For the third and final day of International Ski Federation (FIS) racing in Gällivare, the home crowd would not be let down. Both the men’s and women’s 1-kilometer classic sprints were won by Swedes, one of whom has established herself as one of the world’s best sprinters, ending last season second in the 2016/2017 Sprint World Cup at the age of 23.
Stina Nilsson, now 24 and entering her fifth year of racing on the World Cup, tallied her first win of the season in Sweden’s season-opening sprint on Sunday. So did Oskar Svensson, 22, who competed at his first World Championships last season.
The day started with 1 k qualifiers, which Nilsson’s teammate Hanna Falk won in 3:58.86 minutes. Nilsson followed in second, 1.9 seconds back, and the two advanced through their quarterfinals and semifinals (with Nilsson winning both) before meeting head to head in the final. Also advancing to the final were Russia’s Natalia Matveeva (who won the other semifinal), Yulia Belorukova and Evgeniya Shapovalova, as well as Switzerland’s Nadine Fähndrich.
In the final, Nilsson held off two Russians for the overall win, finishing first in 3:53.75. Matveeva finished 1.89 seconds later for second place, while Belorukova claimed third (+3.16). Falk placed fourth (+5.50), followed by Shapovalova in fifth (+6.09) and Fähndrich in sixth (+6.58).
Rounding out the top 10 were Sweden’s Ida Ingemarsdotter and Jonna Sundling in seventh and eighth, respectively, followed by Russia’s Elena Soboleva in ninth and Sweden’s Anna Haag in 10th.
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The lone North American woman in Sunday’s sprint, Dahria Beatty qualified for the heats in 28th, 17.29 seconds out of first. She went on to finish fifth in her quarterfinal, 9.94 seconds behind Haag, who won that heat. Overall, Beatty ended the day in 23rd. She also raced the 5 k freestyle to start the long weekend in Gällivare and placed 56th in that race.
“There were parts of the course I felt I skied really well in my qualifier today and other parts that definitely need some work,” Beatty wrote in an email. “I was happy with how my striding and double pole felt and my body was moving a lot better today than on Friday in the 5k Skate. The snow was tricky today and I didn’t carry my speed very well through the transitions and up the double pitched herringbone/run section on the back of the course.”
Beatty, a 23-year-old member of Canada’s World Cup Team, flew to Sweden with most of her team on Nov. 11 to get some time on European snow and compete in some early FIS races before the start of the World Cup.
“I was really happy to be able to ski a heat and get that feeling of pushing head to head with others,” she continued. “It’s always good to see where you are losing time or keep up in the heats to figure out what needs to be worked on before the next weekend. I am hoping I can take what I learned today and make some improvements for the World Cup opener next weekend.”
Svensson Tops Men’s Sprint
Meanwhile, Svensson, a member of Sweden’s national A-team, topped a field of 114 in the men’s classic sprint. He started out by winning the qualifier by 0.76 seconds over Russia’s Anton Gafarov in 3:24.06.
In the first quarterfinal, Svensson placed second to Russia’s Andrey Parfenov, finishing 0.14 seconds behind him, and both advanced to the semifinals. There, Svensson won the first semifinal by just 0.01 seconds over fellow Swede Teodor Peterson. They advanced to the final, along with four Russians: Gafarov, Alexander Panzhinskiy, Nikita Kriukov, and Maxim Vylegzhanin.
In the finishing stretch of the final, Svensson and Peterson again lunged for the win, which Svensson took by 0.4 seconds in 3:21.63. Kriukov finished third, 2.12 seconds out of first, followed closely by Panzhinskiy in fourth (+2.18) and Vylegzhanin in fifth (+2.84). Gafarov ended the day in sixth (+22.99).
Also in the top 10, Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson placed seventh, Parfenov was eighth, Russia’s Alexey Vitsenko finished ninth and Sweden’s Johan Haeggström was 10th.
Of the six Canadian men who raced on Sunday, World Cup Team member Len Valjas was the lone qualifier in 24th (+8.69). In the second quarterfinal, from which two lucky losers advanced to the semifinal, he finished sixth, 3.85 seconds behind the heat’s winner, Halfvarsson. That put Valjas 29th overall on the day.
Julien Locke (Canadian U25 Team) raced to 39th in the qualifier, 12.32 seconds out of first and 2.36 seconds out of the top 30, for his best result of the weekend. He finished 72nd in the 10 k freestyle on Friday.
“It was a long, twisty course with a fairly gentle profile with the exception of two very short, punchy steep sections,” Locke, who recently earned World Cup starts at Frozen Thunder trials, wrote in an email. “With all of the fresh snow the last couple days, the track was a soft on the corners and broken up on the climbs.
“I felt that I skied well in the qualifier but was lacking tempo and glide speed on the climbs,” he continued. “The shape feels good and I was able to have a high output throughout the qualifier. I would have liked to race the heats as they would have been excellent race prep for the first World Cup on Friday.”
Another Canadian, Knute Johnsgaard (World Cup Team) followed in 40th, 0.48 seconds behind Locke and 12.80 seconds out of first. Russell Kennedy, last year’s NorAm winner who trains in Canmore with Team R.A.D., raced to 43rd (+13.30). On Friday, he finished 48th in the 10 k skate.
“It is always a bit hard with sprints, but the goal was to close really well,” Kennedy wrote in an email. “I felt strong and was much more happy with this sprint than my Frozen Thunder qualifier.”
With firm tracks and good skis, Kennedy described his Gällivare qualifier as “super smooth.”
“There was one pretty icy corner I thought it was kinda fun since there was a big berm you could ride but there were definitely some falls around that area,” he wrote.
Not wanting to overburden his body before some of the other races he is targeting in the upcoming weeks, Kennedy opted out of Saturday’s 15 k classic.
“I am trying to build my fitness a bit through these races so racing Friday was really good for my fitness and I took off Saturday to get some rest as I have a lot of races coming up that I want to perform well at,” he explained.
Two other Canadians raced Sunday’s sprint qualifier, with Jess Cockney finishing in 48th (+14.05) and Jack Carlyle in 105th (+33.44).
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.