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 — With Marit Bjørgen out of the freestyle team sprint on Sunday after what she considered a disappointing sixth-place finish in Saturday’s skiathlon at 2015 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, that left someone to step up in her absence.
The Norwegian national-team staff decided one of their best bets was Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, a longtime friend of their other athlete in the race, Maiken Caspersen Falla.
Teammates for the last decade, the two wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
“If there is anyone who makes me better, it’s Ingvild,” Falla, the 2014 Olympic classic-sprint champion told NRK, according to a translation, after Sunday’s race.
“We’ve known each other a long time and push each other on countless sessions,” Østberg added.
Both 24, the two are nearly three months apart in age, with Falla being the elder. Partners in the World Cup freestyle team sprint last month in Otepää, Estonia, Falla and Østberg placed second, 0.85 seconds behind Sweden’s Ida Ingemarsdotter and Stina Nilsson in first.
While the Swedes stuck with their winning order, the Norwegians switched it up on Sunday, with Østberg leading out and Falla anchoring the 6 x 1.2-kilometer freestyle team sprint. The combination worked, as the two won the first semifinal of the day ahead of Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk and Sylwia Jaśkowiec. The two teams automatically advanced to the final, and Sweden in third earned a spot as one of six teams with fast-enough times to move on as well.
Germany’s Nicole Fessel and Denise Herrmann won the second semifinal, and the Americans, with Sophie Caldwell and Jessie Diggins, placed second in that heat. Finland, Russia and Slovenia advanced as well, along with France and Switzerland from the first semifinal.
In the final, Norway got down to business from the start, with Østberg leading out of the stadium and into the first-and-only climb of the women’s 1.2 k course. Fessel and Ingemarsdotter followed, while the U.S. positioned itself in fourth with lead-out skier Sophie Caldwell.
By the time the pack returned to the stadium, Kowalczyk put herself in third for Poland, less than half a second behind Østberg in first and Fessel in second. Ingemarsdotter came through the exchange in fourth (+0.88), Slovenia’s Katja Visnar tagged Nika Razinger in sixth (+1.47) while the U.S. was 2.01 seconds back in sixth.
One lap later, Germany was up to first with Herrmann, and Jaśkowiec was 0.55 seconds back in second and Falla 0.57 seconds behind in third. The silver medalist from Thursday’s classic sprint, Nilsson came through in fourth (+1.01) for Sweden, with Diggins three-tenths of a second behind her in fifth. Flying into the exchange and prohibited from snowplowing to stop, Diggins ran into one of the Germans and nearly caused Ingemarsdotter to crash before the Swede headed out on her second loop.
“The U.S. was falling in front of me so I had to go around them,” Ingemarsdotter said in a press conference. “It was a little bit scary for a while, I think, ‘Oh I hope, I don’t fall.”
With two of six laps completed, the race for gold appeared wide open — until Østberg launched an attack on the steep climb.
Fessel went with her, as did Kowalczyk, while Ingemarsdotter started to fall off the pace and Caldwell drifted farther back in fifth. Østberg led Fessel into the exchange, where they tagged in first and second, respectively, 0.43 seconds apart. Kowalczyk tagged her teammate some 3 seconds out of first, while Ingemarsdotter was another second back in fourth and Visnar 10.17 seconds behind in fifth. Behind Russia in sixth (+10.41), the U.S. slipped to seventh (+11.21).
Heading out on her second lap, Falla made a point to stay up front and push the pace, leading Herrmann up the steep climb while Jaśkowiec and Nilsson clung tightly to them. Diggins moved up into fifth several seconds behind the leaders, while Falla widened the space between her and everyone else on her way back down into the stadium.
By the time she reached the tag zone, Falla put Norway 1.07 seconds ahead in first, followed by Herrmann, Jaśkowiec (+1.67), Nilsson (+2.56), and Diggins (+16.28).
Her final time around, Østberg went for it once more on the sprint hill, this time dropping Fessel. Kowalczyk took advantage of the fading German and moved into second over the top, while Østberg led by a significant margin on the way down. Meanwhile, Kowalczyk, Fessel and Ingemarsdotter pushed to take hold of second.
“I had a little gap to Poland and Germany so I just tried to push everything I had to get Stina in as good a position as possible for the last lap,” Ingemarsdotter recalled. “I know if Stina has a little bit feeling that she is with them, then no one will beat her.”
While she put Sweden in fourth, Østberg gave Falla a 6.11-second head-start for their final lap. Kowalczyk tagged Jaśkowiec in second, six-tenths of a second ahead of Germany in third and nine-tenths of a second ahead of Sweden.
Falla continued to plug away alone up front, while Jaśkowiec, Herrmann and Nilsson jockeyed for position in the chase pack. On a tight turn before a final descent into the stadium, Nilsson came from behind and nearly collided with Herrmann. The two stayed upright, but Herrmann dropped to fourth while Jaśkowiec led Nilsson into the finishing stretch.
