Logging hours upon hours of ski training is one thing. Logging hours upon hours of ski training with Norway’s nordic icon, Petter Northug is another. At least, so suggests Norwegian Emil Iversen, winner of the men’s 1.6-kilometer freestyle sprint on Saturday in Lahti, Finland.
“I have trained too much with him now I think,” Northug said during a post-race press conference, referring to his Norwegian teammate, Iversen.
“He has found my weakness … He beat me in Obsterdorf, he beat me here and we will not train together next year, I can tell you now,” he added with a laugh.
With another World Cup sprint title under his belt, 24-year-old Iversen did not disclose his superstar teammate’s sprinting soft spot.
“I can’t tell that to you,” Iversen said at the press conference regarding Northug’s weakness. “But yeah, for sure, I know what that is, so I’m going to use it also next year.”
Whatever secrets Iversen knows, he put into action during Saturday’s sprint.
He qualified fourth, the second Norwegian — one-tenth of a second behind teammate, Finn Hågen Krogh — and 2.41 seconds back from Finland’s Martti Jylhä, the top qualifier in 3:04.15. Iversen went on to win his quarterfinal, semifinal and eventually the final, besting not just Northug, but Italy’s sprint prodigy, Federico Pellegrino as well.
“The Norwegians now have seen how I behaved [in prior races],” Pellegrino, 25, told the Italian Ski Federation, according to a translation. “So in the final they put a man in front of me preventing me from doing my game.”
The lone non-Norwegian in the final, Pellegrino found himself sandwiched between Norway’s Krogh and Eirik Brandsdal from the start until the top of the second climb.
Prior to the course’s second major downhill, Brandsdal cornered by Pellegrino on the inside of a sweeping lefthand turn, inching the Italian into third place by the descent. Northug coasted at the pack’s back, sitting behind teammates Sindre Bjørnestad Skar and Iversen.
As the six finalists ascended the third-and-final major course climb, Pellegrino and Iversen maneuvered to the left of Krogh, Northug and Brandsdal. Emerging first through Saturday’s snowfall were the yellow gloves and navy suit of Pellegrino.
However, by the end of the last downhill into the stadium, Pellegrino was lost in a sea of red; his opportunity for a podium spot swallowed by the full force of Norway. Iversen and Krogh tuck skated to the right of Pellegrino, with Iversen cinching his winning spot just 0.25 seconds ahead of teammate Krogh in a time of 3:08.41.
“I tried to have a good position on the last climb, but I was fifth or so,” Hågen Krogh said during a post-race press conference. “I should have been two more spots going forward in the field. But…I was very happy to be on the podium,” the overall second place finisher added.
While Iversen and Krogh tucked past Pellegrino on the right, Northug came up on the left, with a turnover in the final 100 meters that out-motored that of the Italian. In a lunge for the line, Northug nabbed third (+0.69) and secured the final spot for the all-Norwegian sprint podium.
“We train a lot in Norway and I think that’s the answer,” Iversen said regarding Norway’s sprint sweep in the men’s competition. “I think it’s the training we do. You have to train hard all year long.”
Hamilton in the Heats, 17th Overall
Though he did not advance beyond the quarterfinal, American Simi Hamilton’s performance on Saturday proved his progress this season as one of consistency.
“Obviously, every weekend you want to go out and you want to be on the podium, but you take what you can get,” Hamilton said during an in-person interview. “Being able to consistently ski in the teens each sprint. I’m happy with that.”
After qualifying in 10th (+3.42), the top American for the day said his body “felt really good” and gave him confidence to work the longer course during his quarterfinal.
“I think this course has a lot that plays to my strengths. Some very different climbs and a couple very technical corners,” he said. “The first two thirds of the course you’re really working the entire thing, so I wanted to conserve my energy and then kind of pin in it the last third.”
As the U.S. skier made his way into the final major climb, however, he had trouble getting into position.
“I tried to make a move there and got really tangled with a couple different people on that climb,” he explained.
Jumping in behind Russia’s Alexey Petukhov, Hamilton manage to draft speed during the final downhill into the stadium.
“I got a pretty good slingshot coming into Petukhov, but I went left into some slower snow right before the final corner and kind of got pushed back again,” Hamilton said. “So I just had to settle for getting behind Petukhov and then try to do something in the finishing stretch. Unfortunately I stumbled a little bit coming into the finish.”
With motivation for more than a top 20, Hamilton is ready for his next series of races: the Ski Tour Canada.
“I’ll carry that [momentum] with me into Canada,” Hamilton said. “Really looking forward to a couple good skate sprints there and a classic sprint in Canmore and all the other races.”
Saturday’s other U.S. male starter, Reese Hanneman, is also looking forward to the Canadian World Cup races after finishing 51st overall in the Lahti sprint.
“I’m hoping to keep feeling better and use this last block or races as a springboard to some good ones in Canada,” Hanneman, who will head back to the U.S. early Monday, wrote in an email.
While Hanneman remained happy with the amount of power and movements he executed on course during Saturday’s sprint qualifier, he also acknowledged areas where he could have made up time.
“I lost a second or two in the crux of each of the big climbs,” he wrote. “There are two big climbs, each ending in a short steep pitch. I felt like I was able to maintain good momentum up until about the final couple meters of each of those pitches, where I slowed down and had to dig. The top guys were just zipping all the way over.”
The seconds he lost, he said, were not due to his skis — despite fresh snowfall during Saturday’s event in Lahti.
“My wax tech Eli Brown, and all of the US techs did an incredible job with my skis today,” he wrote. “They felt great on snow that could’ve been really challenging. I definitely want to thank those guys for all their hard work.”
— JoJo Baldus and Harald Zimmer contributed reporting
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Gabby Naranja considers herself a true Mainer, having grown up in the northern most part of the state playing hockey and roofing houses with her five brothers. She graduated from Bates College where she ran cross-country, track, and nordic skied. She spent this past winter in Europe and is currently in Montana enjoying all that the U.S. northwest has to offer.