All photos courtesy of Erik Wickström – www.erikwickstrom.se
Charlotte Kalla (SWE), racing in the blue suit of her home club, IFK Tärendö, skied to a six second victory over Russian Irnia Khazova in the FIS 10km freestyle in Bruksvallarna, Sweden. Kalla’s teammate, Hanna Brodin, rounded out the podium, another three seconds behind Khazova.
Coming off a season in which she won two World Championship medals (while racing every event) and placed fifth in the overall World Cup, the 24-year-old Kalla demonstrated today that she is in good form and ready to be a force on the World Cup in 2012.
Kalla bested a strong, yet incomplete field. The Russians, Swedes and French were well represented, but Norway started second-tier skiers and the Finns and Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) raced in Muonio, Finland.
She told Swedish website Langd.se that the race was challenging, especially in light of the lack of on-snow time early this season (warm weather has limited skiing opportunities across northern Europe). “Next week,” Kalla said referring to the World Cup opener, “I hope to pick up some extra power in my legs when I meet Björgen, Kowalczyk and the others.”
While Kalla’s performance was no surprise, Swedish ski fans had to be pleased by the result of young sprinter Brodin. Just 21-years-old, Brodin has had success in the short distances, with two sprint finals appearances last year, including a second place in Otepaa. She was just off the veteran Khazova’s pace, and bested teammate and Olympic medalist Anna Haag by 6.5 seconds.
Haag was fifth, with another surprise slipping into fourth. Norwegian biathlete Elise Ringen edged Haag by .4 seconds. Ringen who was appearing in her first cross-country FIS race was joined in the race by twin sister Ada, who finished 11th.
The 22-year-old Elise Ringen has not appeared in a biathlon World Cup since 2008 and has just three starts at that level. In 2008 RIngen won three medals at biathlon Junior World Championships. Ada joined Elise at those Championships and the two were part of the silver medal relay team.
The Canadian team started three skiers, led by Perianne Jones in 20th. Jones, who like Brodin, has seen her international success come in sprint races, showed solid distance chops while skiing to 20th, +1:14.9.
“It was a good start for me today and tells me that my training in the summer and fall has been good,” Jones told Cross-Country Canada after the race. “My focus this year for sure is on the sprint races, but it is super important to get these distance races in,” she said. “Many of the best sprinters in the world are all strong distance skiers too so you got to do them.”
Another well known Canadian sprinter, Chandra Crawford, took 26th, +1:41.1 and Alysson Marshall was 51st in the 94-skier field.
Overall Sweden took four of the top six spots, and five of the top nine, with veteran Maria Rydqvist in sixth and two-time FIS Marathon Cup champion Jenny Hansson in ninth.
– The youngest skier in the race, 16-year-old Moa Kristiansen Molander (SWE), placed 90th. The oldest skier, 35-year-old Slovak Katarina Johansen was 65th.
– Ida Ingemarsdotter (SWE), who paired with Kalla to win Team Sprint World Championship gold in Oslo, placed 19th, just ahead of Jones. Ingemarsdotter is not a sprint specialist, having regularly scored points in World Cup distance events.
– 2011 Swedish Junior National Champion, Stina Nilsson, finished 21st.
– Aurora Jean led the French team in 8th place.
– Sylwia Jaskowiec (POL), who placed 24th in the 30k at the 2010 Olympics, led the non-Kowalczyk Poles in 39th
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.