The final sprint of the 2014-2015 FIS World Cup season was held on Wednesday in Drammen, Norway. There were two races in one: a race for the win in Drammen, and the second a race for the season’s overall sprint title.
Heading into the day, a trio of Norwegian skiers were on top of the Sprint Cup leader board. Marit Bjørgen had the lead with 550 points, ahead of Ingvild Flugstad Østberg with 510 points and Maiken Caspersen Falla with 412 points.
Østberg needed to win Drammen to take the title; Bjørgen needed to finish in 4th place or better.
Bjørgen was the favorite to win her second crystal globe of the season, already securing the overall World Cup title, but Østberg and Falla weren’t ready to give their more veteran teammate the Drammen win without a fight.
“It will be hard to beat Marit but I will give everything I have and give her a struggle,” Østberg said to NRK before the race. “Whoever is best is best. If the winner is Marit then it is very much deserved.”
Before the race, Bjørgen commented with her signature brand of diplomacy, but also a bit of nationalism.
“40 points is not much,” she told NRK. “It will be a tough challenge and the fight is still warm. The main thing is that whoever wins is Norwegian.”
Coming out of the prologue Østberg was the fastest qualifier at 3:01.25, with Katja Visnar of Slovenia second (+1.18) and Bjørgen third (+2.40).
But in the end, Falla proved that it isn’t how you qualify but rather how you finish the race that matters most. That started in the quarterfinals, where Falla fell early in her heat and teammate Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen took the win. Falla came back to finish second, +0.29. In a packed heat, Østberg was third, +0.49, and also advanced along with Aino-Kaisa Saarinen of Finland as lucky losers.
Meanwhile, Bjørgen easily won the third quarterfinal heat gliding away from teammate Heidi Weng, who also advanced.
Other quarterfinal qualifiers were Sweden’s Stina Nilsson, Visnar, Norwegian teammates Kathrine Rolsted Harsem and Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes, Sweden’s Hanna Falk, and Finland’s Anne Kyllönen.
Again in the semifinals, things didn’t go perfectly for Falla. Østberg showed increased speed and aggression compared to her quarterfinal heat, leading from start to finish. Weng finished second, 1.42 behind, and Falla finished third, lucky to advance on time. Bjørgen and Nilsson skied together for their entire semifinal, and qualified together for the final.
Showdown in the Finals
At the start, Bjørgen was struggling and seemed to be fighting herself as much as the other competitors. She was boxed in between Nilsson and Weng and fought to get position into the track. When Nilsson switched lanes she hit Bjørgen’s skis, causing her to stumble, and as a result the star was in sixth place before the first climb.
If there’s anyone who can come back from such a start on the women’s circuit, it’s Bjørgen. She had to take an outside line in order to get better snow, but was able to work her way to the front to join Falla, Weng and Østberg. As the group of Norwegians descended, Bjørgen was in front for the first time all race.
As the race headed to the finish line Falla stepped out to the left, Bjørgen to the right and it was apparent right away Falla had the faster skis. The two were side by side but Falla double-poled her way past Bjørgen, who was striding and losing ground. Weng caught and eventually passed Bjørgen as well, but the group crossed the finish line within seconds of each other; Falla first, 3:01.37, Weng second (+0.72) and Bjørgen third (+1.51).
“I have to say Drammen is my favorite course,” a happy Falla told FIS. “The crowd was amazing and the atmosphere was thrilling.”
Østberg was fourth 2.49 behind and as a result, second to Bjørgen in the Sprint Cup race.
“I was not sure I could win the sprint crystal globe,” Bjørgen told FIS after the race. “It’s been nine years since I won it last time. I am 34 and I was not sure if I can win it again. I knew I would have the fight with Ingvild.”
Problems With New Heat Selection System
Before her heat even started, Falla had a tougher time selecting her heat than she had hoped. A new system of athlete seeding was started last week in Lahti, Finland, and implemented again in Drammen, in which the athletes in reverse order from their qualification standings got to pick their heat placements. Falla qualified seventh but was not at the podium in time when it was her turn to choose her heat. As a result her heat placement was decided by the race jury.
According to NRK, race director Pierre Mignerey said that Falla was given a verbal message that the elections would start five minutes after the last runner was finished as well as a written notice that it would start 13.25.”
Falla claimed that she was there at the right time but her pick was already decided. Since she missed her time, she was given the time as if she was the 30th fastest qualifier. Eventually she left the podium in tears to prepare for her heat.
“I was angry and really sorry for heat location,” Falla told NRK. “They thought I came late, but I disagree. It is unfair to treat us that way. Every day, almost every hour, I work to succeed at races like this. And then they [FIS] find new rules.”
Mignerey admitted to NRK that FIS had to evaluate whether to continue with the system, as there were also problems in Lahti.
Three Globes for Bjørgen?
With her third place finish today Bjørgen clinched the fifth Sprint Cup crystal globe of her career. The last time she won the sprint globe was in the 2005/06 season. In the end she had 610 points to Østberg’s 560 points and Falla’s 512 points.
Bjørgen has a chance to get the third and final globe of the season on Sunday. The 30 k Holmenkollen mass start race will be the final race for the season and the distance competition. In the distance competition Bjørgen is first with 818 points followed by teammate Therese Johaug with 717 points and Weng with 621 points.
-Chelsea Little contributed reporting.