ERZURUM, Turkey — With his third gold medal of the week in Friday’s 20 k skiathlon, Sergey Ustiugov (RUS) has taken on the aura of a new Russian ski star being born. A Norwegian duo took the early lead and briefly appeared to finally have the energy to disrupt Russia’s dominance of this week, but Ustiugov soon took over and, together with compatriot Artem Maltsev (RUS), Russia once again took the top two spots on the podium. Sindre Bjoernestad Skar (NOR) was third.
“The race was perfect for me. I was in front from the start and I felt very strong,” said Ustiugov. “I realized it would be my day, my victory.”
Ustiugov was elated but humble in the press conference following his race. When asked if his winning streak a these World Junior Championships had him thinking ahead to becoming the next great Russian skier, he laughed, but shook his head and said no.
The mass-start skiathlon was an exciting one to watch, as for much of the race, the three leaders each seemed within striking distance of the win.
“It was a difficult competition today with many contacts between the skiers,” said Maltsev. “I am happy I survived without a collision.”
“Sergey was pushing hard and I was following him… Sindre Bjoernestad Skar was following me closely. He was only three seconds behind.”
In preparation for the Erzurum championships set at high altitude, the Russian squad trained for 17 days at 2,000 meters in Bulgaria prior to coming to Turkey. With the performances they’ve churned out so far, the camp has clearly paid off.
The skiathlon consisted of eight laps—four classic and four skate—with one prominent climb each time around. None looked as strong or as efficient as the Russians. One coach observed at the top of the course that as everyone else was sputtering and out of breath on the big ascent, Ustiugov and his teammates appeared to be hardly working at all.
Skar did his best to hang on, but in the end didn’t have the gas to respond to Ustiugov and Maltsev’s closing speed.
“I tried to keep up with them but in the seventh lap, Sergey and Artem were going so fast. I was just standing with my eyes open,” said Skar, illustrating his point with a dumbfounded look.
Unlike the Russians, Norway’s junior squad decided against an altitude camp prior to Erzurum, so as not be overtired for the long-term.
“I did not have a chance. I am not used to competing at such a high altitude,” said Skar. “If we were lower I would have gone much harder. But here I had to be careful.”
The Russians are the clear favorites to win the relay on Sunday, but Skar is hoping to give them a run for their money.
“Russians are big favorites, but if we Norwegians all of us have a great day, we can be there as well. I will try to deliver my best and fight for victory,” Skar said.
Richards Leads Canadian Contingent in 20th; Hanneman 23rd
Geoffrey Richards (CAN) skied a smart efficient race on Friday, sitting back before the exchange and waiting until his stronger skate technique to move up in the pack.
“[My] plan was to ski conservative in the classic portion and stick around 35th,” said Richards, who ended up skiing around 45th in the beginning.
From there, the he wanted to “have a good exchange and use the big climb on the course to move up the positions,” said Richards. “I ended up feeling pretty tired on the second and most of the third skate lap but threw down on the last time around and passed about six people on the climb.”
In describing the race experience in Kandilli, where the altitude makes the climbs that much more painful, Richards said that he “definitely feels like I’m hanging on the back for the most part, although [I] felt a lot more in control with the skate, but still was running a little scared for the whole race.”
Canada’s head coach Eric de Nys thought Richards had skied a smart race, and executed his plan to the T.
“It worked out really well for him,” said de Nys.
“And we beat the Americans,” he joked. “They beat us yesterday but we got ‘em today.”
Logan Hanneman (USA) skied his best race of this week with a 23rd-place finish. In contrast to Richards’ race, he sat consistently in the top-20 for most of the 20 k.
“I just locked on the lead pack in the classic and let them pull me around,” said Hanneman. “For the skate, they pulled away a little and then it was just—survive to the finish line.”
Hanneman was pleased with the way his first skiathlon turned out.
“My goal was to hang with them for the class and who cares what happens, as long as you try to hang with them… I did that, and survived.”
The next North American was Alexis Turgeon (CAN), who skied to 31st place. Knute Johnsgaard (CAN) was 49th, Mike Vigers (USA) finished 54th, Will Wicherski (USA) was 57th, and Forrest Mahlen (USA) was 72nd.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.