In a place like Norway, where the pool of cross-country athletes appears eternally deep, when you see competitors raise the bar, there’s nothing else to do but jump.
On Saturday in Beitostølen, Norway the known knowns were self-evident: Maiken Caspersen Falla and Johannes Høsflot Klæbo took the freestyle sprint wins during the second day of FIS race competitions.
As both athletes were overall World Cup sprint champions last season, there are no shockers there. (Klæbo has won two consecutive sprint crystal globes, Falla three.) But other skiers rose to the occasion and proved they too can jump nearly as high as Falla and Klæbo.
The women raced a 1.3 k skate sprint course with 54 women racing the qualifier. And this is where things got interesting. Nineteen-year-old junior Kristine Stavås Skistad, who has raced a single World Cup, the 2018 Drammen classic sprint in which she placed 51st, won the qualifier in 2:44.68 minutes. What is startling when scrolling through the qualification results is her birth year: 1999. The next closest Norwegian athlete in age finishing in the top-10 of qualification on Saturday was Anne Kjersti Kalvå, born in 1992.
In last season’s World Junior Championships, Skistad placed fifth in the 5 k classic, and second in the skate sprint. So certainly she is an up and comer. But the fact that she held her own in a world-class field of Norway’s best, is a statement.
Falla qualified in fourth (+1.63), and moved through to the finals by winning both her quarterfinal and semifinal.
Skistad, however, maybe played it a bit coyer. She squeaked into the semis by placing second in her heat by .30 seconds to Slovenia’s Eva Urevc. She then placed second to Falla by .22 seconds in the first semifinal. (That semi proved the faster of the two semifinals — both Kari Øyre Slind and Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen advanced as lucky losers from the Falla semi.)
Falla is Falla – a veteran with big experience and the know how to throttle the engine when it matters. She won the final in 2:39.17 minutes, a pace over five seconds faster than Skistad’s winning qualification time.
In the all Norwegian final, Skistad placed second (+0.93), Lotta Udnes Weng was third (+1.28) Tiril Kampenhaug Eckhoff, both a World Champs and Olympic medalist in biathlon, was fourth (+1.34), Slind fifth (+1.53), and Jacobsen sixth (+2.89).
More Klæbo and a bit of Iversen
It is time to refresh the syntax and remember Klæbo’s name can be used as a verb. With that in mind, Klæbo Klæboed in the men’s 1.7 k skate sprint. But like Falla on the women’s side, the twenty-two-year-old Klæbo was tested.
Tefre Gjøran, a year older than Klæbo at 23, was the fastest qualifier, finishing in 3:12.27 minutes. Klæbo was second (+1.12), and Emil Iversen third (+1.62).
In the end, it was Iversen, seeming like an aged vet at 27, who made life spicey for Klæbo.
Klæbo and Iversen advanced to the second semifinal. And it was Iversen who pushed the pace and was the catalyst for speed. Although not a massive margin, a second is still a second — but we are talking sprints here — Iversen won the second semi in 3:11.95, 1.12 seconds faster than second-place skier Klæbo.
“I was not good enough to fight him then,” Klæbo said to Norwegian broadcaster NRK, according to a translation, as he spoke about Iversen’s charge in the semis. “I had to be cynical and save me to the final. But Emil has a lot of effort, you saw how much he had in the finals too.”
It was a final highlighted by a Klæbo-Iversen dual. Klæbo won in 3:14.16 outpacing perhaps a new rival this season in Iversen, by 0.18 seconds.
In the all-Norway final, Eirik Brandsdal placed third (+1.88), Gjøran fourth (+1.96), Sindre Bjørnestad Skar fifth (+7.94), and Finn Hågen Krogh sixth (+9.94).
Great Britain’s Andrew Young was 10th overall, James Clugnet 17th, and Andrew Musgrave 24th. They were the only non-Norwegians in the top-30.
“Top 10 is really good, the level here is really high,” Young told FasterSkier’s reporter in Beitostølen. “I had really good skis, and I was surprised nobody else wanted to take the lead at the start so I just went for it. I tried not to use too much energy. I knew Klæbo would go fast. So I just wanted to make sure I was on his tails when he came past. I was really pleased with my skiing. I wasn’t so defensive, I wasn’t so passive, and not let the others control the race. I tried to control it and be in that spot where I wanted to be.”
Young was passed in the final stretch by Skar and Krogh, who both advanced to the finals as lucky losers in the second semifinal.
Canadians Russell Kennedy placed 51st, Maks Zechel 94th.
Kennedy has skied well in the early season, with solid results at Frozen Thunder and Friday’s 15 k classic in Beitostølen.
“It is very deep, but it makes it fun there are lots of rides and always somewhere to push,” Kennedy emailed on Saturday about his experience racing to 22nd overall in the 15 k classic yesterday. “I was very happy with that. I don’t know if surprised is the right word. Last weekend in Olos, [Finland] I had a really good skate race and a good classic race against some big names. I was excited I ended up so high up the results for sure! It was a tough day with skis and I was lucky to be on fast skis even though they were a little slick on the last laps.”
Racing concludes in Beitostølen tomorrow with a 10 k/ 15 k skate.
-Aleks Tangens contributed from Beitostølen, Norway
Jason lives in Bend, Ore., and can often be seen chasing his two boys around town. He’s a self-proclaimed audio geek. That all started back in the early 1990s when he convinced a naive public radio editor he should report a story from Alaska’s, Ruth Gorge. Now, Jason’s common companion is his field-recording gear.