$33,500: the base salary for a Norwegian ski team member in 2014, a year after Norway’s Emil Iversen made his World Cup debut in December 2013.
$75,400: the yearly amount top Norwegian national-team members reportedly make, not counting sponsorships — closer to the amount someone like Iversen, 25, is now making.
The look on Iversen’s face on Sunday after crossing the finish line first on Sunday for his first World Cup win of the season? Priceless.
“I thought, f-, I am good at skiing,” Iversen put it ever-so-delicately in a post-race interview with VG.
The victory, which he secured by 3.7 seconds over his team’s superstar Martin Johnsrud Sundby in the men’s 30-kilometer classic mass start in Falun, Sweden, was his second in a World Cup distance race and fourth of his career.
But the way Iversen talks, he should’ve been winning every race this season.
“My performance says a lot; I’m pretty good at skiing and I master several things,” he told VG.
Iversen’s World Cup win on Sunday was redemption for what he deemed a sub-par performance on Saturday. Second place by 0.06 seconds was unacceptable, and the look on his face and the pole he snapped in two after the men’s freestyle sprint final said it all.
“I’ve been pretty mad at my little brothers, but I don’t think I’ve been this angry in years,” Iversen told NRK.
For the sake of reflection, let’s rewind to a year ago, when Iversen credited training with the best, Norway’s Petter Northug.
“I have trained too much with him now I think,” Northug said at a February 2016 post-race press conference in Lahti, Finland.
Iversen, then 24 with his second sprint World Cup victory, jested that he knew Northug’s weakness, but there was no way he was disclosing it.
“I know what that is, so I’m going to use it also next year,” he said.
It’s now next year, and Northug’s nowhere in sight — at least not until Sunday, when he returned to the World Cup for the first time in over a month to finish 31st as the seventh-best Norwegian (out of nine) in the 30 k mass start.
Northug finished a whopping 3 minutes and 10.6 seconds behind Iversen, who’s proven himself one of Norway’s strongest starters in any given race.
“The plan is sprint, team sprint, classic distance and the relay,” Iversen said of 2017 World Championships, slightly less than a month away in Lahti, Finland.
At the same time, he explained he hadn’t heard anything definitive about Norway’s World Championships team.
“I haven’t heard sh*t, so maybe they don’t have faith in me. But I’ve handed in some good applications,” he said. “I think I was born to do a team sprint. The distance suits me incredibly well.”
Asked who he’d pick as his teammate, Iversen was uncertain.
“It would have been fun to do it with Petter, but if you’re gonna do the team sprint you need to have performed well in the distance,” he said.
How the tables have turned…
On Sunday, Iversen hung in where he needed to, within striking distance of the leaders in the six-lap 30 k.
Conditions weren’t easy, with temperatures around -4 degrees Celsius (25 Fahrenheit) and snow that was described as “sugary” in Falun. Iversen scored bonus points at three out of the four intermediate sprints on the course, racing through the 6.5 k checkpoint in fourth, 16.5 k in fifth, and 21.5 k in fifth.
Meanwhile, his teammates Sundby and Sjur Røthe mostly drove the pace up front. With 10 k to go, Røthe made a move and put five seconds into the field. One and a half kilometers later, at the final bonus sprint, Røthe had built that lead to 8.5 seconds. Skiing alone and having to herringbone outside the tracks, however, isn’t easy, and Røthe was swallowed by the pack as he entered the stadium for the final lap at 25 k.
Sweden’s Daniel Rickardsson was one of several different men to take the lead after that point, before Iversen moved into first halfway around the loop at 27.5 k. Finland’s Iivo Niskanen followed, along with Sundby, both within a second of first. By 28.2 k, Sundby was again leading Iversen and Niskanen, with a 1.4-second gap to Russia’s Alexander Bessmertnykh and Røthe in fourth.
With less than a kilometer remaining, Sundby began his final push. Iversen caught up to him, ultimately challenging Sundby for the win. With about 200 meters to go, Iversen made it clear he was going take it all on Sunday — not second to Sundby or anyone else. He crossed the line first in 1:15:46.7 minutes, 3.7 seconds ahead of Sundby.
“It felt good when I realized there was no Italian in the final stretch like yesterday,” Iversen told NRK, referring to his photo-finish loss in the sprint to Italy’s Federico Pellegrino.
“There was a war between me and Martin,” he said of Sunday’s distance race. “It turned out a little like I wanted it to, and then it’s all about attacking.”
The overall World Cup leader by more than 300 points, Sundby settled for second and Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson locked up third, 5.6 seconds behind Iversen. Just 0.1 seconds off the podium, Røthe placed fourth. Norway had four in the top five with Niklas Dyrhaug in fifth (+8.2), while Niskanen finished sixth (+9.8), Rickardsson was seventh (+10.3), and Bessmertnykh eighth (+10.9).
