ERZURUM, Turkey — After scoring points on the World Cup, a victory at U23 World Championships is still a big deal. Just ask Hanna Kolb (GER)—despite having placed 17th this weekend in Szklarska Poreba, Poland sprint, she still thought of her inaugural U23 title as an significant accomplishment.
“It is one of the greatest achievements for me,” she said to FIS marketing coordinator Michal Lamplot.
“Even though I have won already some World Cup points…this individual title is really special for me. It was a perfect day for me.”
Indeed—Kolb was seeded first going into the qualifier, which she won by one second. In the final, she entered the stadium with Swedes Emma Wiken and Jennie Oeberg hot on her tail, but she held them off in the straightaway for the win. Wiken was the runner-up and Oeberg was third.
Tuesday marked the second day in a row the Swedish women put up an impressive performance. After second and third, Linn Soemskar (SWE) finished fifth.
“I did not expect to be on the podium today” said Wiken. “I have not been that successful in sprints lately.”
Oeberg was similarly modest. “This season has not been the best for me so the bronze medal feels like a victory.”
With three teammates in the final, Oeberg said the last heat was fun to ski.
The weather at Kandilli was once again sunny and frigid. The temperature eventually rose above the -20 C threshold, but two hours before the start, the it was -25 C: cold enough to freeze the diesel for the wax rooms’ generator and force volunteers to start a fire underneath it to thaw it out.
Bjornsen Leads North American Effort in Fourteenth
Three North American women made it to the heats on Tuesday: Sadie Bjornsen, who qualified in 11th, Heidi Widmer (CAN), who was 16th in the prologue, and Becca Rorabaugh, who scraped into the rounds by less than a second in 29th.
“It was great to get some athletes in the rounds today; we didn’t do that yesterday,” said U.S. trip leader and USST development coach Bryan Fish.
“Sadie skied well, she just got bumped out at the end there, but she skied well and said she’s feeling well, so that’s great,” said Fish.
Despite feeling stronger than she has all year in her quarterfinal, Bjornsen said she made a few tactical errors that cost her the semis. Hers was the first quarter of the day, and after skiing wide and in front up the main hill just out of the stadium, she let Kolb, the eventual winner, take control, and Kolb slowed and allowed the rest of the pack to catch up.
“I took the outside, which was super corduroyed and didn’t ski that well, so I lost my speed there, which was kind of a bummer. It was one of those tactical errors—it happens,” said Bjornsen.
She finished third in her heat, and might have advanced as a lucky loser had a subsequent heat not been faster.
Though disappointed, Bjornsen was mainly encouraged by the fact that she felt better than she has all year.
“I have felt like I’ve had pwer yet this year, so at the end of the day I’m happy, because now I’m really excited for the classic race,” she said, referring to the 10 k individual classic on Thursday.
“It was a little bit of a bummer; I’d have liked to ski more heats today, but then again these were my first heats this year, so at least I got to ski one.”
Canada’s Heidi Widmer started the day strong with a 16th-place qualifier, but had an unlucky quarterfinal—her ski came off before she left the stadium, though she was still able to come back for fifth in her heat and 27th overall.
There was quite a bit of jostling on Tuesday, and Widmer got on the unlucky end of it. Coming out of the stadium, both Widmer and Germany’s Sandra Ringwald tried to cut across to the inside around the corner to the first climb, and Ringwald’s skis crossed over hers.
“She was being aggressive,” said Widmer. “I tried to stand my ground and she went down.”
“I was stoked because I thought I had avoided the crash and thought I was really lucky, but then I went to stride on my left ski and it was not there,” she continued.
After scrambling to get it back on, she fought to catch back up to the pack, but to no avail. She shortened the gap, but the effort cost her, and she had nothing left for the finish.
“It was a really big bummer, because I felt really good today, and felt for sure I could have moved on,” said Widmer. “It’s hard to accept that, but I love sprint racing so I guess I have to love all aspects of it…. I’ve had upsetting days before, so that makes it easier to keep in perspective.”
Rorabaugh was the next North American qualifier for the heats; she finished sixth in her quarterfinal and 30th overall.
“During the quarter I felt OK, but made a few tactical errors,” sad Rorabaugh. “I took the outside over the top of the hill, which is silly, and the girl I was skiing behind let a gap form.”
This is Rorabaugh’s third and final U23 Championships, and she’s trying not to take a last-chance approach to the week.
“It would be easy to put a lot of pressure on your last year, but I’m trying to be cognizant of that, because I don’t think it helps anything,” she said.
Rounding things up for the North Americans, Emily Nishikawa (CAN) finished 33rd and Marlis Kromm 36th (CAN).
Jessie Diggins (USA) sat out the sprint after coming down with flu-like symptoms during her flight from Poland to Turkey. Diggins and Fish said they were unsure if she would race the 10 k classic on Thursday or the skiathlon on Saturday.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.