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If you had any question about the strength and depth of the Swedish sprint team, look no further than the qualification list from today’s classic sprint in Falun. Led by Johanna Hagström with a time of 3:14.18, Sweden put six women in the top-10. This number was repeated in the semi-final, leading into a half-Swedish final round on home soil.
The sprint tracks featured the longest climb first, followed by a spiraling curve to send the women up the second climb. A sharp left turn and a roller brought the athletes back toward the stadium and into the final stretch. As the heats unfolded, this looked like a series of uphill sprints out of the track, some furious double poling, and some powerful cornering.
Of the Americans in the heats, Jessie Diggins was the top qualifier in 15th, with Rosie Brennan 20th and Sophie Caldwell Hamilton, back from her mid-season Vermont training camp, in 25th.
During the first heat of the quarters, Diggins looked confident in her tactics, sitting in the middle of the pack. Making assertive moves to seize optimal tracks, she swung wide in the final curve to set herself up to capitalize on her double pole as she sprinted her way from fourth to first. Diggins ceded time at the line to Sweden’s Linn Svahn to finish comfortably in second.
Racing in the first heat of the semis, Diggins looked to be employing a similar tactic of patiently waiting to pounce in the back half of the loop. Heading up the second climb in the 5th spot, she began to hammer, but by that time, Svahn and Norway’s Tiril Udnes Weng had created a small gap she could not close. Challenging Anna Dyvik of Sweden, Diggins powered over the final roller and worked her double pole, but was unable to make up any ground and finished 4th.
This ended Diggin’s day, putting her in 8th place overall.
“Whew, today was exhausting!” wrote Diggins after the race. “I think all the all-out efforts in the cold finally started to catch up to me, as I was definitely getting pretty tired in my semifinal. But I was really proud of how I skied today – especially in really tricky kicking conditions with steep hills and tracks that were deteriorating, and a ton of herringbone out there! It’s a very encouraging step forward in my classic technical skiing. We also had great skis which is always important!”
Advancing from the second heat of the semis, Slovenia’s Anamarija Lampic took the lead to pull the group through a fast heat. A few meters back, Sweden’s Jonna Sundling edged out Ane Appelkvist Stenseth and fellow Swede Hagström in a tight finish, which allowed all three women to advance to the final.
Let’s regroup. Three Swedes, two Norwegians, and one Slovenian in the final: Svahn, Sundling, Hagström of Sweden; Weng, Stenseth of Norway; and Lampic of Slovenia. The two semifinal leaders, Svahn and Lampic, pushed the pace from the front, up and over the two significant climbs. Sitting in a tuck to conserve energy for a final sprint over the roller and toward the lanes, Svahn was on the tails of Lampic, with Sundling just behind. The Swedes gained ground over the roller, setting up an exciting race down the finish lanes.
With the line just moments away, Svahn simply attacked the ground with her double pole, pulling ahead for a back-to-back win in Falun.
Just behind, Lampic and Sundling were virtually tied as they crossed the line in a photo finish. Though times were the same to the hundredth of a second, Lampic was declared second and Sundling third.
“I’ve been feeling a little bit tired since yesterday’s race, but it’s so fun to compete in Falun. I really enjoy racing on a home course, so it was a good day,” Svahn told FIS at the finish.
Despite her age, this is 21-year-old Svahn’s 7th individual win in a World Cup sprint, split almost equally between skate and classic. It is also her second consecutive classic sprint victory on the Falun tracks, as she stood atop the podium in February 2020, also alongside Sundling third place.
Svahn was also asked about the close finish and whether she was sure of her win in the moment.
“I’m never sure of a victory until I pass the finish line first, but it’s cool to see how many strong girls we are competing in sprint races. I think the levels are really high now and it’s tough to win each race, but I’m really glad I managed to do that today, especially in a classic sprint, because it’s my goal this year.”
Looking back, Brennan raced in heat 4 of the quarter finals, where she finished 4th, unable to advance. This left Brennan in 19th overall.
After a conservative start, Caldwell Hamilton skied her way into 2nd position at the top of the intermediate climb. Looking strong as she transitioned from double pole into diagonal stride over the last roller, she held her position around the final curve and into the finish lanes. Swinging around her and quickly closing the gap with her double pole, Sweden’s Hanna Falk overtook the American in the final meters. As the second heat ended up the fastest, Caldwell Hamilton was not able to advance and ended her day in 16th.
After qualifying in 29th, Canada’s Katherine Stewart-Jones landed in the first heat of the quarterfinals with Diggins. Stewart-Jones held strong with the lead group through the second climb, but fell off the pace to finish last in the heat, just behind Norway’s Anna Svendsen. Stewart-Jones was 30th in the final results.
Outside the rounds, Julia Kern qualified in 35th (+12.95), Hannah Halvorsen 56th (+22.59), and Alayna Sonnesyn 65th (+30.2).
Racing for Canada, Dahria Beatty qualified 48th (+17.29), Maya Macisaac-Jones 54th (+21.77), and Laura Leclair 58th (+24.77).
Rachel is an endurance sport enthusiast based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. You can find her cruising around on skinny skis, running in the mountains with her pup, or chasing her toddler (born Oct. 2018). Instagram: @bachrunner4646