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.
Thursday marked the third day of 2022 FIS Junior World Ski Championships in Lygna, Norway, but the first day of competition for U23 athletes, following individual and relay races for the juniors on Tuesday and Wednesday. The U23 athletes saw a 10-kilometer interval start classic for women, and a 15 k interval start for the men.
The top American finishers today were Zanden McMullen for the men in 14th, and Abigail Jarzin for the women in 36th. The overall podium was all Nordic countries, for the men, and all non–Nordic countries, for the women.
Women’s 10 k Classic
The women had the day’s first race, going out at 1 p.m. local time over two laps of a 5 k course with a relatively humane 145m of total climb per lap.
Anja Weber of Switzerland had the day’s second-fastest split at the 3-kilometer timing checkpoint, behind early leader Anastasiya Faleeva of Russia… had the day’s second-fastest split at the halfway mark, behind Faleeva… and had the day’s second-fastest split at the 8-kilometer mark, behind Patricija Eiduka of Latvia.
But the race was 10 kilometers long. Weber held her speed over the end of the second lap slightly better than Eiduka, ultimately taking the win in 29:59.8. Eiduka was second, a scant 1.3 seconds back. Veronika Stepanova of Russia, last seen anchoring the gold-medal Russian Olympic Committee women’s relay team in Zhangjiakou, was third, 13.1 seconds back, skiing a steady race that saw her rank twelfth, eighth, and fifth at the intermediate timing checkpoints.
Stepanova recently posted to social media, explaining that she skipped the Olympics 30 k to prepare for World Juniors, adding that she wanted to do fewer races at her relatively young age. (Stepanova turned 21 last month.)
Abigail Jarzin (University of Utah/Salt Lake City, UT) was the fastest of the four Americans in the race, finishing 36th (+2:42.8) in a well-paced effort that saw her move up considerably after ranking 45th at the 5 k split. She was followed by Anabel Needham (Michigan Tech University/Houghton, MI) in 47th (+3:47.5), Rena Schwartz (Dartmouth Ski Team/Middlesex, VT) in 50th (+4:14), and Lucinda Anderson (University of New Hampshire/Golden Valley, MN) in 56th (+4:50.8).
Among the Canadians, Anna Parent (Canmore, AB) was the top female in 17th (+1:45.8). Next for Canada was Beth Granstrom (Revelstoke, B.C.) was 37th (+2:42.9), followed by Anna Pryce (Calgary, AB) in 40th (+2:48), and Ontario’s Bronwyn Williams in 49th (+3:51.9).
Other names potentially recognizable to North American readers include Poland’s Weronika Kaleta, who skis collegiately for UC Boulder, in 21st (+2:03.1), and Australia’s Tuva Bygrave, who skis collegiately for UAA, in 57th (+4:52.8).
Men’s 15 k Classic
The men went out second, undertaking three laps of the same 5-kilometer course starting at 3 p.m. local time.
The starting list was reverse seeded: The athletes with the highest distance points (on paper, the lowest ranked) went out first; the athletes with the lowest distance points (on paper, those highest ranked) went out last. There were 64 athletes in the field, and the athletes with bib no. 62 and bib no. 64 made the podium; sometimes FIS points have strong predictive value.
But sometimes first place overall goes to an athlete wearing bib no. 31. And that, as the saying has it, is why you play the games.
Arsi Ruuskanen of Finland skied his first lap in 12:58.1, a split time that ranked sixth overall after all the athletes had come through. Ruuskanen’s relatively early bib number meant that he lapped through the stadium just as eventual eighth-place finisher Iver Andersen of Norway was going out on course. Perhaps due to the chance to work with Andersen for much of his second lap, perhaps due to just his own strong race, Ruuskanen would go on to set the day’s fastest times at 10 kilometers, 13 kilometers, and, notably, the finish.
The 22-year-old Finn took the victory in a time of 40:23.0. He was closely followed by Leo Johansson of Sweden, 6.7 seconds back, who had more of a gap to third, Håvard Moseby of Norway, 28.1 seconds back.
The top American on the day was Zanden McMullen (Montana State University/Anchorage, AK), in his first year racing as a U23 athlete after three years of racing at World Juniors. Racing internationally at the senior level, McMullen also had four World Cup starts in Period 1 of this season, then placed sixth in both distance races at 2022 U.S. Nationals.
McMullen started the 15 k out hot, registering the day’s 3rd-fastest time through the 5 k checkpoint. He slowed slightly from there, though not too much, coming through other intermediate checkpoints in 9th and 15th. He was ultimately 14th overall at the finish, 57.8 seconds back from Ruuskanen.
Among the Americans, McMullen was followed by Johnny Hagenbuch (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation/Ketchum, ID) in 41st (+2:59.8) and Noel Keeffe (University of Utah/Steamboat Springs, CO) in 47th (+3:39.5). In a nod to a certain race being held in Wisconsin on Saturday, it should be noted that Hagenbuch is the youngest-ever winner of the American Birkebeiner.
Turning to Canada, Léo Grandbois set the pace with the day’s only top-10 finish for North America, crossing the line in 9th (+44.3). He was followed by Sam Hendry (Canmore, AB.), who skis collegiately for the University of Utah, in 18th (+1:14.1), Ottawa’s Pierre Grall-Johnson in 29th (+1:51.0), and Joe Davies (Pemberton, B.C.), who skis collegiately for UAF, in 35th (+2:16.5).
Racing continues tomorrow with interval-start classic races for the U20 athletes, 5 k for the women and 10 k for the men.
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.