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Ten teams toed the line Sunday morning, representing eight nations (Sweden and Switzerland both having two teams in the final) in the skate team sprint in Ulricehamn, Sweden. After advancing from the semi-final rounds earlier in the day, the men were geared up to race the relatively-flat 1.6 k loop completing three laps per athlete.
Notably absent from the final was team Russia I, composed of powerhouse sprinters Sergey Ustiugov and Gleb Retivykh who finished 9th (+15.32) in semi-final B and did not advance. Both Russians were in Saturday’s skate sprint final with Retivykh second and Ustiugov sixth. Additionally, no Norwegians were present in the final lineup as both Norway I and II were eliminated in semi-final A.
The race began slow and steady for the first laps, gradually ramping up in intensity. Much like the team sprint earlier this season in Dresden, Germany, the course layout in Ulricehamn featured no punchy climbs. Pack skiing, by default, was encouraged. Fliers off the front were not incentivized. Simi Hamilton and Kevin Bolger, representing team USA I, took on the lead for much of the second and third laps.
“Our main tactic for both the semis and the finals was to get to the front but if you found yourself off the front in the lead, just ski relaxed and fast, but ski relaxed,” said Hamilton after the race. Ideally, we wanted to be in second, third, or fourth so we could get a good draft on the gradual climb and coming back down from the top. But with such a high-speed course like this, and a few, I would not call them technical corners, but some fast corners and a lot of moving around, we did not want to be stuck in the back where there could be some crashes and some broken poles and you are also spending a lot more energy moving up through the pack.”
Heading into the fifth and final exchange, the men jostled for position as they rounded the corner towards the stadium. Lucas Chanavat, who had held the advantage out front, clipped his skis and went down, effectively eliminating team France I from contention.
The workhorse of the Italian sprint team, and always a threat when skate sprinting for that matter, remains Federico Pellegrino. With his usual Norwegian foils absent this weekend in Ulricehamn, at least on paper, he could be considered a lock for Saturday’s individual skate sprint. He placed third – outhustled and outmaneuvered down the final straight by Oskar Svensson and Retivyk, to place third. Sunday, however, was another day. With speed and precision, Pellegrino took control at the front as the race got real leading into the stadium for the finish. He was closely followed by Roman Furger skiing for Switzerland I. In classic form, which means pulling away and displaying stoke, Pellegrino took the victory for himself and teammate Francesco de Fabiani in a time of 18:29.
Securing second, with much enthusiastic cheering and shouting from his teammates, Furger and Jovian Hediger made it a double podium day for the Swiss (the Swiss women having finished third). Rounding out the podium in third was Sweden II, represented by Karl-Johan Westberg and Johan Häggström.
The Americans, Hamilton and Bolger, finished the day in sixth position, +3.11 back from the Italian victors.
Competing in the first semi-final (A) team Canada placed 10th, +20.74 back from heat winners France I, and did not advance. Racing in semi-final B, team USA II (Logan Hanneman and Peter Holmes) finished 8th (+8.89).
Growing up in Washington’s Methow Valley, Ella was immersed in skiing and the ski community from a young age. From early days bundled in the pulk, to learning to ski as soon as she could walk, to junior racing, a few seasons of collegiate racing, and then to coaching, she has experienced the ski world in many forms. Now, as a recent graduate from Dartmouth College, she finds herself living in France splitting her time between teaching English at a university in Lyon, avidly following ski racing (and now writing about it!) and adventuring in the outdoors as often as possible.