Much to the delight of the Norwegian crowd gathered in the center of Drammen, a port city outside of Oslo, their sprint stars Ingvild Flugstad Østberg and Maiken Caspersen Falla battled Sweden’s Stina Nilsson to the line for the win of Wednesday’s World Cup classic sprint final.
Falla returned to the top, taking her third consecutive Drammen sprint title – a first for either men or women – while Nilsson was relegated to last in the heat for obstructing Finland’s Krista Parmakoski.
“It’s quite a long time from the prologue to the final,” Falla told Norway’s TV2. “This was a good thing for me today. I felt nothing good in the prologue. I’ll be honest. But when I got to the finals, I felt raw and good.”
The Drammen sprints held in the city center promise an exciting course and atmosphere every year. The 1.2 kilometer course includes a straightaway to the first climb followed by a long gradual descent that leads into a high speed hairpin turn. The finish line sits atop a short and steep pitch that follows a long homestretch in front of a passionate Norwegian crowd. The luckiest can watch the races unfold from their windows and balconies.
With the sun shining and temperatures hovering just around freezing, Østberg charged to the front from the gun as she had in both her quarterfinal and semifinal. She established a gap in the first several hundred meters that she held through the course and entered the finishing straightaway in the lead.
However, Falla and Nilsson were charging hard just behind her. Falla’s surge on the final pitch to the finish was enough to overtake Østberg by 0.81 seconds for the win.
It was a thrilling return to racing for Falla, who battled illness in January and finished 45th in the freestyle sprint qualifier at Planica, Slovenia, two weeks ago.
“I’m just glad to be back because I have been sick a lot,”Falla told Norwegian broadcaster NRK. “The shape is unfortunately not top notch, but I want to be there so I pretend I’m in good shape.”
Just behind Falla, Østberg held off Nilsson to take second. The three completed their parade and podium photos before the ruling was released that Nilsson had been disqualified for obstruction of Parmakoski on the final stretch.
Although Sweden protested the call, the jury stood firm on the decision. The disqualification allowed Natalia Matveeva of Russia the final podium placing.
Nilsson was disappointed but remained grounded after the call.
“It’s their decision,” Nilsson told Expressen. “I do not speculate on something like that. It is difficult for me to comment, I go alone, I have not seen the race.”
After Nilsson was placed last in the final for the infringement, Parmakoski and Weng placed fourth (+4.28) and fifth (+8.69) respectively.
Despite the penalty, Nilsson finished sixth and retains the Sprint Cup lead over Østberg and Falla.
“I was not sure even today, but it worked well,” Falla, who is third in the standings, told Norwegian news service VG. “34 points is a lot smaller than it was when I woke up today. Then there is still hope. It’s the one I’ve wanted all season. Now I’ve seen so many ski races on TV this winter that I will go a little myself.”
Three American Women Qualify for Quarterfinals
After the qualifier, it looked to be a strong day for the U.S. women, who put three in the top 11.
Jessie Diggins posted the seventh fastest time, 6.91 seconds behind Østberg’s mark of 2:52.8. Today marked her third time qualifying for the heats in a World Cup classic sprint and her best-ever placing in a classic sprint qualifier. Two teammates were not far behind: Sadie Bjornsen qualified in 10th (+7.45) and Sophie Caldwell in 11th (+7.60).
Americans Ida Sargent and Jennie Bender also competed, taking 47th and 53rd respectively, but did not advance into the heats.
Skiing in the second quarterfinal, Diggins faced a fast heat with four of the top ten qualifiers. Finland’s Parmakoski and Russia’s Matveeva – both of whom eventually ended up in the final – controlled the heat from the start, with the rest of the field in pursuit. Diggins lost contact with the leaders cresting the biggest climb with a couple of unfortunately timed slips.
“I made some technique errors in my quarterfinal and slipped a few too many times near the top of the course, letting a gap form between myself and the leaders,” Diggins wrote in an email. “I caught back up at the end but by then I had run out of track!”
With a strong finishing surge, Diggins claimed third, 1.59 seconds behind Parmakoski’s winning time of 2:58.71. Diggins had no chance of advancing as a lucky loser as her heat was slow and third and fourth place from the first quarterfinal topped her time.
“Overall I’m really satisfied with my race and my shape,” she wrote. “And to finish right behind the girls in my quarter who ended up third and fourth overall is never a bad spot to be in!”
Although Caldwell has chosen the first or second quarterfinal in each race so far this season, she decided to try something different and selected the third heat. With not as many top seeds as the first two heats, placing in the top two was crucial – advancing as a lucky loser seemed unlikely.
Caldwell slipped into the lead just before the long descent, passing Kathrine Harsem from Norway.
“I definitely didn’t intend on leading down the hill, but I had good skis and took the first corner well, so I sucked Harsem up pretty quickly on the downhill,” Caldwell explained in an email. “I don’t know if it was an advantage or a disadvantage to be leading the downhill, but I think it was a good way to stay out of trouble and come into that last corner in a good position.”
Caldwell entered the final straightaway in the mix but ended up fourth in a tight finish, just 0.51 seconds behind Harsem, who won the heat.
“She ended up getting swallowed up a bit,” U.S. Ski Team Women’s Coach Matt Whitcomb said of Caldwell’s race. “She is so good on the downhills that she tends to catch people regardless of whether or not her skis are fast. The difference was she didn’t have the gas in the finishing stretch today.”
Caldwell still saw positives, however.
“In years past, I haven’t even been close to qualifying in Drammen, so to qualify in 11th today was a huge step in the right direction for me,” she wrote. “I still think classic sprinting on gradual terrain is probably my weakness in sprinting and there’s still a lot of room for improvement, but I was really happy to have made such a big gain in this sprint this year.”
In the fourth quarterfinal, Bjornsen found herself in a heat with several of the favorites including Falla and Ida Ingemarsdotter of Sweden.
“I ended up in a pretty stacked heat, with some girls that qualified low, but were obviously really good skiers, but I tried to look forward without intimidation,” Bjornsen wrote in an email. “Things were going well until the final drag into the finish when I went on the wide track, which was super icy, and a big slip over the bump cost me a few meters on those three girls… and I wasn’t able to catch back up.”
Bjornsen finished third (+3.26) behind Falla who won the heat and, like her teammates, she missed moving on as a lucky loser.
Despite the lack of any “flashy” results, coach Matt Whitcomb was happy with a solid day of results.
“We were in the mix but for all three women, not in the mix enough,” he noted. “The heats that we finished third or fourth were not fast enough to be lucky losers. The highlight of the day was qualifying four in the top 12 [including Simi Hamilton in the men’s race], and Jessie has continued to keep things rolling. It doesn’t matter who you are or what the race is, top 10 qualification is really fast. So we are psyched for that.”
World Cup racing is back this weekend for the men’s 50 k at Holmenkollen in Oslo on Saturday and the women’s 30 k on Sunday.
-Chelsea Little contributed reporting.
New to the FasterSkier team, Kaitlyn is a silent sports all-arounder, competing in cross-country skiing, cycling and triathlon since graduating from the University of Michigan, where she ran cross country and track. Kaitlyn is intrigued by the complexities of cross-country ski racing and is excited to start in the elite women’s field at the 2016 Birkie.