The 2022 FIS Junior/U23 World Ski Championships trip has been made possible through support from the National Nordic Foundation (NNF), which has identified this invaluable opportunity for developing athletes as one of its “Pillar Projects”. You can support the NNF and the next generations of America’s top skiers by making a donation here.
Friday at 2022 FIS Junior World Ski Championships in Lygna, Norway, marked the phase that Steve Fuller, on site to take photographs qua Flying Point Road, calls “the ‘groundhog’s day’ stage” of the championships. “Things are happening so fast that you’re not quite able to get caught up with each day before you get up and do it all over again,” Fuller wrote on Instagram.
Undeterred, the Americans headed out on course Friday morning for their seventh and eighth races in four days. The coaches and wax techs (see the back row in the lead picture of the relay story) prepped skis for their eighth championship race within less than 72 hours. At the end of the day, Russia took a combined four out of six podium spots; Canadian skiers Xavier McKeever and Jasmine Drolet placed sixth and eighth, respectively; and Will Koch and Sydney Palmer-Leger led the way for the Americans in 13th and 19th.
Women’s 5 k Classic
Let’s back up. The women again had the day’s first race, a 5-kilometer interval-start classic. The first starter headed out on course, over a single lap of yesterday’s 5 k course, at 11 a.m. The official results describe conditions as somewhere between moderate and perfect: air temp of -2 C, snow temp of -3 C. Skies were overcast for the women’s race, but the sun came out for the men; as USST Development Team Coach Greta Anderson told FasterSkier later Friday, conditions sped up noticeably by the afternoon.
82 starters later, Dariya Nepryaeva, who started at the sharp end of the field in bib no. 80, had logged the day’s fastest time, crossing the line in 14:30.1. She was closely followed by her compatriot, Elizabeta Bekisheva, in second, 2.9 seconds back. Emma Kirkeberg Mørk of Norway was close behind for third, 4.0 seconds back.
The day’s fastest North American finisher, and fastest Jasmine in the field, was Jasmine Drolet of Revelstoke, B.C., in eighth, 21.5 seconds back. She was followed in the North American standings by American Sydney Palmer-Leger (University of Utah/Park City, Utah) in 19th (+51.3), and Canadian Jasmine Lyons in 26th (+1:03.3).
“I felt pretty good. I really like classic skiing and my goal was to give it all I had,” said Drolet in a press release from Nordiq Canada. “You only ski the lap once, so the key was to just go hard the whole time. We had amazing conditions, perfect for classic skiing so it was a good day.”
Behind Lyons were the two Ninas, Nina Schamberger (Summit Nordic Ski Club/Leadville, Colorado) in 31st (+1:14.2) and Nina Seemann (Dartmouth Ski Team/Craftsbury, Vermont) in 36th (+1:23.0). Annie McColgan (University of Vermont/Bend, Oregon) was 40th (+1:27.3). Canadian athletes Sarah Cullinan (44th, +1:34.2) and Tory Audet (59th, +2:08.2) followed.
McColgan radiated enthusiasm when she talked with FasterSkier following her first race at these championships. “It was nice to have everyone cheering out there, and my parents were here so it was really, really fun. It was really cool,” McColgan said.
McColgan also provided insights on the course, describing it as “a really interesting 5k” with plenty of rolling terrain, but not many opportunities for recovery. “There’s a lot of steep little hills that you just have to be really good at… But it also is 16 minutes long. So you kind of have to make that balance [with energy expenditure]. And then the final climb was so brutal.”
Men’s 10 k Classic
The men again had the day’s second race, starting a two-lap, 10 k interval-start classic race at 1 p.m. local time. Taking athletes’ distance points as an informal form chart, in a field with 101 athletes the podium finishes came, relatively unsurprisingly, from bibs no. 90, no. 100, and no. 101. The gold medal on Friday went to Russian Saveliy Korostelev, the penultimate athlete on the course. Korostelev posted the fastest split time at 3 kilometers, at 5 kilometers, and at 8 kilometers, crossing the finish line in 26:15.8.
Korostelev enjoyed a hefty advantage over silver-medal finisher Niko Anttola of Finland, who finished 21.4 seconds back. Anttola ranked one to eight seconds behind Alexander Ivshin of Russia at all intermediate checkpoints, but skied the final two kilometers just barely faster. When Ivshin, the day’s final starter, crossed the line, he had fallen 0.8 seconds behind Anttola and had to settle for third.
Put another way, Russia came within a second of going 1–2 in both the men’s and women’s races. They instead had to settle for first and second in the women’s race, and first and third in the men’s.
