Italy’s Federico Pellegrino skied himself into the history books after his victory in Saturdays 1.3 k freestyle sprint in Rybinsk, Russia. Pellegrino became the first athlete to win three consecutive freestyle sprint World Cups. His first two victories came this year in a Davos World Cup and in Val Mustair as part of the Tour de Ski.
“This is just amazing for me. I can’t believe I have won again. Before Davos I had never won a World Cup and now to have won three in a row is just unbelievable,” Pellegrino told FIS reports after the race.
To win his third straight viceroy, Pellegrino had to beat a strong Russian team full of sprinters. One such skier, Sergey Ustiugov clocked the fastest qualifier heading into the heat races qualifying in a time of 2:41.10. Teammate Alexey Petukhov was second fastest, 3.55 seconds behind and Pellegrino was third, 3.87 seconds back.
Pellegrino had the fastest quarterfinal with a time of 2:39.39, proving he was the skier to beat in the heats. When it came to the semifinal, however, he changed his tactic. Pellegrino skied a very conservative 2:42.69 to win his heat and to advance to the finals. In comparison, Ustiugov’s semifinal time was 2:37.73.
If the Russians wanted to stop Pellegrino, it was a perfect setup for them in the finals. Four of the six spots were filled with Russian teammates – Ustiugov, Andrey Parfenov, Nikita Kriukov, and Petukhov. Rounding out the other spots were Pellegrino and Norway’s Emil Iversen.
At the start it was obvious Russia wasn’t going to let him win easily. The four Russians marked Pellegrino the moment the gates opened. Ustiugov took the early lead followed by Pellegrino, Parfenov, and Kriukov. The pace was fast but didn’t separate the field.
Spurred by the home crowd at the base of the course’s major climb, Ustiugov put in a strong attack. However, Pellegrino and the other Russians were right there to counter it, with Pellegrino demonstrating that he had the energy to match Ustiugov’s speed.
As the skiers progressed over the hill, Ustiugov was still leading and Pellegrino tucked in behind him. The group headed into the stadium and Pellegrino stepped out to get onto faster snow. This propelled him right past Ustiugov and into the lead. Parfenov followed Pellegrino, but was quickly dropped when Ustiugov reacted to Pellegrino, who was now in front.
Into the closing meters Pellegrino’s power and speed took over. He easily out-sprinted Ustiugov and Parfenov to win his third consecutive sprint win. He crossed the line at 2:34.99, besting Ustiugov by 0.69 seconds and Parfenov third by 0.77 seconds.
Pellegrino was very happy when he talked to FIS reporters, and said he hoped to turn these wins into a financial deal.
“I feel so strong right now,” he said. “Hopefully with this success I can now find a sponsor for the front of my racing hat! Thank you to Russia for the great hospitality, the friendly people and for cheering for me today. I could hear it.”
After two podium spots in two races in Rybinsk, Ustiugov showed the home crowd that he still had energy left and was looking forward to Sunday.
“I am happy to be back on the podium again today. I feel that my shape is quite high right now and I hope to be on the podium again tomorrow in the skiathlon,” he said to FIS.
Parfenov’s third place finish was his first ever podium, and achieving it at home was an added bonus.
“This is my first podium ever. It’s great to have my first podium be here in Russia. The fans were great and competing here makes it possible for my family to be here. That is really special,” he said to FIS.
Rounding out the final spots in the final were Kriukov (+2.61), Petukhov (+3.00) and Iversen (+4.60).