Team Russia completed an impressive World Junior/U23 Championships in Erzurum, Turkey by winning both the men’s and women’s Junior relays on the final day of the week-long event.
The women’s team of Elena Serokhvostova, Natalia Zhukova, Nadezhda Shuniaeva, and Elena Soboleva skied to a 13.4 second victory over Sweden. The Swedes bested Slovenia with a lunge at the line to capture the silver.
Sweden’s Evelina Settlin, who took silver in the sprint earlier in the week, led the field on the first leg, just ahead of Serokhvostova, the bronze medalist in the 5k classic.
The 3.3 kilometer distance is not traditional, and athletes found it an odd cross between sprinting and distance. On the first leg, it was sprinting with the edge as Settlin held a small 2.7-second lead on the Russian, with Germany in third, eight seconds down.
Zhukova took over for Russia, swapping spots with Sweden. The two teams were still just seconds apart headed in to the skating with Slovenia climbing into third.
The Slovenians sat 24 seconds back, but even with under 7k of racing remaining, they couldn’t be counted out. Their two skaters, Lea Einfalt and Nika Razinger finished second and first respectively in the skiathlon.
But Shuniaeva was third in that event, and would only lose several seconds to the Slovenians, maintaining a solid gap. Swede Jonna Sundling posted the third fastest time on the third leg behind Einfalt and Shuniaeva, but still lost 16 seconds.
Headed into the final round, Russia held a 15 second lead on Sweden with Slovenia another four seconds back.
When Soboleva refused to break, the race for first featured no drama. But behind, Razinger caught Sweden’s Stina Nilsson, and the pair raced for the line locked in side-by-side. Nilsson took the silver for Sweden with a stronger lunge, and the Slovenians, who entered the race as a potential candidate to unseat the Russians, had to be satisfied with bronze.
The US and Canada engaged in a sprint of their own, battling for ninth place over the last leg-and-a-half. Ultimately Canada’s Emilie Stewart-Jones gained the upper hand, out-sprinting American Stephanie Kirk.
The Canadians skied a consistent race, locking into the ninth spot on the second leg, after Dahria Beatty scrambled the team to eighth.
Emily Hannah, racing third for the US, skied a strong race, posting the sixth fastest time and bringing the team into contact with the Canadians.
Kirk hung with Stewart-Jones, and as the pair, clearly exhausted, entered the stadium, it appeared the American was in position to take the lead.
Stewart-Jones showed impressive resilience however, holding position for the final 200 meters.
The two teams finished just under three minutes behind the winning Russians.
Video interviews with the Canadian and US teams follows.
Audrey Mangan contributed reporting.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.