The day was cloudless and cold in Ulricehamn, Sweden for the women’s 1.6-kilometer freestyle sprint. As has come to be expected of the Swedish women, they were clutch from the beginning on this course which favored sprint endurance, as the race time times pushed near the 3:30 mark for many. To put this into context, December’s skate sprint in Davos, won by American Rosie Brennan, had the fastest qualifying time, also from Brennan, of 2:40.03.
Sweden’s Johanna Hagström (22) who trains in Ulricehamn was the fastest qualifier completing the 1.6 k course in 3:23.80. Hanna Falk, who is returning from a long recovery from a back injury was second (+1.12). Falk missed the entire 2019-2020 season. Jessie Diggins of the U.S. Ski Team was the top North American qualifier in third (+2.02).
Also qualifying for the U.S. were Sadie Bjornsen in 16th (+6.83), and Hannah Halvorsen 22nd (+8.12). Canada’s lone qualifier was Maya MacIsaac-Jones in 24th (+8.36).
Diggins, who leads the World Cup overall, raced the second heat and shot to the front early. Leading wire to wire, she pressed every inch of the course, winning in 3:25.18, in what was the fastest quarter-final by three seconds.
In the first semi, Diggins was matched up against Swedes Maja Dahlqvist, Jonna Sundling, and Falk. Thirty seconds into the race, Diggins was in a familiar spot — working from the front. This time around, this was no wire to wire act for Diggins. She was shadowed early by Swiss skier Nadine Faehndrich, and later on by the Swedes. Roughly 2:25 into the race, Diggins led into a right-hand corner. Sundling skated the double poled for a smidge of sunlight on the inside, then tripped up and fell. Diggins was slowed momentarily by the scrub of speed as she brushed Sundling and nearly fell. Diggins, however, remained on her feet. Sundling righted herself after a moment on the ground, caught the pack of skiers, and by the final straight was steamrolling for a place in the finals. Dahlqvist won the semi in 3:21.39, with Sundling amazingly slotting into second (+0.44), with Falk and Diggins third and fourth, respectively. Both advanced to the finals as Lucky Losers.
The women’s final was loaded with four Swedes: Dahlqvist, Hagström, Sundling, and Falk, along with Eva Urvec of Slovenia, and Diggins. The narrative was spicy from the start. Sundling appeared to catch an edge moments after the start lanes opened up. She spun around, snapped a pole, as the five other skiers advanced unimpeded. (She soon received a new pole and was able to latch back onto the group later in the race.)
Diggins’ tactics were more reserved. She did not work the course from the front but was positioned near the back as the race advanced. At 2:00 minutes, Dahlqvist led the line of skiers – who were tightly ordered in a line. There were no breakaways – only close-quarter sprinting as the skiers entered the finish straight. Diggins came in with considerable finish speed as did the three Swedes flanking around her.
Dahlqvist won the race to the line in 3:20.59, Hagström was second (+.30), Diggins third (+0.39), Falk fourth ().72). Urevc came in fifth (+1.13), and Sundling, who never truly recovered from two falls in as many sprints, was sixth (+1.74).
At 26, this was Dahlqvist’s first career individual World Cup win. She has five team sprints wins on the World Cup. For Hagström, this was her second consecutive weekend as the top qualifier. Last weekend in Falun, a classic sprint, she qualified first. This was Hagström’s second World Cup podium, she placed third in the Cogne, Italy skate sprint in 2019. In Falun, last weekend, she was just off the podium placing fourth overall.
Saturday marked the 10th career World Cup sprint podium for Diggins – her seventh in skate technique. The 60 points she earned Saturday, placed her in control in terms of the World Cup overall. She leads Russia’s Yulia Stupak, who has not contested the last two races, by 303 points. Rosie Brennan (also not in attendance in Ulricehamn) is third overall, trailing Diggins by 355 points.
With the World Cup overall in her sights, Diggins, in a post-race interview said she is strategizing towards winning, but also maximizing her efforts when it comes to securing valuable points for the overall.
Post-race interview with Jessie Diggins.
“If you were in the front, even if you had a poor finishing lane, you were almost guaranteeing you were going to move on because it is just so hard for people to get around you,” Diggins said about her race day tactics. Advancing in Ulricehamn was as much a calculus of chasing a podium as it was placing her in contention for overall points.
“I am and I think that is something I have learned is that it is OK to state, that you have a really big audacious goal, and it is OK to want to go after it,” said Diggins when asked if she was outright seeking the overall Crystal Globe. “In the last couple of weeks I got together with the coaches, and I was like alright we are going after this, we are going to do this as my season goal.”
One name missing from the semis and finals was Linn Svahn of Sweden. She has come to embody Sweden’s dominance in women’s sprinting.
In a quarterfinal to watch featuring Svahn and Hagström, Hagström took control of the pacing with the five others in her draft. While tightly packed near the 2:08 mark, Svahn, who was skiing in third behind Magni Smedaas of Norway, lost her footing and fell. Svahn eventually crossed the line in sixth to place 26th overall.
Maubet Bjornsen raced in the third quarterfinal where she placed third and did not advance. She was 15th overall in her third World Cup race of the season.
U.S. skier Hannah Halvorsen earned her second career WorldCup points. She raced in the first quarterfinal where she placed fifth after snapping a pole early in the heat.
“I collided with the German Victoria Carl heading out of the start as we both fought to get in a good position as the trail narrowed,” Halvorsen explained. “Her ski hit my pole and it snapped right away. Fortunately, I was able to free skate and hang on to the back of the group until I could get a spare.”
She matched a career-best 23rd overall, she was 23rd earlier this season in Dresden, Germany’s skate sprint.
Also in the first quarterfinal was Canada’s MacIsaac-Jones (25) who placed fourth. MacIssac-Jones earned a career-high mark 18th overall place – her third time in the World Cup points.
“I’m very happy with the day,” MacIsaac-Jones emailed. “This was a very tactical course, so I stayed relaxed and worked to establish a good position without wasting too much energy off the start. I messed up in the last few hundred meters which is frustrating, but in general, it felt great to be in the mix and fighting to win.
“The momentum on our women’s team just keeps building – we’ve worked hard to support each other these past few years, and I think the increased level we are consistently showing on the World Cup reflects that. Being in this environment where we are all setting ambitious goals for ourselves and pushing each other to improve helped me turn it around after last weekend.”
Canada’s Dahria Beatty was just outside the points ending her day in 32nd, with teammate Cendrine Browne 37th, Katherine Stewart-Jone 42nd, and Laura Leclair 44th. Fifty-seven skiers began the qualifier.
For the remaining Americans, Julia Kern finished in 38th, Sophie Caldwell-Hamilton 40th, and Alayna Sonnesyn 43rd.
Post-race interview with With Matt Whitcomb discussing the women’s and men’s racing.
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.