There, Falla, the 2015 World Championships classic-sprint bronze medalist, crossed the line uncontested for the Norwegian victory in 14:29.57.
“We were planning to start a little bit easy in the first round and speed up in the second and give it all in the last round, and we did as planned,” Østberg explained in the conference. “It was amazing to give Maiken some seconds and she was really strong in the last lap, and then we could cross the finish line first. That was amazing.”
Nilsson outsprinted Jaśkowiec to clinch second for Sweden, 8.17 seconds after Norway and 0.31 seconds ahead of Poland.
“I was very inspired by Ida’s amazing last lap so I felt that the medals were really close,” Nilsson said after her second-straight silver. “I gave it everything I had on the last lap and I’m very happy it worked out well.”
“I saw only the back of Falla,” Jaśkowiec recalled in the conference. “I was going [for] second place in the finish area, but I felt in my back that somebody push very fast and I tried to focus on only to get the final line. Stina was amazing with amazing finish and I could just only watch how she passed, but bronze medal is for us. I am really happy we could even be a part of this today.”
Her teammate, Kowalczyk was just as thrilled after missing out on a medal when she placed fourth in the classic sprint on the first day of World Championships.
“Before the race, I was sure that we’ll be good because Sylwia has really good skating, but there was five or seven really strong teams,” Kowalczyk told FasterSkier. “I am so happy because this is the first medal for Poland [at these World Championships], and I’m so happy for me and of course for Sylwia because she’s ranking number two in Poland now, who have the medals in cross-country skiing. … It’s not only Justyna now.”
Jaśkowiec reveled in her first World Championships medal after coming back from a rollerski accident in 2010.
“Four years ago, I had a very bad accident and I spent one year on rehabilitation so comeback was very tough,” she said in the conference. “I have a lot of thought if I could come back in skiing — the level is so high that I felt that the top athletes just run away from me so today it’s a huge satisfaction and my dream has come true. I know that the tough time was worth so much pain and fighting, and I hope that my courage just now start to be faster and faster and it will be the beginning of the show.”
Herrmann anchored Germany to fourth, 11.57 seconds back from the winners and three seconds off the podium. Russia’s Anastasia Dotsenko and Natalia Matveeva improved to fifth (+29.19) after ranking ninth at the second-to-last exchange. France was sixth (+30.26) with Coraline Thomas Hugue and Celia Aymonier, and Switzerland was seventh (+33.98) with Seraina Boner and Laurien van der Graaff.
The U.S. finished eighth (+34.06) after slipping from fifth to eighth on Caldwell’s last lap. Slovenia placed ninth (+42.39) and Finland — which reached the team-sprint podium in the last three World Championships — was 10th (+42.9) with Riikka Sarasoja-Lilja and Anne Kyllönen,
At the last World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, the U.S. won the freestyle team sprint with Diggins and Kikkan Randall in 2013. Sweden took silver with Charlotte Kalla and Ingemarsdotter, and Finland earned bronze with Sarasoja-Lilja and Krista Lahteenmaki (now Pärmäkoski).
Østberg and Falla placed fourth in that race, some 20 seconds after the U.S. and 10 seconds off the podium. After that showing, Østberg viewed Sunday as an opportunity.
“When Marit said she wasn’t supposed to go [in the team sprint] then I’m really happy that I could show that I also could do a really good job,” she said in the conference. “In 2013, we were the same team and the same distance and then I ruined it, and today we could do this for the team and to do this with Maiken is amazing. We’ve been teammates for several years and good friends so that’s an awesome feeling.”
“In 2013, we were the same team … and then I ruined it, and today we could do this for the team and to do this with Maiken is amazing.” — Norway’s Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, who won gold with teammate Maiken Caspersen Falla on Sunday in the 2015 World Championships freestyle team sprint
“We were a proper gold team today,” Falla told NRK, according to a translation. “It means so much to stand here with Ingvild — we’ve been through so much together.”
The two set the tone for back-to-back Norwegian victories on Sunday, as Finn Hågen Krogh and Petter Northug teamed up for gold in the men’s 6 x 1.4 k team sprint later that afternoon. They beat Russia’s Alexey Petukhov and Nikita Kriukov by 5.64 seconds.
- 2013 World Championships team sprint
- 2015 falun world championships
- 2015 World Championships
- 6 x 1.2 k team sprintf
- Anastasia Dotsenko
- Denise Herrmann
- freestyle team sprint
- Ida Ingemarsdotter
- Ingvild Flugstad Ostberg
- Jessie Diggins
- Justyna Kowalczyk
- Katja Visnar
- Maiken Caspersen Falla
- Natalia Matveeva
- Nicole Fessel
- Nika Razinger
- Norwegian women
- Sophie Caldwell
- Stina Nilsson
- Sylwia Jaśkowiec
- Team Sprint
- U.S. women
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.