If you missed the 2 ½-minute men’s freestyle sprint final on Sunday in Davos, Switzerland, but caught a glimpse of the top three at the finish – you wouldn’t have a clue what happened.
There was Finland’s 26-year-old Martti Jylhä exuberantly throwing his arms up and running around with unabridged excitement. Then you had Sergey Ustiugov, a 21-year-old Russian coming off multiple U23 World Championships titles, who captured his first World Cup podium on Sunday.
Anders Gløersen, 27, was perhaps the most contained of the group – probably because he’s Norwegian – but even he was pretty psyched. He had just sealed his first World Cup victory since 2010, winning the 1.5-kilometer sprint by 0.58 seconds over Jylhä and a second ahead of Ustiugov in third.
Like Ustiugov, “Poika” Jylhä had never achieved a World Cup podium before, but he was off to a good start with the fastest qualifying time by 0.84 seconds. Jylhä clocked 2:32.19 on the two-lap course – relatively flat with gradual rolling hills and one significant climb that required some V1 action.
“Davos was not my favorite place before,” Jylhä said in a post-race interview. “It was the worst place for me to ski, but now I think I have to change the way how I feel about Davos.”
Russia’s Alexey Petukhov qualified in second, Sweden’s Simon Persson was third fastest exactly a second behind Jylhä. Italy’s Federico Pellegrino qualified in fourth and Ustiugov advanced with the fifth-fastest time of 2:33.98.
As usual, the heats ended up being a few seconds slower than the top qualifying time, with Jylhä winning his quarterfinal in 2:35.54, just ahead of Gløersen in second. The Finn edged Gløersen again in the semifinal, this time by 0.14 seconds in 2:34.32.
Once the final rolled around, Gløersen had a pretty good read on Jylhä. The guy was gutsy, racing ahead and trying to break away on the main hill – which worked in his first two heats.
Early on in the final, which started with a casual pace, Pellegrino tried to jump to the front, but couldn’t quite make it. Petukhov then tried his luck without a whole much, and finally it was Jylhä’s turn.
Looking like someone who’s skied in World Cup sprint finals a time or two before, Jylhä took charge. Gløersen sat back, waiting for the anticipated downfall of the less-experienced Finn.
Then again, Gløersen hadn’t won a skate sprint since 2010 in Oslo, Norway. He made the podium twice last season in the Canadian World Cup freestyle individual and team sprints in Canmore and Quebec, respectively, but that was a year ago. He was just as hungry for a win, which could secure his Olympic bid.
Gløersen gave Jylhä a taste of his own tactic when he attacked up the same climb before the long descent toward the stadium. Jylhä held on and tried to draft him, while the two Russians – Petukhov and Ustiugov – hovered around third and fourth.
As the group rounded the final corner into the finishing stretch, Gløersen turned up the jets and started to gap the field, ultimately finishing by a clear margin in 2:38.74. Jylhä was next across the line, then Ustiugov, who ended up edging Petukhov for third by 0.31 seconds.
Petukhov finished fourth, Finn Hågen Krogh placed fifth (+2.14) and Pellegrino ran out of gas to place sixth (+11.81).
“The finals went very well,” Gløersen told NRK on the anniversary of his first World Cup win, which he notched in six years ago in Rybinsk, Russia. “I was really tired when I started, but I thought the others were more tired. … I was lucky to go in the first heat in the quarter and semifinals.”
“It was a long time since I won … too long,” he added. “So this was a real good feeling. It was time to step up again.”
With the same amount of rest as Gløersen, Jylhä struggled to find his position in the final, but when he saw an opening, he said he went for it.
“Anders worked very hard; I could not overtake him, but second place is like a victory,” Jylhä said.
A smiling Ustiugov told reporters: “It feels great to be on the podium. … The course fit me very well in Davos. I tried to keep the pace high and stay in front. I gave everything I had in the home stretch.”
Earlier in the day, Persson mimicked Jylhä’s strategy in the second semifinal and led from the start. Norway’s Krogh and Eirik Brandsdal chased the 22-year-old Swede, along with Russia’s Nikita Kriukov. About halfway through the race, Petukhov leapt to the front and held his position around the final corner, where Brandsdal and Persson collided and fell out of contention.
Kriukov, who finished second to teammate Petukhov in the semifinal, was blamed for the penalty and disqualified as a result (keeping him from the final). But Norwegian news agencies sided with Brandsdal and blamed Persson, who stumbled earlier in the semifinal on one of the two climbs.
“I don’t know what he did,” Brandsdal told NRK, according to a translation. “I feel he should have kept outer [lane] instead of cutting in.”
Second-to-last in the heat, Brandsdal ended up eighth and Persson finished ninth overall.
“This … happens,” Brandsdal said. “But I’ve had a good day, so I’ll take it with me.”
In his first World Cup back since a long bout with illness, Sweden’s Emil Jönsson placed 22nd after finishing fifth in his quarterfinal (which Petukhov won). Jönsson told reporters he lost a lot of training and was unable to find his top gear on Sunday. Not too upset with the result, he said his goal was to come to Davos and see where he stood.
“Out in the quarter is not the best there is …” Jönsson tweeted. “[Next] time!”
— Chelsea Little contributed reporting
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Alex Kochon (email@example.com) 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.