Iversen currently ranks seventh in the overall World Cup standings, behind Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov (who placed 12th on Sunday) in second, Finland’s Matti Heikkinen (14th on Sunday) in third, Canada’s Alex Harvey (15th) in fourth, Sweden’s Marcus Hellner (didn’t race on Sunday) in fifth, and Switzerland’s Dario Cologna (16th) in sixth.
‘Double Whammy’ for Canada’s Harvey
For most of the first two laps of Sunday’s 30 k, Harvey skied in the top three. By 10 k, he had dropped to ninth, but was still within 3 seconds of Ustiugov up front. One lap later, he remained in the top 10 and 2.3 seconds out of first, before dropping back to 16th and 7 seconds behind Iversen in first at 20 k.
“The first lap the kick was still, it was not locker kick, but I honestly don’t think anybody had locker kick today, it was hard to get good grip,” Harvey explained on the phone after. “So the first two laps, till 10 k was fairly comfortable, I was not fighting the skis too much, but then from 10 k to 20, I started fighting the skis a lot. I would kind of drift on the uphills, but my skis were really fast so I could kind of come back with the group. Even being at the tail of the group I could still use the draft and everything, but then at one point, the elastic just popped and I couldn’t come back anymore.”
For the last 10 k, Harvey held on, skiing with Cologna (among others) while fighting to stay within reach of the podium. Just 6.8 seconds out of first in 16th at 25 k, Harvey slipped to 55 seconds back in 15th just over 3 k later. He finished 1:17.5 back in 15th (13.8 seconds behind Heikkinen in 14th and 4.7 seconds ahead of Cologna in 16th).
“I was just losing a bit more kick every lap and getting more and more tired,” Harvey explained. “So it’s harder to compensate and yet you have less energy to compensate so it was just kind of a double whammy.”
According to Canadian World Cup coach Ivan Babikov, he told the team’s two racers on Sunday — Harvey and Cendrine Browne (who competed in the women’s 15 k classic mass start) — that no one would have perfect kick because of the soft conditions.
“It’s more like a running, double poling [race],” Babikov said on the phone after. “The uphills, especially Mördarbacken, got pretty mashed-potatoey. It was really sugary, super soft and really hard to get kick for many nations, and we struggled with the kick wax today. That’s a bit disappointing to all of us … but it’s one of those days that we did our best…
“We tried actually changing it for Cendrine, but it actually got even worse somehow and she struggled even more,” he said of Browne, who finished 46th in the women’s race.
“Not the proudest day of the season so far on the waxing side, but we’re just moving forward and learning from our mistakes,” Babikov continued.
The day before, Harvey missed qualifying for the skate-sprint heats in 46th. It was only his second time time not qualifying in a sprint this season and first time outside the top 40.
“Falun being arguably the best stop for me on the World Cup, I really had quite high expectations,” Harvey said on Sunday. “I think I went to the start line [of the skate sprint] a bit too excited and with too much adrenaline and I just really skied really bad. I didn’t ski like myself yesterday. I skied all tempo and no tempo and no glide, and for me, that’s not a good way to ski.”
As for the conditions on Sunday and how they affected his race, he blamed his choice in skis.
“[The conditions were] kind of a bit abrasive, but we think the binder didn’t hold up enough,” he explained. “I made a bit of a risky pick because I had a pair [of skis] that was way faster, but the kick was a bit limited on them in the beginning so I for sure paid for it when I started losing a bit of kick.”
He started to lose it after 10 k, he said.
“Then I could kind of fake it for 10 more k’s, but then that was it,” Harvey explained. “Coming 15th is a bit of a disappointment after the previous two weekends, but I know that the shape is still really good. I think that with the mistake I made, with picking a bit of a too slick of a ski, I could’ve been out of the top 30 today in those conditions, so it was still kind of a good sign even though it was a bit disappointing.”
The Canadian team in Falun was a lean one, not by design but rather because of circumstance, especially on the men’s side. Babikov explained that Knute Johnsgaard had been recovering from a stomach bug he picked up last week, which prompted an overnight hospital stay in Falun. He was on the mend, Babikov said, but had a “rough couple days.”
Graeme Killick had returned to Canmore, Alberta, after the Tour de Ski earlier this month and originally planned to be back on the circuit in Falun.
“But unfortunately he got sick as well so that kind of postponed all of it,” Babikov said. “We made the decision that it would be best to get ready for the World Champs … so he’s doing some good training at home and we’ll see him in a week in Davos [Switzerland, at the team’s training camp].”
Until then, Harvey will go to Livigno, Italy, with coach Louis Bouchard, Johnsgaard, and Browne, Babikov will return to Canmore, Len Valjas will race at next weekend’s World Cup in PyeongChang, South Korea, and Devon Kershaw will continue to await the birth of his first child with his wife, Kristin Størmer Steira.
Among the Americans in Sunday’s 30 k classic, a race that has only been held three times in the last 10 years, according to an International Ski Federation (FIS) press release, Erik Bjornsen and Noah Hoffman finished 35th (+3:30.8) and 37th (+3:59.8), respectfully, followed by Matt Gelso in 44th (+5:23.6) and Andy Newell in 53rd (+7:45.3).
