DAVOS, Switzerland – Ingvild Flugstad Østberg picked up the third Davos win of her career, and just like one year ago, the Olympic silver medalist didn’t do it in the sprint. Instead, Østberg made her mark in the distance event, this year a 10 kilometer freestyle race.
Bib 42 in the interval-start competition, the Norwegian knew the split times of some of her top competitors, and quickly surpassed them. By the 5 k mark she had a 5.5-second lead over teammate Heidi Weng, 13 seconds over Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla – who had won the previous three distance races of the season – and nearly 20 seconds over Norwegian teammate Marit Bjørgen.
Later starters threatened, with Switzerland’s Nathalie Von Siebenthal laying down a time at the 5 k mark that nobody could match. Kerttu Niskanen of Finland was also fast at the halfway point, just a second behind Østberg’s time.
But while Østberg stayed aggressive and strong over the second lap of the course, several competitors slowed, perhaps having started too fast. To the sighs of the Swiss crowd, Von Siebenthal faded and finished in a tie for fifth with Austria’s Teresa Stadlober. Niskanen was seventh.
That left Østberg at the top of the standings, 5.9 seconds ahead of teammate Ragnhild Haga and 7.9 seconds ahead of Finland’s Krista Parmakoski.
“It was completely insane,” Østberg told Norway’s NRK broadcaster. “That’s what I’ve been training for the whole year. This is my favorite place and I love being here.”
It was Østberg’s second podium of the season after finishing third in the 10 k classic in Ruka, Finland.
“She’s impressive,” Kalla said to Norway’s VG.
“I am very impressed,” Bjørgen agreed. “Ingvild went very well here last year, too.”
Parmakoski was ranked second at the 8.2 mark, but lost time compared to earlier starter Haga, who was able to finish second thanks to her aggressive skiing on the course’s downhill finish.
Haga is continuing to have her best season to date; this was her third podium, all coming in distance races. Second place is also her best individual World Cup finish ever.
“t was thrilling [as in nervous] to race, because it was so close,” Haga told Norway’s TV2 of receiving splits along the course, according to a translation. “On the top coach yelled out that I had to ski with my life … It feels great to end up on the podium when it was such a close race.”
Weng was left off the podium in fourth (+14.5). Kalla finished eighth (+26.8), Bjørgen ninth (+35.9), and Norway’s Astrid Jacobsen tenth (+37.6).
After a banner day in the freestyle sprint on Saturday, which saw four American women in the top eight, the team comparatively slowed. But they still packed the top 20, with Sadie Bjornsen 12th (+44.6), Kikkan Randall 14th (+56.8), Jessie Diggins 15th (+59.9), and Rosie Brennan 17th (+1:11.2).
“I haven’t raced a distance race here in a few years,” Bjornsen said. “I wasn’t really sure how to approach it other than my wax tech told me yesterday to ski the uphills and race the downhills. I went out a little harder than I normally do on purpose, to see if I could hold it. I think that on a course like this I have to operate like that.”
It worked, and despite the hard start Bjornsen kept an even position in the field: 10th after 3.2 k, 11th after 5 k, and 12th at the finish.
“This is, for me, one of the hardest courses because there’s not a second of rest out there,” she said. “I often do a little bit better when I have some recovery. I did today just as a challenge for myself, to practice pushing through some serious pain cave. The result isn’t what matters today. It’s that I did that effort. I felt like I was able to push that.”
Diggins wasn’t happy with her race; after being sick earlier in the week, she had rallied for the sprint, where she finished fourth yesterday. But in the 10 k she was unable to match her fourth-place finish from last year’s 15 k.
“It was disappointing for me,” she said. “It wasn’t what I wanted. I felt like my reserves, now that I’ve been sick, maybe wore out. So I made it through yesterday and just didn’t have it today. That’s okay — not every day is going to be good. It felt like I was pushing as hard as I could but I just didn’t have a lot there today. And if something is not great, then it really, really shows on this course.”
Randall, meanwhile, felt like she put together a solid weekend after hitting the podium in the sprint and then finishing 14th. In her last Davos distance race before retirement, it was also her best Davos distance result. On her first lap, she skied with Kalla, who was finishing the race.
“I think today was good,” Randall said. “It was fun to ski with Charlotte on the first lap. I actually felt pretty comfortable skiing behind her. But then on the second lap it was like, oh, that’s what she must have been feeling like. So it was good to get that pace to start and then have to work through it myself on the second lap. So it was solid. It wasn’t a spectacular day, but overall pretty good.”
Ranked 23rd at the halfway point of the race, Brennan rallied and moved up on the second time up the course’s long climbing section, before losing a few more seconds on the downhill.
“The uphills!” she laughed when asked whether there was a part of the race that had worked particularly well for her. “The downvalley, I don’t know, I probably have some work to do on that. But gradual uphills are good for me. This course is special — even when you are skiing, you don’t really know what’s going on. You just have to find a way to keep moving. But I felt like I was able to do that, so I’m pretty happy.”
Chelsea Holmes finished 29th (+1:32.9), Liz Stephen 40th (+1:58.5), and Sophie Caldwell 52nd (+2:20.1).
Cendrine Browne led the Canadian team in 45th (+2:05.9), followed by Emily Nishikawa in 50th (+2:18.4).
“It went well,” said Browne. “I’m really happy – usually I have a hard time at altitude because I live at sea level. So I went into the race not knowing how it would go. Last year it did not go really well for me. So I was happy that I had good feelings during the race, I was able to push.”
After struggling last year, Browne tried to be deliberate in her approach to the Davos course this time around.
“Yesterday I talked about that with my coach, Louis [Bouchard]. “And other athletes, like Alex, were saying don’t start too fast because everybody dies on this course because it’s so hard. But I talked with Louis and we decided that I would do like always, I would start fast and see if I could hold that pace. So I started fast. I think I had a really good start. I tried to just keep going.”
Also for Canada, Dahria Beatty placed 73rd (+2:53.0) and Katherine Stewart-Jones 79th (+3:44.6).
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.