FasterSkier’s coverage of the 2015 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Falun, Sweden, is brought to you by the generous support of L.L. Bean, now featuring a complete line of Kikkan Randall training wear.
FALUN, Sweden — It was a self-described ‘mission impossible’ for Johan Olsson at the 2015 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships. The 34-year-old, who plans to retire after the 2015 season, barely raced in the year prior to the championships due to illness. When he wasn’t bedridden, the Swede was separated from his family and wondering whether he should have retired a year earlier.
It appears his mission impossible wasn’t unattainable, after the Swedish skier coasted to victory in Wednesday’s 15 k freestyle individual start with a time of 35:01.6. Olsson won by a large margin, finishing 17.8 seconds ahead of Frenchman Maurice Manificat. Anders Gløerson placed third and crossed the line 19.2 seconds behind the Swede.
An early starter in bib 17, Olsson realized that conditions would deteriorate as skiers traversed the 7.5 k loop and planned accordingly. He skied the first lap aggressively to take advantage of the fast conditions while they lasted. While his loop was the second-fastest by 0.3 seconds behind Manificat, Olsson excelled through the deepening snow to post the fastest finishing time. He remained in the leader’s chair for the rest of the competition, watching skiers fail to best his winning effort.
“I knew I had done a really good race – perhaps the best skating race of my life” Olsson told the press after his finish. “I was able to push very hard all through the race. I was trying to be very aggressive in the beginning to get a good first lap as my starting number at 17 would be an advantage in these conditions to go quite early.”
Olsson credited much of his performance to a strong Swedish wax team that provided him with “the best skis in the field.” He said that half of his medal belonged to his personal wax technician, who also serviced the skis teammate Charlotte Kalla used in Tuesday’s 10 k victory.
Olsson has stepped away from World Cup competition in recent years to focus on championship events. He started no World Cup competitions in 2014, and his only race of 2015 was the recent Östersund 15 k where finished fifth. The Swede’s strategy appears to have worked, especially given his championship results from the past three years. In the 2013 World Championships he was second in the 15 k freestyle and first in the 50 k classic. At the 2014 Olympics he was second in the 15 k classic.
“When you have a goal and a mission that’s really impossible, that’s what gets me going,” – Johan Olsson
“I don’t think anyone has invested so heavily in the World Championships as I have,” he explained. “I have left the World Cup behind me completely and had a clear plan for the World Championships.”
Even with a reduced racing schedule, Olsson’s path to success hasn’t been easy.
The world champion lost a month of training in December when he succumbed to a strong virus that left him bedridden. At the time, he believed his last year of racing might have been for nothing.
“When i was sick, I was wondering why did I continue one more year,” he said. “I was trying to do some mission impossible for the championships. Of course as an athlete you don’t belive in yourself when you can’t train and can’t do anything.”
Despite the low moral, Olsson continued to build fitness with his sights set on the Championships in Falun. After his recovery he trained roughly 100 hours in January and skied over 300 k in just 15 days. The training came at a price, however, as Olsson was unable to see his two children – who were in attendance at Wednesday’s race – for seven weeks prior to the Championships in Falun.
“From the new year, no one has put in as much effort as I have done,” he said in a press conference. “I haven’t seen my kids for seven weeks and that is quite strainful to have two small kids at home and not see them. Every night you think is it worth it to be away from your kids.”
Olsson added that while the decision to be apart from his family was difficult, it was days like Wednesday that he and his wife “are pretty convinced that it was worth it.”
“When you have a goal and a mission that’s really impossible, that’s what gets me going,” he said.
In second, Manificat earned the first French medal at a cross country World Championships event in 10 years since Vincent Vittoz was crowned victor in the 2005 30 k pursuit. He is now one of only four French men to claim a medal at Worlds.
Manificat entered Wednesday’s race with confidence – he hasn’t finished lower than eighth in a 15 k freestyle event in the 2015 season. At the pre-World Championships 15 k freestyle in Östersund, he also placed second.
As one of the day’s late starters in Bib 63, Manificat skied through the worst of the wet, soft snow. While it made the race more difficult, he explained that he excels in such conditions.
“The last lap, the snow was softer maybe. But I like the soft snow and it is no problem” he said to the press. “I felt difficulty so I knew it would be difficult to keep the medal. But I believed it until the end and I did it to the finish line.”
Gløersen also faced a soft course, and explained he believed results were fair to all starters.
“There was good glide in the the snow,” he said. “You have to fight harder the whole way around and try to think too much about the feeling and think about the results to motivate myself to stay in the race.”
Gløersen is one of Norway’s best sprinters, but has demonstrated a shift to distance skiing in the 2015 season. In December, he won the Davos 15 k freestyle. He explained he didn’t want to enter Wednesday’s race with high expectations because of his inexperience in distance racing.
“It’s been my goal this entire season to qualify for the team for the 15 k here. In my head I’ve been preparing to fight for a medal, so for me it’s not surprising,” he said. “I may be a little reluctant to say that I thought I could get a medal. I’ve been a sprinter for now six, seven years on the World Cup, so for me to just suddenly start focusing on the 15 k to say I was going for a medal was a bit too high. I‘m just really happy to achieve my goal today.”
Gløersen’s result comes on the heels of a difficult waxing day for the Norwegian women. In Tuesday’s 10 k the team’s best finish was 22nd, with previous favorites like Marit Bjørgen finishing outside the top-30.
There was no such trouble for Norway in Wednesday’s 15 k, as Gløersen said his skis were gliding well. Norwegian men’s coach Trond Nystad echoed Gløersen saying, “the skis seemed to have worked and they seemed to be a lot better than yesterday.”
With four in the top-nine, Nystad explained the Norwegian national team was pleased with the day’s results given the level of competition.
“We knew it was going to be hard to get a medal,” he told FasterSkier. “The men’s race is pretty tight so one second back or one second forward can mean one or two places. We were in the medals so we were psyched. We were actually pretty happy that we did well as a team.”
The only Norwegian result outside the top-10 was from Petter Northug who finished his day in 62nd. Northug has already been crowned world championships twice in Falun, with wins in the classic sprint and team sprint. According to Nystad, Northug wasn’t feeling well and decided to “tour” so that he could rest for the upcoming relay and 50 k classic mass start.
Racing at the 2015 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Falun, Sweden continues Thursday with the women’s 4 x 5 k relay.
– Alex Kochon contributed reporting
Lander Karath is FasterSkier's Associate Editor from Bozeman, Montana and a Bridger Ski Foundation alumnus. Between his studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, he is an outdoor enthusiast and a political junkie.