Each November, it’s tradition for some of the world’s best nordic skiers to go where the sun don’t shine – or appears very little. The fact is that Muonio, Finland, above the Arctic Circle has snow this time of year when other parts of Europe are still waiting for the skiable stuff.
Starting Friday, the unofficial Finland Triple began in Muonio, with hundreds of skiers flocking to the northern region for their first International Ski Federation (FIS) races of the season.
Poland’s cross-country celeb Justyna Kowalczyk jumpstarted her season with a sizable victory in the 1-kilometer classic sprint, topping Russian Evgenia Shapovalova by more than 7 seconds in the final, as well as Russia’s Julia Tikhonova in third and Natalia Matveeva in fourth. Finland’s Mona-Lisa Malvalehto placed fifth out of 146 female competitors.
In the men’s 1.3 k classic sprint on Friday, Alexey Poltoranin of Kazakhstan beat Finland’s runner-up, Ari Luusua, by 3.23 seconds in the final, as well as third-place finisher Russian Anatoliy Volkov (+5.56). Ales Razym of the Czech Republic was fourth and Estonia’s Peeter Kummel placed fifth out of 255 men.
Leading a small American contingent in Muonio, Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess (Bend Endurance Academy) placed 34th in the sprint qualifier. Welly Ramsey was the fastest from the Maine Winter Sports Center (MWSC), placing 113th, teammate Sam Tarling came in 209th, and post-grad Austin Huneck was 239th. Another MWSC post-grad, Emily Ramsey finished 128th in the women’s race.
On Saturday, Kowalczyk and Poltoranin again topped their respective podiums – this time in the 5 and 10 k classic races. Kowalczyk defeated Russia’s Yulia Tchekaleva in second by 21.6 seconds, and Germany’s Nicole Fessel in third (+27.3). Finland’s Anne Kyllönen and Kertu Niskanen placed fourth and fifth, respectively, out of 199 women.
Poltoranin edged Lukas Bauer of the Czech Republic by 6.8 seconds, and German Hannes Dotzler in third (+24.2). Razym finished fourth for the second-straight day, and Germany’s Tim Tscharnke placed fifth out of 331 finishers.
Kris Freeman (MWSC) led the Americans in his first race of the season in 34th, 1 minute and 11 seconds behind Poltoranin, who won in 24:33.7. Tarling placed 109th, 2:09.8 back from the winner. Canadian Para-Nordic veterans Brian McKeever placed 160th and Erik Carleton was 242nd.
Racing ended Sunday with the women’s 10 k and men’s 15 k individual skate. Russian Petr Sedov stole the spotlight from Finland’s Matti Heikkinen, who was leading until Sedov finished 7.8 seconds faster in 34:56.5. Two other Finns rounded out the top four with Tero Similae in third and Lari Lahtonen in fourth, and Franz Goering of Germany was fifth out of 188 men. Poltoranin did not race.
Freeman finished 32nd, 1:15.1 after Sedov, McKeever was the top Canadian in 63rd, (+2:13), and Welly Ramsey was 116th (+3:24.7) Carleton placed 125th (+3:38), and Tarling was 126th (+3:39.5).
Russian Irina Khazova won the women’s 10 k in 25:46.2, ahead of teammate Tchekaleva in second (+28.3), and Eva Vrabcova-Nyvltova of the Czech Republic in third (+49.5). Finland’s Gretel Niskanen placed fifth, and Russia’s Svetlana Nikolaeva was fifth out of 159 women. Kowalczyk fell to 24th, behind teammate Sylwia Jaskowiec in 21st. American Emily Ramsey placed 155th.