Emil Jönsson needed this. He had been sick for too long, without a top 10 result since December and mostly out of contention for a World Cup podium since the end of last season.
Two weekends ago at the freestyle sprint in Szlarska Poreba, Poland, the Swede was 62nd. That was behind him. This was Lahti, Finland, where he won the classic sprint last year. With some of the trickiest descents on the World Cup, it was a whole different ballgame.
Sunday started off as good as Jönsson could have planned as he won the 1.4 k classic sprint qualifier by nearly three seconds in 3:09.31, ahead of Kent Ove Clausen of Norway (+2.89).
The day got even better for the 26-year-old. Jönsson was the clear-cut winner of both his quarterfinal and semifinal, beating runner-up Ola Vigen Hattestad (NOR) by 0.9 seconds in the first round. He went on to edge teammate Teodor Peterson – the World Cup sprint leader – by 0.7 seconds in the semi.
In the final, Jönsson again stole the spotlight from his fellow Swede after Peterson led for most of the race. Jönsson somehow stayed on his feet on the infamous 180-degree final turn and charged behind Peterson.
He had nearly collided with Russia’s Nikita Kriukov, but the two came out of the hairpin corner upright and instantly picked up the pace. Both wanted to close on Peterson, but it was Jönsson’s time.
At precisely the right moment within a few feet of the line, Jönsson lunged ahead to upset Peterson by an inch or so. The victory was his first on the World Cup since winning a classic sprint in Stockholm nearly a year ago.
“I am speechless,” Jönsson told FIS News. “I had so many difficulties in the past weeks and today I am back on the top. I did not believe that this is possible.”
With the way the qualifier went, he guessed the rest of the afternoon might go as well. But after two years of injuries and illness, he couldn’t be too sure. A torn leg muscle derailed the start of his season in November and early December.
Back in Lahti, he was far from confident to start.
“I have never been this nervous before the race because my shape has not been good,” he said. “Now everything is a relief to be able to be up there again. I’m empty now.”
Peterson, who was second, increased his World Cup sprint lead to 114 points. Russia’s Nikolay Morilov moved up to second in the sprint standings ahead of teammate Alexey Petukhov. Morilov was eighth on Sunday and Petukhov did not advance after ranking 48th in the prologue.
Kriukov, Russia’s defending Olympic sprint champion, placed third. Closely trailing Peterson into the last corner, Kriukov widened his stance to keep from falling. Jönsson narrowly missed crashing into him by veering inside.
When they came out unscathed and entered into the stadium, Jönsson was already in front.
“The final heat was tough,” Kriukov told FIS News. “I had good speed and was fast, but the Swedish did a bit a team tactic so we had some difficulties in the curve in the downhill. At the end I took the third place and be happy to be on the podium.”
It was Kriukov’s third time in the top three this season. For Peterson, it marked his sixth individual World Cup podium. He placed fourth in Sunday’s qualifier after Norway’s Eirik Brandsdal finished in third.
After Peterson comfortably won his quarterfinal by topping Siim Sellis (EST), who went on to place 10th went, the sprint leader decided to ski behind Jönsson in the semis. Doing so, he avoided trouble while Kriukov nearly fell on the sharp turn, but hung on in third and advanced to the final by time.
In an interview with FIS after the race, Peterson said he strayed from his usual tactics of sitting back and pouncing late. Instead, he went out hard from the start of the final, pushing the pace on the initial climbs. It didn’t exactly work as Jönsson challenged him to the line, but he wasn’t too upset.
“I am satisfied about my second place and also happy for Emil who had so many difficulties so far,” Peterson said.
Hattestad came through in fourth and Sami Jauhojaervi (FIN) placed fifth. Norway’s Gleb Retivykh tried to set a blistering pace early on in the final, but blew up and finished sixth.
Retivykh won his quarterfinal and semifinal, edging Jauhojaervi in the semi by 0.2 seconds. Fabio Pasini (ITA) was third in the heat for seventh overall. Kriukov and Hattestad advanced as lucky losers out of the faster previous semifinal.
Morilov won the fourth quarterfinal ahead of Pasini in second and Andy Newell (USA) in third. Newell took the inside line of the final corner and fell, taking Clausen down with him. He ultimately placed 15th while Clausen ended up 26th overall.
Simon Persson (SWE) came out on top in the fifth quarter, with teammate Robin Bryntesson advancing as well. Simi Hamilton (USA) finished just after, 0.1 seconds behind Persson, to advance by time. Persson went on to finish ninth, Hamilton was 11th and Bryntesson was 12th.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.