RacingWorld CupFalla Wins in Seefeld with a Turbo to the Finish; Diggins in 8th

Jason Albert Jason AlbertFebruary 21, 2019
Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla as she wins the women’s 1.2-kilometer freestyle sprint at the 2019 World Championships in Seefeld, Austria. (Photo: John Lazenby/lazenbyphoto.com)

Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla torched the start of the women’s 1.2-kilometer freestyle sprint on Thursday at the 2019 World Championships in Seefeld, Austria. She skied snappy and smooth – her compact frame channeling energy downstream and towards the awaiting finish line.  

Like a prize fighter knowing she had her peers against the ropes, Falla first appeared to give the knock-out blow a minute into the race. She pushed over the top of the first climb, making a slight gap on three chasing Swedes: Stina Nilsson, Jonna Sundling, and Maja Dahlqvist.

With slick skis complimenting her over-the-hilltop move, Falla initially strung out the chasers as they glided into the long straight. But as Falla pulled from her tuck and began her free-skate, the Swedes had closed in and latched on. Falla then hammered a furious V1 up the final climb. The three Swedes ceded no ground. As the course curved right over the top, Dahlqvist tumbled. Without looking back, Falla must have sensed the moment as she powered ahead and gained twenty meters in a blink. She never let up taking the win in  2:32.35 minutes.

“I have been really worried about these tracks and the high speed,” Falla told the International Ski Federation (FIS) after the race. “I have been practicing all season to have good timing on the last meters. Today I really succeed. And also, the skis, they are amazing today, and everything feels right.”

It was Falla’s eighth career World Championship medal. (Falla also won the 2017 championship skate sprint in Lahti, Finland.)

 Nilsson of Sweden placed second (+1.66), while Norway’s Mari Eide placed third (+2.84). Sundling of Sweden was fourth (+3.17), Germany’s Victoria Carl fifth (+5.71), and Dahlqvist sixth (+31.49).

Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla celebrates her win in the women’s 1.2-kilometer freestyle sprint at the 2019 World Championships in Seefeld, Austria. (Photo: John Lazenby/lazenbyphoto.com)

It was Falla’s eighth career World Championship medal. Falla also won the 2017 championship skate sprint in Lahti, Finland.

Nilsson of Sweden placed second (+1.66), while Norway’s Mari Eide placed third (+2.84). Sundling of Sweden was fourth (+3.17), Germany’s Victoria Carl fifth (+5.71), and Dahlqvist sixth (+31.49).

Nilsson had not raced a World Cup since Jan. 19, in Otepää, Estonia. She won the classic sprint qualifier in Otepää but pulled from the competition after injuring her hamstring/groin in the semifinal.

Sadie Bjornsen of the U.S/. Ski Team placed 18th overall in the women’s 1.2-kilometer freestyle sprint at the 2019 World Championships in Seefeld, Austria. (Photo: John Lazenby/lazenbyphoto.com)

For the U.S., the paradigm of solid success now dictates the narrative. All four women entered in Thursday’s sprint solidly qualified: Sophie Caldwell qualified in fourth, Sadie Bjornsen in 14th, Jessie Diggins 15th, and Julia Kern in her first World Championships 22nd.

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“For sure we are all feeling disappointed in the day because we certainly thought it was a big opportunity for a lot more in terms of results,” U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover said in a call after the race. “But it is early in the championship too, we have a lot of races to come.”

Taste success many times as the U.S. women have on every stage – World Cup, World Championships, and the Olympics – and the near miss results don’t resonate on the success scale as they have in the past. Championships, when the women are concerned, are for medals.  

“All four ladies easily in the rounds that is a great start to the day,” Grover added. “I think heat selection went well too. I think we felt good about where everybody was and what their opportunities were for passing through their quarterfinals. But then once we got into the heats, it just was one of those days where luck wasn’t quite on our side. … Some days you need a little bit of that to be on the right side of those battles and we just weren’t there.”