For Bjornsen, who finished about 20 seconds behind Northug in 31st, he reflected that he was happy with the majority of his race.
“Most of the race I was skiing in a position I would have been very happy to finished in,” Bjornsen wrote in an email, after hovering in 25th to 30th throughout it. “I skied alone for about 10km near the end of the race and that was enough to put me over. I really needed some help to stay away from a pack of 10 guys that were hunting me down. I could see a them chasing me down for about 10km. They finally caught me with 4km to go. I didn’t have much fuel left in the tank. It was really disappointing to finish in 35th when at 25km I was in 24th.”
On Monday, he planned to head to France, where he’ll spend two weeks training before racing the pre-World Championships World Cup in Otepää, Estonia.
Meanwhile, FasterSkier caught up with Hoffman while he was packing his bags for South Korea.
“I had not a great start for the first k and a half, and then kind of made a good move on the first time up the big hill and was able to run by a bunch of people and move up into the top 30, which is where I wanted to be skiing,” Hoffman reflected of his race on Sunday. “And I noticed that I had the fastest split of the whole race for that section [from around 0.5 to 2 k].
“But then I paid the price for that a little bit and faded pretty quickly,” Hoffman added. “And really Laps 2 and 3 were a bit of a struggle, and I ended up in no-man’s land off the back of the group all by myself.”
He regrouped for the third and fourth laps, catching back up to a sub-group of skiers that had been dropped from the main group, skiing between 30th and 40th place.
“I skied with that group for a while and was feeling pretty good, and I was actually helping lead the charge up to another group that was falling off the main pack, and that represented all the way up to 24th place,” Hoffman said. “And right as we made contact with them, with about 5 k to go, I crashed on the same corner that I crashed on three years ago when I was having a good race in the mass start skate race here. And it’s just a terrible place to crash, right on the sprint course as you are coming into the stadium with a lot of speed.”
In an instant, he had lost an estimated 13 places and skied alone for the final 5 k, out of reach of that group.
“All of a sudden, I was like ‘OK, six or seven people out of this group are gonna get points … and that could have been me.’ I felt good, and so I let points today go with that crash,” he said. “There were some good signs today, and it’s a frustrating result. It’s a result where I felt I was better than the result shows. But it’s kind of been a frustrating season.
“I still feel good, and I think today was a positive sign, and there are still some really good races [coming up for me],” Hoffman added.
Among those were next weekend’s races in PyeongChang, with a classic sprint, 15/30 k skiathlons, and a freestyle team sprint from Feb. 3-5. (Hoffman planned to race the skiathlon.)
“Next weekend [in Korea] it’s gonna be a light field. And then we go back to Otepää, where I scored my first-ever World Cup points on a course that I really love,” he said. “And then with the World Championships, which obviously if you are successful at World Championships then nobody remembers the rest of the season. And I feel like I can have a really good championship. Those courses suit me really well, and I am particularly psyched for the 50 k skate there…”
He’ll be joined in PyeongChang by a few other U.S. Ski Team members (mostly sprinters, as well as distance skier Liz Stephen). Gelso, the Period 1 SuperTour leader from the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, also planned to be there.
“Today was a solid race, not great, but solid,” Gelso, who previously raced in Falun at 2015 World Championships, wrote in an email on Sunday. “World Cups in Scandinavia are very competitive so I am relatively happy with my result although it leaves MUCH room for improvement. My body also felt MUCH better than it has since I have been here. The sprint yesterday was my first World Cup sprint and was also a decent result for me [in 59th], however it was easy to identify a few costly mistakes.
“The overarching goal on the World Cup is to score World Cup points/have a top 30 result,” Gelso explained. “As far as a non-result goal it is hard to get over to Europe and acclimate to sea level, European courses, wetter snow, different food, very stout competition, timezone changes, long travel, etc. It is easy to come over here and feel pretty bad racing, always feeling like you are blowing up and hanging on and never really racing. My goal today was to not feel like that and actually be able to get a race feeling going in my body.”
Looking ahead, he was focused on next weekend’s World Cup in South Korea. While an individual top 30 remains his goal, Gelso explained he also wanted to “nail my travel and acclimatization there so that I can feel good racing, and race well.”
He planned to return to the U.S. after to race the SuperTour in Ishpeming, Mich., and the American Birkebeiner in Wisconsin. Ultimately, he hoped to qualify for the World Cup Finals in mid-March in Quebec City.
Results | World Cup overall standings
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- 30 k classic mass start
- Alex Harvey
- Alexander Bessmertnykh
- calle halfvarsson
- Canadian National Ski Team
- cendrine browne
- Daniel Rickardsson
- Emil Iversen
- Erik Bjornsen
- Falun 30 k classic
- Falun 30 k classic mass start
- Falun World Cup
- Ivan Babikov
- Kristin Størmer Steira
- Martin Johnsrud Sundby
- Matt Gelso
- Niklas Dyrhaug
- Noah Hoffman
- Petter Northug
- Sjur Rothe
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.