On the first day of 2017 Junior World Championships at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah, there was one man who appeared to be dominating the 1.5-kilometer classic sprint from top to bottom. Norway’s 19-year-old Petter Stakston, in his second Junior Worlds, started Monday off with a qualifying win, by 0.61 seconds over Finland’s Turo Sipilä, in 3:45.33 minutes.
Then he won the first men’s quarterfinal of the day and proceeded to win the first semifinal as well.
“I felt very good today,” Stakston told the U.S. Ski Team media in a post-race interview. “I was strong in the prologue … I tried to take the lead in every single heat and just go as fast as I could.”
But Germany’s Janosch Brugger foiled his streak in the final, coming from behind in the finishing stretch to take the win by 0.04 seconds in 3:43.00 minutes.
“It was good until the last 100 meters,” Stakston reflected after placing second. “Janosch Brugger was a bit stronger and took it, but I’m very happy.”
Brugger started Monday off with the fourth-fastest qualifying time, 3.06 seconds behind Stakston. He went on to place second in his quarterfinal (by 0.48 seconds to another Norwegian, Jo Svinsås), then finished third in his semifinal, 0.6 seconds behind Stakston in first.
The 19-year-old Brugger advanced as a lucky loser to the final, where he timed his strike to take his first gold in three Junior Worlds appearances, and his first podium as well.
“I didn’t have any strategy; it’s only pushing as hard as I can,” Brugger said in an interview with the U.S. Ski Team media. “It means everything because on this day, you’re the best cross country-skier in the world and it’s exciting.”
Brugger outlasted five others in the men’s final, which included four Norwegians (Stakston, Svinsås, Herman Martens Meyer, and Thomas Helland Larsen) and Finland’s Verneri Suhonen.
Meyer reached the podium in third (+3.83), while Larsen placed fourth (+11.32), Suhonen was fifth (+12.97), and Svinsås sixth (+16.42).
All Four U.S. Men Qualify
The four American men racing on Monday qualified for the heats, with Bill Harmeyer (University of Vermont Ski Team) leading them in 11th (+7.03), Logan Diekmann (Utah Ski Team) in 23rd (+10.74), Kam Husain (Stratton Mountain School) in 27th (+11.71), and Lance McKenney in 29th (+11.91).
Two Canadians qualified in the top 30 as well, with Étienne Hébert (Montériski) in 13th (+8.57) and Reed Godfrey (Team R.A.D./Canmore Nordic) in 25th (+11.55). Antoine Blais (Skibec) missed the qualifying cutoff by 0.05 seconds in 31st for his best result at his second Junior Worlds, while Ty Godfrey (Team R.A.D./Canmore Nordic) finished 36th (+12.99).
In the heats, Harmeyer ended up fourth in the first quarterfinal, 1.13 seconds behind Stakston, but advanced as one of two lucky losers to the semifinal.
“Out from the gun, I gave it some gas, but immediately realized that these guys were going pretty fast,” Harmeyer, 19, reflected in an email after his first Junior Worlds race. “So I decided to cool down a bit, and fall in behind the two Norwegians in my heat. Things settled in pretty quick, and I just tried to stay relaxed.
“Going into the second climb, where the guys and gals courses split, I tried to make a move,” he added. “I moved up from 6th to 3rd or 4th around the outside, and was in a good position going into the final climb. Up the final climb, I got boxed out a bit, and went into the final downhill in 4th. Coming through the finish, I knew that lucky looser was a possibility, so I gave it everything I had.”
Harmeyer made it to the first semifinal, where he faced off against the eventual top-three finishers (Brugger, Stakston and Meyer). Four of the men in his semifinal made it to the final.
The Vermont native described the beginning of his semifinal as similar to his quarterfinal.
“I played the same cards going into the first hill, and made the same move going into the second hill as I did in the quarter,” Harmeyer wrote. “I was in 4th or 5th going into the final climb, and the group was still tight. Thats when I went down. I’m not sure if I got tangled with myself or if I got tangled with the Russian but I went down pretty hard.”
Upon trying to stand back up, his pole snapped.
“I finally got back up and started making my way up the hill as [U.S. development coach] Bryan Fish came sprinting down with another pole,” he recalled. “At this point, the guys in the heat were already headed down towards the finish. All I could do was enjoy the race at that point!”
Harmeyer finished sixth (+23.23) and did not advance to the final to end up 12th overall.
“I’m really happy with my performance today, but more happy with the team’s performance,” he wrote. “I think it was awesome to see all the guys, and three of the girls [Julia Kern, Hannah Halvorsen, and Lauren Jortberg] make it into the rounds. The wax techs and coaches have put everything into the athletes, those guys are awesome! It’s a total honor being able to represent the USA on home soil, and I’m looking forward to an exciting week of racing to come!”
He was the lone North American to reach the semifinals after Husain finished sixth in the second quarterfinal (1.5 seconds behind Svinsås as the winner of that heat), Godfrey was fifth in the third quarterfinal (7.59 seconds out of first), McKenney was fourth in the fourth quarterfinal (2.02 seconds out of first), and Hébert finished fourth (+1.43) and Diekmann sixth (+3.98) in the fifth quarterfinal.
At the end of the day, Harmeyer led the U.S. in 12th, followed by McKenney in 20th, Diekmann in 27th, and Husain in 29th.
Hébert was the top Canadian in 17th overall, followed by Godfrey in 25th.
“It was a pretty awesome race for me today,” Hébert said, according to a Cross Country Canada (CCC) press release. “I couldn’t expect any more from myself as that was pretty much the best race I have done all year.
“I just knew at the beginning of the race I wouldn’t be able to go with those guys in the final 100 meters,” the 18 year old added. “They were just too big so I tried to just go for it and I did. I was able to hold them off until about 200 metres when they passed me.”
According to Godfrey, also at his first Junior Worlds, he raced the fastest qualifier he could have and enjoyed his quarterfinal.
“The most challenging part for me was the finishing stretch,” Godfrey told CCC. “I was in pretty good contention for most of the course, but the biggest difference between myself and the other guys is their power to the finish. [This performance] gives me a little extra motivation for next year.”
Stay tuned for a separate women’s classic sprint report.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.