Maybe it was the signature Johaug gloves dazzled for the television camera at the start. Maybe it’s the training hours, or the grit, or the lucky combination of DNA and athletic potential realized.
On Sunday, at the famed Holmenkollen tracks, Norway’s Therese Johaug dominated. She won the 30-kilometer classic mass start, her first Holmenkollen classic victory, in 1:24:55. Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, also from Norway, took second, 3:46.5 behind. Finland’s Anne Kyllönen broke up the Norwegian podium sweep by skiing to third place (+4:16). Johaug’s margin of victory was the largest ever for a women’s cross-country World Cup, according to a FIS press release.
Norway took four of the top-eight spots, while Finland placed four in the top eleven.
Norway’s Heidi Weng placed fourth (+4:16), Finland’s Laura Mononen fifth (+4:43), and Swedish star Charlotte Kalla sixth (+4:45.9). Notable others in the top 10, Masako Ishida of Japan placed ninth (+4:55.2) and Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk finished 10th (+5:06).
The time back on the results sheet were not in error. The Johaug spectacle was that one-sided. From the first intermediate checkpoint at 1.8 k, Johaug’s race-journey was a solitary one. Her furious pace immediately distanced all other competitors. Johaug was solo through every intermediate checkpoint. And solo as she crossed the finish line.
The mythical Holmenkollen venue was draped in a dense fog. With humidity at 99 percent, Johaug was literally skiing through the clouds: Her striding form barely visible to trailside spectators or those watching on a screen. If the poor visibility prevented a full understanding of the race’s dynamics, the live timing splits, tell the story.
At the first time check, at 1.8 k, Johaug had an 8.6-second gap on Kalla in second, and 9.2 seconds on Norwegian teammate Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen in third. Jacobsen ultimately DNF, pulling out of the race around 11 k.
At five kilometers, Johaug’s pace was unmatchable. She was already 44.8 seconds up on Finland’s Krista Parmakoski, skiing in second at that point, with the critical mass of potential podium placers grouped close together — only 12.6 seconds separated second place from 30th.
During the women’s 30 k, racers were allowed a single ski exchange. A chance perhaps to improve their kick or maximize their glide. But that single ski exchange would only be advantageous in the race for second. 13.3 kilometers in, Johaug changed skis with a comfortable margin of 2:07 over German Stefanie Böhler, while eventual second-place finisher on the day, Østberg, came into the exchange in sixth (+2:25.6).
With no mishaps, her pace never waning, Johaug was on cruise control, albeit at near red-line speed. That’s how she took it across the line, waving to a thunderous, yet nearly invisible fog-enshrouded crowd, for the win. Her’s was a 3:46.5 margin of victory won in the spirit of a legend in the making.
Absent Marit Bjørgen, and with no real contenders challenging, this was a defining race for Johaug in a cross-country venue where a single win can define a skier’s career.
Sunday’s race was only the 22nd time a women’s World Cup 30 k has been held in Holmenkollen in its 114-year history. According to FIS, Johaug’s first 30 k there was a 2008 freestyle event in which she placed fourth. Since 2010, when she finished the Holmenkollen 30 k freestyle in third, Johaug has landed on the podium in all six Holmenkollen 30 k events. That includes her 2011 victory at the Olso, World Championships 30 k freestyle, and a win in the 2013 edition of the Holmenkollen 30 k. That, too, was a freestyle race. Her teammate, Bjørgen, was absent from that race.
There’s more for the record books. Sunday, with Bjørgen also out due to the recent birth of her new baby, Johaug became a three-time Holmenkollen 30 k winner — yet this was her first 30 k classic victory there. Johaug’s win was also her seventh Holmenkollen 30 k podium, a record, placing her one ahead of Bjørgen, who has six podiums at the famed venue.
“It was a raw run today. I felt everything worked out in the first hill and I heard I got some distance, but I do not think it went so fast. I just had to go my own race,” Johaug told Norwegian news outlet NRK, according to a translation.
In a post-race interview with FIS, an elated Johaug spoke or her season’s goals, which included a Holmenkollen win.
