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Just a few more rotations of the earth and we’ll be in December – trending towards solid wintertime. The World Cup, as it has for 19 years, swung up to Ruka, Finland just a Reindeer’s nose from the Arctic Circle. The day dawned lazily in Ruka on Saturday at 9:40 AM to reveal clear skies, snowy trees, and noisy snow underfoot. As much as this is the status quo on the race calendar, the second day of racing for the women on Saturday, a 10-kilometer interval start classic, was status quo for Norway’s Therese Johaug.
Johaug won in 25:01.4 minutes with a rather comfortable time gap of 21.8 seconds over second-place Frida Karlsson (21) of Sweden. In summarizing Johaug coming into the season, let’s simply say she remains peerless when the kilometers skew anywhere beyond sprint distance. In Friday’s 1.4 k classic sprint, she placed 30th, making the heats, which, for this decidedly non-sprinter, is something to note.
Johaug picked up on Saturday with her metronomic striding and began picking skiers off as the day’s 30th starter. Let’s call this her warm-up – Johaug was fourth at 1.2 k, 5.5 seconds behind the hot-starting Karlsson. She inched closer to 1.8 seconds at 3.1k, again jusy off the fastest time split of Karlsson. Then, mid-race at 5 k, the places flip-flopped for good, and Johaug took control. Roughly a kilometer later, Johaug was up 5.9 seconds on Karlsson.
Goodbye. Another win and another well-padded win, concerning time, for the thirty-two-year-old Johaug.
“It was really hard, I forget how hard it really is,” Joahug told FIS after the race. She said this masked-up in the mixed zone. But let’s safely assume under that mask was a no-nonsense smile from the no-nonsense winner.
Karlsson, still a U23 athlete, comes with high expectations. Yesterday she was 15th in the sprint, and she finished last year’s Covid-19 shortened season in first place at the storied Holmenkollen 30 k classic – the last race of the season.
Ebba Andersson, also of Sweden, placed third overall on Saturday, 26 seconds back.
For the U.S., Rosie Brennan has come to Ruka in form. A career-best 17th in the sprint yesterday was followed up with an eighth-place on Saturday. Brennan has two World Cup sixth places to her name, one of which came last year in Ruka’s 10 k classic. So when the shape is good, Ruka’s classic course can be kind to Brennan.
“We had about as nice of a day as you can ask for in Ruka at the end of November,” Brennan emailed to several outlets. “The course is on the wrong side of the mountain to get the sunlight, but the sky was clear and I could tell there was sun somewhere! I tried to start comfortably and work my way into the race today. This strategy worked quite well and I was able to pick things up a bit the second time around. I felt like I was skiing strong, but still feel like I have one more gear to find racing. I am happy with the result, but it certainly makes you eager when I only needed 2 seconds to move up two places! The times were tight so tomorrow should be a good battle for the overall. I’m looking forward to putting my skating to the test!”
Matt Whitcomb, U.S. Ski Team Head Coach reflected Brennen’s positive energy. “It was fun to have our first top-10 of the season, there were high fives and Rosie had a big smile, or at least it appeared that way under her mask,” said Whitcomb after the race. “I think she is positioned well to have a huge day tomorrow.”
Post-race interview with Matt Whitcomb
As a three-race series, which includes results and bonus times from Friday’s sprint, Brennan sits 11th overall, 42 seconds behind first-place Joahug. It’s 12 seconds to seventh overall Andersson and another four to Friday’s sprint winner Linn Svahn.
Why bring up Svahn? The Swede placed 11th on Saturday, a career-best World Cup distance race result outside a “winner of the day” eighth place last season in Trondheim’s 15 k classic pursuit. Maybe it’s too early to state outright, she is only 20, but with her sprint prowess, she may become another overall World Cup threat from Sweden. (We’ll wait and let Devon Kershaw rave about the riches of Sweden’s women’s program on Sunday though.)
Back to the U.S. Jessie Diggins finished in 22nd overall, 1:23.5 back, Hailey Swirbul was 40th (+2:05.0) on Saturday after posting her best World Cup sprint result yesterday when she finished 18th overall.
Post-race interview with Hailey Swirbul
Also for the U.S., Cailtin Patterson 50th (+2:28.1), Katharine Ogden 56th (+2:56.1), Sophie Caldwell Hamilton 58th (+3:09.6), and Julia Kern 62nd (+3:19.0).
Heidi Weng, one of Norway’s foremost distance skiers, did not start.
Racing concludes in Ruka tomorrow with the 10 k freestyle pursuit.
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.