If you give Therese Johaug an inch — or precisely five kilometers — she’s proven this season she can win by nearly 18 seconds. So if you give her three times the distance, watch out. The 27-year-old Norwegian won her fifth-consecutive World Cup race (out of six so far) on Saturday, blasting through every checkpoint with a hefty margin ahead of the rest of the field in the women’s 15 k freestyle individual start in Davos, Switzerland.
She won in 1 minute, 10.3 seconds, finishing the three-lap course in 35:40.3 and replacing Jessie Diggins of the U.S. Ski Team in the leader’s chair. The 16th starter, Diggins posted some of the fastest checkpoint times from 5 k on, before Finland’s Riitta-Liisa Roponen (in bib 17) and Germany’s Nicole Fessel and Norway’s Heidi Weng came through seconds faster. Roponen started 17th, 30 seconds behind Diggins, Fessel wore bib 20 and Weng started 22nd.
Johaug started 24th, and by 5 k, where Weng topped Diggins’ split by 16.7 seconds, the eventual winner was already 21.6 seconds faster than anyone else. Sure, Johaug had some fast women starting behind her, including teammates Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen (bib 26) and Ingvild Flugstad Østberg (bib 42), Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla (bib 46) and the final starter, Finland’s Kerttu Niskanen (bib 48), but none came close.
“I had another fantastic race today; I’m in great shape right now” Johaug told NRK, according to a loose translation, after the win.
She outpaced Østberg in second, Weng took third (+1:15.3), and Jacobsen was 0.2 seconds off the podium in fourth. A fast-rising Norwegian, Kari Øyre Slind placed fifth (+1:37.3) to help Norway sweep the top five. Niskanen finished sixth (+1:40.6) and Kalla was seventh (+1:43.9). Diggins placed 11th (+2:03.9) behind Norway’s Ragnhild Haga in eighth, Finland’s Krista Parmakoski in ninth, and Fessel in 10th (+1:54.8).
“I focused on technique throughout the race,” Johaug explained. “Today I could just go all the way. It shows that we have done an outrageously good job [training] this summer and autumn … I thought Kalla would come closer, but we took the better of the rest.”
While Weng established herself as a force early in the race, Johaug clocked through the 2.2 k timing point already 19.4 seconds faster. Kalla set the second-fastest time at that checkpoint, 16.2 seconds back, Petra Novakova of the Czech Republic was 16.3 seconds behind in third, and Østberg ultimately posted the fourth-fastest split at 2.2 k — just 0.3 seconds ahead of Weng.
As the race progressed, the time gaps grew to 20 seconds one kilometer later, then 40 seconds at the race’s halfway point. While Weng initially finished second to Johaug, Østberg challenged her time over the last two-thirds of the race to bump Weng to third.
“Who would have thought it? I didn’t at least,” Østberg said after finishing second to Johaug and ahead of both Weng and Jacobsen.
In an interview with NRK, Weng sounded less concerned about where she stood on the podium and was more in awe of her distance to Johaug.
“I am scary far behind Therese,” she said, according to a translation. “I would like to cut that time in half the time.
“She is completely a machine. What is it exactly you’re made of?” she said to Johaug.
At 5-foot-4 and with five World Cup wins before Christmas — equaling the record of Johaug’s teammate Marit Bjørgen — it’s reasonable to assume Johaug is capable of an undefeated distance streak this season.
Without Bjørgen to compete against (she’s expecting her first child this month), Johaug won her first 15 k freestyle on the World Cup on Saturday. It was her third-career victory in Davos.
“It was my best race ever in Davos,” she said in a post-race interview. “I had amazing skis. It was very fun to compete today. The whole Norwegian team was very strong.”
Johaug is now 200 points ahead of Østberg in the overall World Cup standings. Weng is another 27 seconds back in third.
Stay tuned for more details on the U.S. women’s results, with Diggins in 11th, Caitlin Gregg in 20th (+2:45.5), Liz Stephen in 30th (+3:13.9), and Rosie Brennan in 34th (+3:32.1) in a separate report. Canada’s Emily Nishikawa placed 39th (+4:05.5).
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.