“My goal today was to ski good, to have good technique. I worked on it this week,” Johaug said. “I had three goals this season. It was a win in Ruka, and the Tour de Ski, and the 30 k here in Holmenkollen. Because I never win here in the classic. It was a big goal for me this season. Today, my body was good, the skis were good, and the technique. I had to focus the whole time, I have lots of power and lots of energy. I am not tired. So I’m in good shape. I was a little bit nervous before the start because of I was sick for the Norwegian Championships in Tromsoe. For me, maybe some days in the bed was good. I have a lot of energy and it was amazing to ski here.”
The Race for Second + World Cup Overall
At 24.6 kilometers, the race for second was winnowed to four skiers, Østberg, Kyllönen, Weng, and Mononen, all coming through the checkpoint in that order and only 2.4 seconds separating them.
Østberg, although a proven sprinter and capable of taking a sprint at the line, did not leave her day’s results up to final meters. She made a decisive move and surged ahead. Her effort broke apart the small train behind her, after which, the remaining contenders would all be skiing alone.
6.6 seconds at 26.6 kilometers. 14.5 seconds to Kyllönen at 27.5 k. If the rubber band to ultimate third-place finisher Kyllönen was stretching then, it broke by the finish.
Østberg skied to second, a full 29.5 seconds ahead of Kyllönen. It was Kyllönen’s best ever result at the Holmenkollen 30 k.
According to a translation, Kyllönen told Finnish news outlet, Helsingin Sanomat, that despite her inability to match Østberg’s surge, she remained satisfied.
“I could not respond to the Østberg up and running, but it was cool when I was able for once to enjoy the situation and examine the winds properly in the home stretch,” she said, according to a translation.
“Such success requires that all aspects fall into place. I have felt after many of my competition, I would have been able to ski even better rate. I do not know if this was not yet a 110-percent success,” Kyllönen said. “Johaug was once again really hard in the attack. She got to ski Holmenkollen and certainly knows the tracks accurately. No one even think to try to hang on to her momentum.”
Østberg is another sign that Norway’s pipeline of skiers is not tapped out.
This was Østberg’s best Holmenkollen 30 k result. In 2010 she placed 32nd in the 30 k free, in 2012, 42nd in the 30 k classic, in 2014, 15th in the 30 k classic, and in 2015’s 30 k free, 21st.
“I did not in my wildest imagination thought I would get on the podium here. Although I am miles behind ‘Miss Joy’ [Johaug], this is like a victory for me,” Østberg told NRK.
Johaug’s win on Sunday gives her a small buffer for the Overall World Cup. With 1644 points, Johaug leads Østberg, who remains in second overall, by 172 points. That margin could dwindle by Thursday of next week. Johaug will not race in the Stockholm, Sweden, sprints, while Østberg remains a favorite.
“I think not so much on the points you make. But I’m not going to give up the World Cup,” Østberg explained to NRK. Sunday’s result solidifies Østberg’s evolution from sprint star to potential podium placer in the longest distance events. Her eyes now fixed on the overall globe once thought to be a gimme for Johaug.
Østberg’s goals may have broadened. Yet those aspirations are grounded with the knowledge that Johaug has proven she remains on form and virtually untouchable. “I’ve never been on the [overall] podium either. If I can do it, it’s a great achievement for me. But I do not give up until we’re done in Canada. But you see how insane superb Therese is,” NRK reported Østberg as saying.
Notes: Sadie Bjornsen was the top North American, skiing to 22nd (+7:44.5). Liz Stephen placed 23rd in a photo finish (+7:45.4), Jessie Diggins, 25th (+7:46.1), Rosie Brennan, 33rd (+11:43.7), Caitlin Patterson, 36th (+12:03.2), Canadian Emily Nishikawa, 39th (+12:41.1). A sixth American, Ida Sargent did not start.
World Cup racing continues on Thursday with sprints in Stockholm, Sweden.
Jason lives in Bend, Ore., and can often be seen chasing his two boys around town. He’s a self-proclaimed audio geek. That all started back in the early 1990s when he convinced a naive public radio editor he should report a story from Alaska’s, Ruth Gorge. Now, Jason’s common companion is his field-recording gear.