Just when people were starting to doubt Poland’s 30-year-old nordic queen, Justyna Kowalczyk put down a pace no one could keep up with – not even four-time 2013 World Champion Marit Bjørgen – on Sunday in Lahti, Finland.
The last of 70 starters in the World Cup 10-kilometer classic individual start, Kowalczyk didn’t waste any time blowing by the previous interim splits. At 3.4 k, she was already 8.7 seconds up on Norway’s Therese Johaug, the fastest at that point until then. About three kilometers later, Kowalczyk was 14.5 seconds ahead of Johaug’s teammate, Heidi Weng, who had the next fastest times at 6.3 and 8.4 k. Johaug ended up fourth, Weng placed third and their leading teammate, Bjørgen, was second for the second-straight race.
Kowalczyk finished the two-lap course in 25:38.9 minutes, 23.1 seconds ahead of Bjørgen, who started 58th and led through the various checkpoints until Weng and Johaug came through. Weng was just 2.4 seconds behind Bjørgen – who recently won four of the five races she competed in at World Championships – and Johaug another 2.7 seconds back in fourth.
For Kowalczyk, it was her 26th World Cup victory and extended her lead in the World Cup standings. With the potential to claim the overall title in Drammen, Norway, she is currently 581 points ahead of Johaug in second and 669 in front of American Kikkan Randall (who claimed the World Cup sprint crown on Saturday).
“All in all, I think this was quite an easy race for me,” Kowalczyk said at a press conference.
Hungry for a win after missing out on gold in four races at World Championships, she aimed to ski relaxed and restrain herself early. It didn’t last long. After 1.2 k, Kowalczyk took the lead and never slipped behind the three Norwegians.
“Everything went perfectly, my skis worked well and I felt good all the way,” she said.
It helped that Lahti is one of her favorite places to race, and she said the cold temperatures (around -10 Celsius/14 degrees Fahrenheit) didn’t affect her.
“Winning the overall World Cup is very important for me and the whole season has been good,” Kowalczyk said. “I am glad that my physical shape is in better condition now.”
Coming off a 30 k classic mass-start world title, Bjørgen wasn’t surprised that Kowalczyk, who placed third in the same race behind Johaug, excelled at this distance.
“She failed in the World Championships and had enough light to show how good she is,” Bjørgen told NTB, according to a translation.
Slower than Weng and Johaug for much of the race, Bjørgen opened it up on the final downhill to claim silver. For Weng, it was one step up from last year in Lahti, when she notched her first World Cup podium with bronze in the skiathlon.
“Lahti has been good for me,” Weng said at the press conference. “I felt strong today, but Justyna was faster.”
On their home course, Finland put three in the top eight with Kerttu Niskanen in fifth (+55.2), Krista Lahteenmaki in sixth (+1:01.2) and Aino-Kaisa Saarinen in eighth (+1:08). Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla was seventh (+1:01.2), Norway’s Astrid Jacobsen placed ninth and Olga Kuziukova of Russia was 10th.
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.