Saturday’s 1.5-kilometer freestyle World Cup sprint in Lahti, Finland produced some record-breaking results: for the first time ever, two Americans shared the podium, with Kikkan Randall taking over the winning spot once again, and Sophie Caldwell placing an impressive 3rd—her first World Cup podium yet.
The races, which took place on tricky conditions—U.S.A.’s Reese Hanneman describes the course as “basically a couple-inch layer of ground up ice on top of more… ice,” also produced some not-so-flashy results with lesser-known stories behind them. Here are a few of the tales, told by Canadian and U.S. skiers, some of whom partook in their first ever World Cup race.
On the American side, Reese Hanneman wrote to FasterSkier that this was his 6th World Cup race, but all of the others have been in Canada as a Nations Group skier. This was his shot in Europe and as a Continental Cup leader.
For Hanneman, the course and conditions stood out. “It was fast but also soft and tricky to negotiate well. I had a little bit of a hard time really kicking well when all the sugar would move out from under the ski. But other than that, I felt pretty good and went hard. The course was pretty mild, one long gradual uphill and then mostly rolling downhill with a couple of steep little kickers.”
Hanneman says he can learn from watching the top male skiers who “were using a lot of power but really quickly, to push where it was hard underneath them.” He admits that he didn’t have quite high enough turn over today, but that is something to work on.
Hanneman, an Alaska native, has been preparing for this block of World Cup racing by training in his home state for a few weeks and then racing the U.S. SuperTours. As seems to be the case with this winter sport that requires much travel and stress on the body, Hanneman, too, came down with some sickness and hasn’t raced in about a month. He thinks that, all things considered, today’s race went okay. “I am definitely looking forward to some classic sprinting in Drammen and Falun, as well as Holmenkollen next week. I hear that should be epic!”
Another American rookie, Jennie Bender, raced her first World Cup Saturday. She writes that the response to this fact “seems to be of a surprise to some,” which she has taken as a compliment.
Bender writes that racing at the World Cup level “is a big step” she has been wanting to take, and “hopes to be racing here more often.”
For Bender, these international races did not feel too foreign thanks to a sense of comfort she gained from recognizing others at the race scene. “Although the World Cup is new to me,” she writes, “the faces here are not. They are people I have raced with in high school, college, and around in the U.S.”
She goes on to mention several friendly contacts, including Al Serrano, an ex-UVM ski team coach who is now a TD at World Cups and provided a familiar face at the start line, and Jeff Ellis, Kikkan Randall’s husband who works for FIS, who Bender explained, “already saved [her] twice from rookie mistakes,” and Jessie Diggins, with whom Bender shared many laughs over some old CXC pictures and memories.
Bender concludes that, “the team here, both women and men, is definitely the most united I have ever seen. It’s a good vibe.” She contends that at the elite level, this sport tends to attract high-strung personalities, “so getting a group with this type of personality into a flow of positivity, compassion, and professionalism while being able to chill out, can be hard to do. This team has that, and are still building as they realize how powerful its effects are. One effect, is watching how the women have brought excitement towards relays and sprinting. Everyone is excited for everyone. Despite being typically an individual sport, that’s huge.”
Bender secured her World cup starts by being the SuperTour sprint leader. She writes that the SuperTours and World Cups “are for sure, two different worlds, that depend on each other. The SuperTour athletes are the ones who eventually create the World Cup team, and the World Cup athletes must set the bar for how Nordic is viewed and raced.”
Bender hopes that in the near future, it will be easier for these two seemingly distant worlds “to come together.” She believes that the collaboration between skiing tiers “has so much value for educational and developmental purpose for nordic in the U.S.”
Bender made a point of wanting to thank her home team Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF), National Nordic Foundation (NNF), and those who have contributed to either foundation, for helping to support covering the costs of her trip to compete in these races.
In conclusion, Bender writes that “the past two summers have been frustrating with mishaps to work around, and I am really looking forward to getting in a full year of training. I hope to finish this season strong and keep going for a few more years and see where I am then.”
When asked how he would describe his day, Canada’s Michael Somppi who placed 85th wrote in an email to FasterSkier, “Today was a short sprint with no big climbs so it was important to carry your speed really well. I’m more of a distance guy and can do all right on a longer, tougher sprint course, so today wasn’t so much my forte, but it was a good warm-up for tomorrow’s 15km.”
How did this rookie secure himself a World Cup start? He was part of Cross Country Canada’s B-Tour trip before this World Cup and had the opportunity to race in some Scandinavian Cup events. He mentioned that he unfortunately came down with some stomach issues throughout the Scandinavian races but is happy to be healthy now and is looking forward to racing Sunday’s 15km World Cup skate race.
Canada’s Andrea Dupont, who finished 59th Saturday, echoed Somppi. She also qualified for the World Cup races this weekend thanks to her results in the Scando Cups as well as races in Lativia and Estonia. Like Somppi, Dupont suffered from illness recently and today was her first race in a couple weeks. She writes, “It was great to have the opportunity to start another World Cup today. On days like today, it’s important to learn lots and take that experience into the next races.”
Raphaël Couturier, also from Canada, just came off racing in Estonia and Latvia as well, where his results secured him a World Cup start bib for the weekend. Couturier writes, “I bounced back well from a slow start to the season and I now seem to be racing up to my potential, which feels good. Today’s sprint was all right, but here if you have an ‘all right’ race it for sure shows in the results. The course was super soft and pretty fast so you’ve got to be flawless to make the cut.”
Couturier finished 82nd in the 94-man field.
Several skiers mentioned how difficult the day’s conditions were in affecting their race results. Lahti has faced a poor snow year so the surface was manmade and lacked moisture to help hold it together. Canada’s Alysson Marshall, who placed 46th, writes of the conditions, “It was an interesting sprint today. The snow was really soft and sugary on the climbs, which made the course more of a challenge.”
Canada’s Heidi Widmer, who finished 47th, mentioned the long travel day between Sochi and Lahti, saying that at least everyone was in the same situation. Widmer writes that her “race didn’t go exceptionally”—she had a few mistakes in the technical sections of the course—“but was happy with how [she] skied the longer climb.” She noted that the World Cup circuit is a very talented field, and Scandinavia’s fleet is particularly impressive. Widmer finished the day feeling inspired by teammate Alex Harvey’s steadily strong results, and by Randall and Caldwell’s podium finishes. She has enjoyed her stay at the local hotel where skiers from several countries are also making their home base for the weekend. She will take part in Sunday’s 10km skate race and then moves on to Canadian Nationals.
Cendrine Browne, also of Canada, and new to the World Cup circuit, wrote of Saturday’s race, “Today was an awesome experience for sure, but I still have a lot of work to do to be able to be competitive at this level. The girls today were so fast. It felt great to be a part of this race and to compete against the best athletes in the world.”
Browne mentioned that, surprisingly, she wasn’t nervous before her race. She “just wanted to give the best out there and try to have the best race even if the conditions were very difficult.”
“But tomorrow is a new day!” she added. Browne, who finished 71st in the race, concluded that 10km skate races are her strength so she’s looking forward to Sunday. And “again, racing to get more experience.”
“I’m pretty proud of myself. I didn’t think I would make it to a World Cup this season! So it feels very great to be here in Finland,” she concluded.