Finn Hågen Krogh’s only 24 years old and he’s been on the World Cup circuit since 2011, yet he’s one of those names we’ve been hearing a lot of lately.
This weekend, the Norwegian made headlines twice at the Östersund World Cup, winning both individual races with the classic sprint on Saturday and the 15-kilometer freestyle on Sunday.
But perhaps the bigger news is that Krogh — the Sprint World Cup leader — isn’t really known as a distance guy, and Sunday marked his first World Cup distance win.
“He’s Norway’s strongest skier now,” Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson said an interview with NRK, according to a translation. “I’ve been waiting for this and am not surprised. He has been good a long time, but now he has really turned [the corner].”
According to Krogh, who won a freestyle sprint in Davos, Switzerland, and made the podium in four individual World Cup races in December, this was all part of his plan. He skipped the Tour de Ski, then placed second in the freestyle team sprint his first weekend back racing in Otepää, Estonia, with teammate Anders Gløerssen.
Krogh then sat out the World Cup in Rybinsk, Russia, and just under a month later, he was back on top in the last World Cups before World Championships begin this week in Falun, Sweden.
“The plan has worked well so far,” Krogh told NRK.
“I’m in good shape and had little gunpowder in the end,” he added, referring to his second-straight World Cup win on Sunday.
On a hilly three-lap course in Östersund, Krogh made yet another calculated approach and started conservatively, posting the eventual 17th-ranked time through the 1.8 k checkpoint. However, by 8.3 k, he was where he needed to be, in second, 8.4 seconds behind Norway’s Hans Christer Holund, who led through those timing points.
Holund, 26, thrust himself into the spotlight with some of the fastest splits all day, overtaking Swede Johan Olsson’s time by 18.3 seconds at 8.3 k. Holund started 30th and Krogh went out 49th on a minus-4-degree Celsius afternoon (25 degrees Fahrenheit), and Krogh gradually picked away time at the gutsy Norwegian.
At 5 k, Krogh was up to third, 9.7 seconds behind Holund and France’s Robin Duvillard in bib 45, respectively.
Holund powered through the finish to take the lead by 48.4 seconds over Lukas Bauer of the Czech Republic, who had previously topped Sweden’s Martin Johansson. Seconds earlier, Johansson in bib 25 unseated Japan’s Keishin Yoshida in bib 24 before Yoshida had the chance to enjoy the leader’s chair.
Holund remained in the hot spot for some time, as Olsson came up 6.4 seconds short to initially finish second after him. Meanwhile, Krogh took control at 11.8 k, clocking through 3.2 seconds faster than Holund. At the final 13.3 k checkpoint, Krogh had increased his lead to 7.6 seconds over Holund.
He finished 19.7 seconds ahead to bump Holund to second. After starting 61st, Sweden’s Marcus Hellner came through with the second-fastest time, 18.9 seconds after Krogh and 0.8 seconds ahead of Holund. Then it was France’s Maurice Manificat who pushed hard in the last several kilometers for second, coming up 13.5 seconds short of Krogh but finishing second overall.
Hellner ended up third and Holund narrowly missed the podium in fourth.
“I didn’t expect that I could win today,” Krogh told FIS after the race. “I just focused on my race plan and tried to ski fast at the end of the race and it worked. … I felt a little tired from yesterday’s sprint but I was prepared to race both races this weekend so I could show how good my shape is.
“I hope it’s enough now for a start at the World Championships,” he added.
Manificat started 71st and was able to see both Krogh and Martin Johnsrud Sundby, the overall World Cup leader from Norway, at different parts of the race, which he explained helped.
“I knew I was having a great race,” he told FIS after achieving his first non-stage World Cup podium since December 2013.
At 1.8 k, Manificat’s time ranked seventh, and he was up to third, 3.5 seconds behind Krogh by 8.3 k. With just over three kilometers to go, he remained in third, 1.2 seconds behind Holund and 4.4 seconds back from Krogh, and he was up to second, 5 seconds back, by 13.3 k.
“I really like this course. The climbs are very natural and it feels like a real track in the forest,” he said. “The spectators were great along the course. I think I saw a jacuzzi.”
One of the local favorites, Hellner paced himself from the 10th-fastest split at 1.8 k to sixth fastest at 13.3 k. With a strong last kilometer and a half, he secured his first podium of the season.
“It’s always nice to race in Sweden,” he told FIS. “You can feel the energy from the crowd and it’s nice to be on the podium here. It is good for the confidence heading to Falun.”
Hellner added that he plans to race the skiathlon, 15 k freestyle and team relay at World Championships.
“I am not sure I will do any other races as I haven’t been able to race too much this season without getting tired,” the 29 year old said. “So I will focus on those.”
Two Swedes finished in the top five with Olsson in fifth (+26.1). Norway’s Didrik Tønseth and Niklas Dyrhaug finished sixth (+28.5) and seventh (+29.2), respectively, and Duvillard ended up eighth (+29.7) after fading to 17th at 8.3 k. Russia’s Alexander Legkov took ninth (+32.1), and Chris Andre Jespersen was the fifth Norwegian in the top 10 in 10th (+34.9).
Two other Norwegians finished just outside the top 10 with Gløerssen in 11th (+35.2) and Sundby in 12th (+39.3). Switzerland’s Dario Cologna placed 13th (+42.1), and early podium contender Andrey Larkov of Russia was 14th (+43.6). Great Britain’s Andrew Musgrave was 15th (+44.6), 0.3 seconds ahead of Norway’s Petter Northug in 16th.
Halfvarsson finished 21st (+1:00.3), Bauer 22nd (+1:08.1), Norway’s Sjur Røthe 23rd (+1:09.1), Johansson 24th (+1:09.7), and Yoshida 25th (+1:11.2).
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.