Which Norwegian and by how much?
That seems to be the ongoing question in the early races of the 2014/2015 World Cup season, with Norwegian dominance for both the men and women since the first competition in Ruka, Finland.
Sunday in Davos, Switzerland, it was Ingvild Flugstad Østberg who came out on top in the 1.3 k freestyle sprint – and it wasn’t even close.
Heading into the race, Østberg had the number one bib as the fastest qualifier. She skied to a time of 2:34.46, barely beating out teammate Marit Bjørgen (+0.47). Bjørgen won the mini tour sprint in Lillehammer earlier in December, which was the only other freestyle sprint race of the season.
Once in the quarterfinals, Østberg again demonstrated her strength. Her time of 2:34:48 was the fastest of the round. The second fastest time in the quarterfinals was held by teammate Heidi Weng, who was in Østberg’s heat and finished second behind her. The second fastest quarterfinal winning time was 2:37.46 by Bjørgen.
The first semifinal heat featured Østberg, teammate Celine Brun-Lie, Swedes Stina Nilsson and Charlotte Kalla, and Rikka Sarasoja-Lilja of Finland.
Østberg set yet another fastest time going 2:33.78 in her heat. Nilsson was second finishing 1.50 seconds back. Brun-Lie was able to regroup from a broken pole at the start of the race and finished in third place. Just behind her In fourth position was Weng, who along with Brun-Lie, qualified for the final as a lucky loser.
The second women’s semi final featured Bjørgen, Maiken Caspersen Falla of Norway, Germans Denise Hermann and Hanna Kolb, Ida Ingemarsdotter of Sweden, and Katja Visnar of Slovenia.
Falla took the lead from the start and carried the group up the first climb. The pack stayed together for the majority of the race, with Bjørgen holding back until the final climb, where she passed Falla to take the lead coming to the finish. Bjørgen’s winning time was 2:36.43, with Falla finishing 0.19 behind her.
With the semifinals complete, the roster of the final was set and it featured five Norwegians. The only non-Norwegian was Nilsson.
Leading the charge out of the gate was Østberg. Nilsson was close behind until she broke a pole in the first 30 seconds of the race. She was handed two poles before she continuing, but the rest of the pack was long gone by the time Nilsson had regrouped.
With Nilsson out of the picture, Østberg picked up the pace and led the pack through the rest 1.3 k course. Falla followed Østberg closely as she pulled away, but never truly challenged Østberg.
When the race was finished, Østberg had once again set the fastest time of the day, clocking in at 2:33.72. Falla finished 0.57 behind her for second.
“I’m very happy for the victory. I have been working for this so long and it is a great feeling. I felt strong from the prologue and my plan was to ski in front and push hard from the beginning” said Østberg in a post-race interview with FIS. “I was so close to a World Cup victory sometimes. To cross this line first alone was delightful.”
Today’s win was Østberg’s first-ever World Cup victory. Her only other win was a sprint stage in last year’s Tour de Ski, which is considered a Stage World Cup.
Second place finisher Falla said after the race that she was proud of Østberg and that her result was a result of dedicated work.
“I knew Ingvild would push hard from the beginning and I tried to follow her but she was little bit better than me. I am proud of her. My goal this winter is to fight for the sprint World Cup and the beginning of the season has been great with three final appearances in three sprints,” she said to FIS.
Rounding out the Norwegian podium was Brun-Lie, who said tried a new strategy in today’s race.
“I had a very good race today. I tried to stay mentally focused and concentrated. Usually my tactics is to ski in the front the whole time but today I decided to stay back and move forward in the second lap. It worked every time in the heat,” she said in an interview with FIS.
In fourth position was Bjørgen who explained that the Norwegian sweep was an indication Norway’s teamwork was paying off.
“We are a very strong team. I think that we are training together and pushing each other, and that is how we are getting on a higher level,” Norwegian Marit Bjørgen said of her team to FIS.
Bjørgen also said that she was not surprised by Østberg’s win.
“I saw it coming,” she said to FasterSkier. “I was saying, she has to wait a little bit, it will come soon. And it really did. Today she was so strong.”
Bjørgen, who is rarely ever off the podium, said that the younger girls on her team are becoming more competitive and it’s becoming harder to maintain her usual dominance.
“I was getting more tired and more tired as the day went on. With the younger girls today it was really hard” Bjørgen said after her race.
The other finishers were Weng in fifth and Nilsson in sixth. With her finish, Nilsson took over the U23 leaders bib. Bjørgen will retain the leader bib as World Cup racing returns to Davos next week as a result of the previously scheduled races in La Clusaz, France being cancelled due to poor conditions.
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