Sophie Caldwell in the women’s 1.2-kilometer freestyle sprint qualifier at the 2019 World Championships in Seefeld, Austria. (Photo: John Lazenby/lazenbyphoto.com)

Here’s how that hard effort and lack of luck unfolded. Caldwell ended her day 14th overall. She finished a tight third in the first heat, 0.13 seconds from first. Her heat was too slow to produce a lucky loser spot. Bjornsen finished fourth in her heat, 0.92 seconds from first. She was 18th overall. Kern tangled with a skier during her heat to lose time. She was eliminated after placing fifth to finish 23rd. Diggins won the heat that included Kern, but she too placed fourth in the second semi and did not advance. Diggins was eighth overall.

“I think the frustrating part for all of the women, all four of them said they felt great,” said Grover. “And that is really encouraging for the rest of the championships. All of them are healthy. All of them feel really fit right now. It just did not come together.”

The sentiments from skiers after the race were much the same as Grover’s – that sprint racing has its high risk high reward template, but the day left the U.S. collectively wanting more.   

“I was definitely disappointed in my end result today because I was feeling good and enjoy this course, but sometimes that’s sprint racing,” Caldwell emailed. “I’m not sure what I could have done differently other than have a little extra something in the finish stretch, so that gives me some peace of mind, but I was for sure left wanting more. I know I’m feeling good and fit and while you always want to have your best performance at world champs, there are more races to come that I’m looking forward to.”

Julia Kern during the women’s 1.2-kilometer freestyle sprint at the 2019 World Championships in Seefeld, Austria. (Photo: John Lazenby/lazenbyphoto.com)

For Kern, the season has been a quick jump to the World Cup after racing SuperTours during Period 1. She placed 19th in Dresden’s skate sprint, and fourth in the team sprint. She made the heats last weekend in Cogne, Italy where she placed 11th overall. In her first World Championships, Kern came in with a mindset to maximize forward momentum.

It was a pretty short sprint course, I knew that times were going to be tight so I told myself the whole race, every second counts, every push counts, every half second counts.” Kern said in a call. “And I kept saying that every push, and I kept repeating that in my mind. I knew it was going to be one of the more tighter qualifiers and given a championship event everyone is on their top game and fitness.”

Everybody knows Diggins. There’s no mystery that her moxy and finishing speed can devastate the field. That was on full display as she won the fifth heat. And as an eternal optimist, Diggins could reflect on the performance more than the day’s end result as a measure of her mental and physical preparedness.

I’m really excited for everything to come and I think today was a really good indication of where my fitness was; my final 100 meters I was moving faster than my first 100 meters and I think that’s a really good place to be in and it gives me a lot of confidence,” Diggins said in call.

Diggins was repeatedly boxed out by the front four skiers in her semi-final. She skied in the back, not dangling off, just simply unable to find daylight and emerge near the front. Then as the pack of skiers rolled over the top of the final hill and slung around a high-speed left hand turn into the finish straight, Diggins went wide, far wide to the outermost lane.

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“That was the only place I could go, so I took a really wide line,” reflected Diggins. “I could feel myself gaining – if I had another 50 meters, that would have been really fun. But I went out into a really mushy lane that hadn’t been skied in yet and I’m just like ‘alright, I’m just going to motor as fast as I can go and put my head down and just, you know’, because I felt like I had a lot of pent up energy because I kept getting boxed out so I wasn’t able to ski as hard as I could. It was encouraging to know my speed at the end of the race is there, my finishing kick is alive and well, and I think that bodes well for our races coming up.”

Jessie Diggins during the women’s 1.2-kilometer freestyle sprint qualifier at the 2019 World Championships in Seefeld, Austria. (Photo: John Lazenby/lazenbyphoto.com)

If nothing else, the day’s sprint was a fine spectacle. The high stakes racing was tight and sporting for both the men and women. That came to mind as Diggins went wide on Thursday. It would have been easy to count her out 30 seconds from the finish.

But who would do that?

She finished 0.37 seconds from first and 0.21 seconds from heading to the final.

Racing continues on Saturday in Seefeld with the men’s and women’s skiathlon.

Results   

 

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Jason Albert

Jason Albert

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.

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