The last interval-start race in Falun was one the Norwegian women’s team would probably rather forget.
At FIS World Championships last year, snow began falling during the 10 k skate and the Norwegians, heavily favored for medals, picked the wrong wax. Heidi Weng led the team in 22nd, a huge disappointment, as Swedes and Americans carried the day.
In Saturday’s five kilometer classic World Cup in Falun, the Norwegians more than made up for their previous disaster, with Therese Johaug claiming an 18.6-second lead over Weng. Ingvild Flugstad Østberg placed third, +29.2, edging out teammate Astrid Jacobsen, who ended up fourth +29.6.
The U.S. Ski Team’s Jessie Diggins proved once again that she is a force to be reckoned with on the tough Falun loop, finishing fifth +37.2. Teammate Sadie Bjornsen was close behind in seventh, +44.8.
“It was my best classic race I’ve ever had,” Diggins said in an interview.
Just like at World Championships, it was a gray and dreary day in central Sweden. But for Johaug, gray skies were pushed away by the joy of a particularly sweet win: it was her first in the 5 k interval start format.
Despite skis that looked like they were slipping early on, she blazed around the loop and up the brutal Moerderbacken hill.
“This is not my favorite distance,” Johaug told Norwegian broadcaster NRK. “But I’m in crazy good shape at the moment, and it’s fun to show that I can do a little good in the slightly shorter races as well.”
It was the 13th win of the season for Johaug – an impressive tally. Only fellow Norwegians Marit Bjørgen and Bente Skari have ever had a season so dominanting: Bjørgen won 14 times one year, and Skari 15 as well as an especially successful season with 17 wins.
But with a 10 k skate mass start scheduled for Sunday, a 15 k skiathlon in Lahti the following weekend, and then the whole of the Ski Tour Canada, it’s likely that Johaug will add to her 2016 tally.
It’s just another symbol of the Norwegian women’s dominance this season.
“we won’t become any better by just despairing about that,” Steffi Boehler, the top German finisher in 10th place (+51.0) told German broadcaster ARD. “We just have to take it step by step, and aim for that third spot on the podium. I think there is more possible than we sometimes dare to do.”
Østberg pushed Jacobsen off the podium by just the narrowest of margins, and was losing steam as she crossed the finish line.
“I had to fight against myself today to keep pushing,” she told FIS. “In the end I had nothing left. It’s another podium for me which is incredible and I am very satisfied with that and also a little tired.”
Jacobsen knew exactly where those four-tenths of a second came from: when she tried to overtake Maria Nordström of Sweden (a former University of Colorado racer), who had started a bib ahead of her, on the Moerderbacken hill.
According to Jacobsen, Nordström was herringboning up the hill and then jumped back into the track as Jacobsen began to overtake her.
“I was very annoyed because it happened at a point on the track where you are stiff if you fail to keep the rhythm,” Jacobsen, who was crying after finishing, told Norwegian daily Dagbladet.
Stay tuned for a full report on the North American finishers.
–Harald Zimmer contributed reporting.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.