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Moving south after a couple of cold weekends in the North, the World Cup circuit returned to Davos, Switzerland for this weekend’s events. Under cloudy skies, snowfall, and wind, the ladies raced the familiar, two-lap sprint course, accompanied by the cheers of many fans. Temperatures were around 25°F and snow fell steadily throughout the afternoon of racing.
In the morning’s qualifier, Eva Urevc of Slovenia took top honors with a time of 2:43.23. Eventual winner, Maja Dahlqvist of Sweden qualified 6th. Rosie Brennan led the U.S. Women, qualifying in 5th, +3.55 back from Urevc (SLO). Jessie Diggins and Hailey Swirbul also made the rounds with 24th and 25th places respectively in the qualifier. “With about 15 seconds to start, the song “Footloose” started playing in the stadium,” shared Swirbul in an email after the race, “I got into swing dancing and line dancing this summer and that song just made me so happy!! So that is how I started my qualifier!”
Brennan earned her first-ever World Cup victory in last year’s Davos skate sprint and was looking to repeat the performance. Choosing the third quarter-final heat, Brennan cruised along at the back of the pack for the first lap before working her way wide, moving to the front along the straightaway entering the second lap, and holding her position at the front to advance to the semi-finals.
Diggins chose the second quarter-final heat and controlled the pace up front for the first of the two laps. Heading up the long straightaway into the second loop she was overtaken by Dahlqvist (SWE), Yulia Stupak (RUS) and Lotta Udnes Weng (NOR). Despite a hard effort down the finishing straight Diggins finished fourth and did not advance to the semis.
Swirbul, who earned her first World Cup points in this event in 2019, raced her first sprint heat of the season, going in the fourth quarter-final.
“There has been no lack of reminders from both myself and others that Davos has historically been an exciting place for me results-wise,” wrote Swirbul, when asked how she managed expectations heading into the weekend. “I am far from figuring out how to manage expectations and pressure from myself and/or others, but I imagine it’s a continual journey for many of us athletes. I have been doing my best to make small goals that I can strive for personally to help keep the overarching results goals in check.”
Regarding her first World Cup points in Davos two years ago Swirbul wrote, “I always find it interesting that racing ‘well’ is so relative. For example, when I scored my first World Cup point, I felt SO proud and happy. But once I’ve achieved a result, suddenly anything worse than that is a bit disappointing. I think most athletes probably understand that feeling. I have spent this season trying to keep perspective and focus on those smaller goals for each race.”
Swirbul finished 5th in the heat to end the day in 24th place.
“I was really exited to have a shot at the heats today,” she said, “and I learn so much every time I get to try them. I walked away with some things I’d like to try to improve for sure! One of these days it will come together, but I’m willing to be patient.”
Swirbul also announced yesterday on social media that she was graduating from the University of Alaska Anchorage with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. When asked about balancing finishing school with the start of the race season Swirbul responded, “What’s really cool about our team is that many of the athletes are actually in school or working remotely on the road right now. I am really impressed with everyone’s ability to balance skiing and school! If I’m being honest, I was not the best at balancing school at the beginning of this season because I had a few big projects and exams due last week, so I’m relieved to be able to dedicate more time and energy on others things now, like racing hopefully!”
Moving on to the semi-finals, Brennan was in the first heat. After a relaxed first lap, she employed the same tactic from her quarter-final. She moved from sixth to first position through the lap with a big push through a wide space up the left-hand side of the trail. Dahlqvist (SWE) and Nadine Faehndrich of Switzerland also qualified for the final from this heat, while Emma Ribom (SWE), Anamarija Lampic (SLO) and Tiril Udnes Weng (NOR) qualified from the second semi-final to make the final six.
For the first 0.75 k lap of the final, the pace was controlled, with Dahlqvist (SWE) and Lampic (SLO) skiing up front. Entering the second lap, Brennan (USA) executed her trusted tactic, moving from last to first for the third time of the day. Out front, Brennan jump skated the final climb, looking like she would pull away.
As she crested the hill with momentum, she was in a wide stance and caught a tip in the snow. Brennan fell forward to her knees, losing all momentul, as Dahlqvist (SWE), Lampic (SLO) and Faehdrich (SUI) moved around her on either side.
Faehdrich had the lead heading towards the finish, to the delight of the many Swiss fans lining the course. But Dahlqvist turned on the burners through the finish lanes, overtaking Faehdrich for her third straight victory.
Achieving this milestone, Dahlqvist becomes the third woman to win the opening three sprint events of the World Cup season, after Marit Bjørgen (NOR) in 2004/5 and Petra Majdic (SLO) in 2008/9.
“It’s so crazy to have three in a row,” said Dahlqvist to FIS after the race. “It was so tough today, this course is harder than you think and with the altitude, [it] makes me want to puke after every race. I’m surprised [by the win].”
Thus far, the Swedish women have won the last seven World Cup sprint events, three by Linn Svahn and now four by Dahlqvist, Sweden’s longest World Cup winning streak in women’s sprint events.
Lampic (SLO) finished in 3rd and Brennan, making a quick recovery from her fall, finished 4th. “What an absolute bitter sweet day,” wrote Brennan after her race. “I am so crushed to have found myself face first in the snow on the last lap after making my move. It was a little tricky snow with some fast patches and some slow patches and I think I just got ahead of myself. It was no fault but my own and is definitely hard to swallow.”
Brennan added, “I felt great all day and felt strong about my tactics and strength, but it’s sprint racing and anything can happen. Sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug and today I was the bug. The good news that my fitness is there and my shape is holding up through this very busy period one so I’m doing my best to put that mistake behind me and move forward to tomorrow.”
Outside the heats, Julia Kern finished in 41st, +11.62 back from Urevc (SLO), Hannah Halvorsen 52nd +15.32, Sydney Palmer-Leger 53rd +15.75 and Katharine Ogden 64th +19.00. Dahria Beatty and Maya Macisaac-Jones were the only Canadian competitors in the event, and finished 51st, +14.44, and 78th, +27.95, respectively.
Here are some post-race comments from U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Matt Whitcomb.
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.