats. There may have been little subtly, but there was no arguing with the efficacy.
The recipe: charge hard out of start, hit first climb at max effort, open insurmountable lead, cruise across line, repeat.
Even when Majdic matched up with Bjoergen, she of four gold medals and one silver from the recently completed World Championships, the result was the same.
Bjoergen was never in the race, falling before the might of Majdic’s double pole, and lengthy stride. The Norwegian star settled for second and valuable bonus seconds in her quest for the World Cup Finals mini-tour title.
She chased valiantly and was victorious in the “other” race (the one that included everyone but Majdic), taking over from hometown girl Ida Ingemarsdotter (SWE) on the backstretch and skiing away from teammate Falla.
Falla and Ingemarsdotter battled to the line just behind, with the 20-year-old Norwegian taking the final podium spot in a photo finish lunge.
Majdic was already well into her celebration by the time Bjoergen crossed the line, and the Norwegian braved the shouting and ski shaking to give the victor a congratulatory hug.
Ingemarsdotter was unable to repeat the magic of last year when Anna Olsson took an upset win in front of the hometown crowd, in what would be her last World Cup sprint.
Overall World Cup champion, Justyna Kowalczyk (POL), was way off the pace in her semifinal from the gun, and though she made up significant ground, was unable to advance.
Follis, a better skate sprinter, lost any chance of overtaking Majdic in the Sprint Cup standings when she was eliminated in the quarterfinals, by none other than Randall.
In addition to the Sprint Cup title, and the individual win, Majdic may have set another mark as well – the first person to dramatically celebrate a win – in the semifinals.
It is hard to know whether to be disgusted at the sight of a professional of Majdic’s caliber carrying on for merely gaining a spot in the finals, or taking pleasure in the almost child-like joy she appears to experience when her racing is going well.
“Thank you to all who were with me all these years—thank you,” Majdic said in a post-race interview.
The Stockholm sprint is the first race in the four-stage World Cup final mini-tour. Overall standings obviously mirror the results from today’s race at this juncture.
Majdic is unlikely to hold onto her top spot, with the likes of Bjorgen and Kowalczyk nipping at her heels.
Racing picks up on Friday with a 2.5-kilometer classic prologue.
A complete article on the strong North America results will follow.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.