BEITOSTØLEN, Norway — On the final day of International Ski Federation (FIS) preseason racing in Beitostølen, one 20 year old stood above the rest of the nearly 90-man field. Johannes Høsflot Klæbo, who won three gold medals at the 2016 Junior World Championships in Rasnov, Romania, held off several household Norwegian names in the men’s freestyle sprint final.
Klæbo, a Norwegian U23 Team member, won the final after rounding the men’s 1.7-kilometer course in 3:18.5 minutes. He nipped national-team member Pål Golberg by 0.5 seconds at the line, Finn Hågen Krogh was 3.3 seconds back in third, Emil Iversen 4.7 seconds back in fourth, Kasper Stadaas 4.9 seconds back in fifth, and Even Northug 7.4 back in sixth in the all-Norwegian final.
Afterward, Klæbo told a large group of journalists that he didn’t hold back in the initial heats and described the semifinal as “really fast”. After qualifying for the heats in second, behind 0.15 second behind Golberg (who rounded the course in 3:19.34), Klæbo won his quarterfinal in 3:22 and his semifinal in a lightning-fast 3:18.7.
“I felt that I had an extra gear going into the final and I’m glad I did,” he said.
Klæbo took control of the race going into the second to last climb and attacked the hill with a high-frequency V1-technique that gave him a slight lead. Golberg and Krogh followed him, but Klæbo maintained his powerful technique into the final climb and entered the stretch with Golberg, who didn’t stand a chance. Klæbo crossed the finish line with his arms stretched out to his sides, reminiscent of another Norwegian Petter Northug, who skipped Sunday’s sprint. Golberg settled for second and Krogh crossed the line in third.
The fastest qualifier of the morning, Golberg won his quarterfinal and placed second in his semifinal, 0.1 seconds behind Iversen. He told told FasterSkier that he had warmed up well before the prologue and concentrated on staying warm in between heats. Norway’s Martin Løwstrøm Nyenget joined him in the first heat while fellow Norwegians Sindre Bjørnstad Skar and Vegard Bjerkreim Nilsen qualified from the second quarterfinal. The third quarterfinal included brothers Thomas and Even Northug. After placing second in his quarterfinal, 1 seconds behind his older brother, Even told NRK that “it went as I had planned.”
Klæbo won the fourth quarterfinal by 0.4 seconds over Stadaas. Krogh won the fifth quarterfinal by 0.1 seconds over Norway’s Sindre Odberg Palm.
The first semifinal, with Iversen, Golberg, Skar, Thomas Northug, Nilsen, and Nyenget, took off at a slow pace, but the drama was waiting just around the corner. Thomas Northug fell at the top the second-to-last climb, which caused Golberg to lose a pole, but he quickly received a new one and was able to finish in 0.1 sec behind Iversen in second to advance to the final.
Four people qualified from the second heat after Klæbo took charge from the start and led Krogh, Even Northug and Kasper Stadaas through the finish. All within 1.3 seconds of Klæbo’s fast semifinal time, the four men advanced to the final.
In the qualifier, Canadians Joey Foster ranked 53rd (+17.52), Scott James Hill was 81st (+26.47), Ryan Jackson 85th (+30.81), and Kieran Jones 89th (+48.21) in a field that included nine nations. Jack Carlyle did not start.
Check back for women’s report.
Aleks is a freelance journalist based in Gjøvik, Norway, covering ski-related sports and track & field. He also works part time as a model and reads a new book almost every week.