Shortly behind the podium, Xavier McKeever of Canmore, Alberta, skied a strong race to finish sixth, 52.4 seconds back of Korostelev and roughly 30 seconds off the podium. It was McKeever’s best international result since, well, Tuesday, when he was fifth in the men’s 30 k mass start skate. McKeever’s sixth today tied Palmer-Leger’s sixth, from Tuesday’s women’s 15 k skate, for the second-best North American individual result of these championships.
“I am stoked to be in the top-10 again,” McKeever told Nordiq Canada in a press release. “I was getting splits that I was close to the podium in the first lap, but I just couldn’t keep the high pace that I started with. Honestly, I feel like the podium is still a fair bit away, but today just motivates me more to make the steps toward being able to contend for a medal. … I have been able to build my confidence over the course of this season. After last year, it was instrumental for me to refocus on putting in the hard work each and every day, which I think has helped me race with more confidence than ever before.”
McKeever was followed by his countrymen Max Hollman (Thunder Bay) in 17th (+1:28.8), Derek Deuling (Whitehorse) in 19th (+1:31.5), and Thomas Stephen (Calgary) in a tie for 26th (+1:40.0).
Will Koch (University of Colorado/Peru, Vermont) led the way for the Americans, finishing in 13th (+1:23.4). He was followed by Alex Maurer (University of Colorado/Anchorage, Alaska), also 26th (+1:40.0); Brian Bushey (University of Utah/Waitsfield, Vermont) in 36th (+2:00.2); and Finn Sweet (University of Vermont/Waterbury, Vermont) in 47th (+2:11.3).
Thoughts from the coach
Greta Anderson is in Lygna at her third World Juniors as a coach or tech, her first since assuming her current coaching position with the U.S. Ski Team. (Disclosure, Anderson was this reporter’s coach in APU Masters in 2014–15, and has remained a close personal friend ever since.)
Asked what she saw about today’s races, Anderson noted, “They were really fun to watch. Between FIS live timing and back split, the radios were pretty lively. One thing I did learn this year, and this is more than I’ve seen in the past, is that our athletes – every single one has the raw speed to compete at this level. We’re working on the durability portion of it. I think the top athletes in these races often are running negative splits in a big way; I would have to sit down and look at percentages. I’m sure we’ll do that at some point in time. But you know, the speed is there early on, we have very good placement, and then we need to figure out how to speed up just a little bit more. But that’s, you know, that’s been a big step for us as a country.
“Will Koch, obviously very, very strong today. Brian Bushey came out on the top end of ten places being within four seconds, or eight places within four seconds maybe. So you know, really phenomenal. … Annie McColgan had her first ever World Juniors race today. And that’s always really fun and special to watch. I think often athletes come away seeing like, ‘wow, there’s another level,’ and it can be really motivating for the following year.”
Turning to Schamberger, Anderson observed that the 16-year-old has “had a pretty heavy week of racing so far. She’s had three starts, and the first day was not what she wanted. And the second day she had the gift of getting redemption the very next day, which I think is one of the best things athletes can have. And she was really happy with how she skied the relay, a big smile on her face. And then a really good race today. It’s fun to watch athletes – the moment that they realize they’re skiing at that level. Because we know they can do it, and we watch it, but that aha moment of ‘Oh, okay, in the world, this is where I am.’ That moment is really cool. It’s one of my favorite parts of my job for sure.”
Anderson also described the environment at the venue more broadly, highlighting the effects of vocal parental support. “There’s quite a few parents here from the U.S.,” she said.
“And Americans are really loud compared to other countries, and it’s probably taken as obnoxious, but I really appreciate it. We can always hear the Americans. It’s fun to stand by them and listen to them get all excited. Next to the parents during the relay is one of my favorite places to stand.”
In that vein, Anderson concluded, “I look around, and I’m so proud to be an American coach. I’m so proud of the American skiers; there’s not a single other nation I would – I’m really glad that I work for our staff. And I think our athletes are really glad that they ski for the U.S.A. I don’t think they look around and think, like, ‘I wish I was on that team,’ or, ‘I wonder what that team is up to.’ We’re definitely in that, ‘We’re Americans and we’re here to beat you. Or at least die trying’ mode. And that’s pretty fun.”
Racing continues tomorrow with skate sprints for U23 athletes, both genders, before wrapping up Sunday with both men’s and women’s U20 skate sprints and the U23 mixed relay, sending athletes and techs out with three races, two techniques, and a combined sixteen sprint heats on the final day of racing. Groundhog’s Day, indeed.
World Juniors links and information:
Gavin Kentch is a lifelong Alaskan. He skis with the Alaska Pacific University Masters team in Anchorage, plays with his two adorable daughters, and occasionally works as a solo attorney. He has a cat named Marit. He was probably on snow this year before you were.