Brennan Continues the U.S. Women’s Podium Streak; Karlsson Out-Skates Johaug in a Distance Thriller

FasterSkierDecember 4, 2021

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By: Ben Theyerl

It was “going to be a new adventure for sure.” That’s how Rosie Brennan framed the new 10- kilometer course that was laid out in Lillehammer for the race on Saturday morning in an interview before with FIS media. In retrospect, her positive comment, a simple positive affirmation that she was ready to take on the day, should have been taken as a promise for U.S. ski fans. 

On Saturday morning, Brennan’s race was the adventure for American fans to follow – a smartly raced 10 kilometers where she finished on the podium, in third place, and with the first U.S. Ski Team distance podium of the season.

Rosie Brennan skis to 3rd place in Lillehammer’s 10k skate. (Photo: NordicFocus)

The new 10k at Lillehammer was a course that invited one to think about approach. Three laps on a 3.75k course where the A-climb came at the 0.5 k mark. It would have been easy to go into that first climb too hard, and many racers did. The first checkpoint at 0.9k was placed at the peak of the climb, and when Brennan came across it, she was in 4th place, +6.5sec from leader Frida Karlsson. Quickly though, others passed in front of that mark. Moa Olsson (SWE) took Brennan’s 4th place spot, then Victoria Carl (GER), then Natalia Nepryaeva (RUS), and then later Tatiana Sorina (RUS). It was an auspicious start for Brennan, and also reiterated how compact the field would be throughout the day.

Meanwhile, two skiers went through the first check-point locked in a battle for first and second. They were familiar to those who watched the distance races in Ruka last weekend, and for those who have watched skiing for years. Frida Karlsson (SWE) went through the 0.9k checkpoint at 2:27.5, and only Therese Johaug would come close to matching her – and it was close – just 0.1 seconds between them at the top of the first climb.

No longer the assumed winner, Therese Johaug (NOR) takes second in the 10k skate in Lillehammer. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Karlsson and Johaug would remain in lockstep on the clock all day. Karlsson, in bib 32, setting the mark at the 6.1k, and 8.3k checkpoints, only for Johaug, in bib 40, to come in with just tenths of a second to separate the two. At 6.1k, the gap was still 0.1 seconds in Karlsson’s favor. At 8.3k, it was up to 1.1 seconds for Karlsson. And then at the finish, Johaug had closed it down to just 0.3 seconds, and that was the final result. Karlsson first place at 26:58.4, Johaug second place (+0.3)). 

The two skiers replicated last weekend’s results, which perpetuates an intriguing rivalry for the distance World Cup at the start of the season.

A focused Frida Karlsson on her way to victory in the 10k individual start freestyle in Lillehammer, NOR. (Photo: NordicFocus)
On course and on her way to her first podium of the season, Rosie Brennan powers through the 10k skate in Lillehammer. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Brennan, wearing bib 42, was close behind Johaug all day. Her race, though, would be marked against the skiers that had slotted in front of her early on. At the 6.1k checkpoint, she had moved back up into fourth place. During the second lap she tucked in behind Tiril Udnes Weng (NOR), who was on her final lap and on the way to a sixth place finish. 

As Brennan went into the final lap, she was on her own, attacking the final A-climb and then heading towards the finish line with the podium in reach. 

When Brennan reached the stadium, she had not only maintained the 4th place position she had at the 6.1k mark, but had the real possibility to move up a spot. She would need to edge out Helene Marie Fossesholm (NOR), who despite not being given starts in Ruka last weekend found herself holding onto 3rd place.

In her first World Cup starts of the season, 20-year-old Helene Marie Fossesholm (NOR) skis to fourth place in the 10k skate in Lillehammer. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Seconds later, that possibility became a result, with Brennan finishing in third place. She had gained nearly five seconds on Fossesholm, to finish just +11.3 seconds off of Karlsson. As skiers who had earlier knocked her off her podium spot at earlier checkpoints crossed the finish line, Brennan remained in position, claiming her first podium of the 2021-22 season in the venue where she had, way back in 2015, claimed the first podium of her career (a 3rd place finish in the 4 x 5k relay).

The women’s podium of the 10-kilometer individual start freestyle in Lillehammer, Norway. Frida Karlsson (SWE) took the win ahead of local favorite Therese Johaug (NOR) and Rosie Brennan (USA). (Photo: NordicFocus)

Brennan credited a trust in herself for the late push that got her to third place, reflecting in an email to multiple news outlets:

“I was getting too many splits but I knew it was really tight so I really tried to let loose the last lap and trust my strength. I had great skis and was able to hold pace all the way to the finish while others faded.” 

Brennan’s podium finish capped a day that showed the depth that the North American women have built for the present and the future on the World Cup. Off her 2nd place finish in the freestyle sprint yesterday, Jessie Diggins finished in 18th place today (+1:07.4). That result early in the season will help her stay near the top of the overall points list as she looks to defend her World Cup overall title from last year.

Jessie Diggins skis to 18th in the Lillehammer 10k skate. (Photo: NordicFocus)
Just missing the top-30, Hailey Swirbul skis to 32nd in the individual start 10k freestyle in Lillehammer, NOR. (Photo: NordicFocus)

The young American women showed their continued development, with Hailey Swirbul finishing in 32nd (+1:38.2) and Julia Kern in 36th (+1:43.1). Swirbul was less than three seconds off the top-30 time needed to score World Cup points, and Kern was less than eight seconds back of 30th. With Norway receiving additional nation’s group starting slots for hosting in Lillehammer this weekend (Norwegian women took five of the top-10 spots and put ten athletes total in the points), cracking a top-30 was perhaps one notch harder than usual, and these women were as on-the-cusp as you can get. 

After the race, Swirbul shared the following sentiments on her day via email.

“I thought I skied a strong race, but I definitely faded in the end. When my muscles started to hurt, I tried to remind myself that my legs are strong and that I know I can keep going! It takes a special day for everything to line up perfectly to pull off a great result, but results aside I am proud of the way I raced today.”

On whether she contextualizes a result just outside the Top-30 differently with additional Norwegians included, Swirbul seemed indifferent, focused on her own race and her team’s success.

“To be completely honest, I forgot to look at final results, so I don’t know where all the Norwegians ended up, but this is certainly a super competitive field. I am so impressed with Rosie and my other teammates today because they are SO tough!”

Sophia Laukli, at just 21 years old, finished in 46th (+2:00.0), with Novie McCabe in 52nd (+2:19.8), Caitlin Patterson in 53rd (+2:22.7), and Katharine Ogden in 56th (+2:37.6).

Sophia Laukli skis to 46th in the individual start 10k freestyle in Lillehammer, NOR. Laukli was just 25 seconds outside the top-30 on the day. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Tomorrow in Lillehammer, we shift to thinking in terms of countries rather than individuals, with the 4 x 5k relay. The results today build on Friday’s evidence for what may happen then. Again, it’s a Swede, a Norwegian, and an American on the podium in Lillehammer. Call that a preview, but also a testament to where American skiing has come so far in this still-new season, and yet another hopeful sign for where this the women of the U.S. Ski Team may go.

Katherine Stewart-Jones (CAN) skis to 54th in the 10k individual start freestyle in Lillehammer, NOR. (Photo: NordicFocus)

The Canadian woman also had a strong showing on Saturday. Cendrine Browne finished 45th (+1:58.1), with Katherine Stewart-Jones in 54th (+2:24.6), and Dahria Beatty in 63rd (+3:14.3).

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