This World Cup coverage is made possible through the generous support of Marty and Kathy Hall and the A Hall Mark of Excellence Award. To learn more about A Hall Mark of Excellence Award or to learn how you can support FasterSkier’s coverage please contact email@example.com.
Returning to Norway after last year’s coronavirus induced hiatus, the World Cup picked up with a 1.2-kilometer classic city sprint in Drammen. With the Russian and Belarusian athletes banned from competing thanks to a recent decision by FIS, the size of the field was slightly reduced. Last weekend’s skate sprint in Lahti, Finland saw 62 racers on the women’s side, whereas today’s qualifier had only 53 finishers.
Unlike the largely flat city sprint in Dresden, Germany earlier the season, the Drammen course features significantly more climbing and descent. This combined with the soft snow and tight trails led to lots of mishaps throughout the rounds, providing drama for the fans that packed the sidelines in stands and along the sideboards. In a show of support for Ukraine, the country’s blue and yellow colors were displayed on the sponsor boards that line the track, on the athletes’ bibs and in the flags and hats born by the spectators.
The qualifier was won by Johanna Hagström of Sweden in a time of 2:48.88. Rosie Brennan was the first American qualifier in 12th position, +4.30 back from Hagström. Julia Kern qualified in 17th, (+4.97) and Jessie Diggins was the final American woman through to the heats in 19th (+5.11). Hailey Swirbul came in 36th (+9.05), Katharine Ogden finished 44th (+10.98) and Alayna Sonnesyn ended 52nd (+18.14) after hopping on a plane following her Birkie win last weekend.
The Canadian women all finished outside the top thirty, led by Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt in 40th (+10.21). Dahria Beatty came in 41st (+10.37), Katherine Stewart-Jones in 48th (+13.86), Laura Leclaire in 51st (+17.20) and Cendrine Browne in 53rd (+18.85).
Temperatures were warm and springlike, above 40°F, as the athletes lined up for the heats. The first heat featured the second-fastest qualifier and this year’s Olympic sprint gold medalist, Jonna Sundling of Sweden. Brennan (USA) also elected to go in heat one, and she and Sundling took on the lead out of the start. A move by Johanna Matintalo of Finland on the first climb took out Sofie Krehl of Germany, resulting in a yellow card for Matintalo.
On the descent, Julie Myhre of Norway moved to the front, aided by a pair of speedy skis. Rounding the tight corner at the bottom of the course, Myhre and Sundling were in the lead, Brennan having dropped slightly. With a powerful double-pole Sundling pulled clear of the field to take the first qualifying position easily. A tight three-way finish between Myhre (NOR), Laurein Van der Graaff of Switzerland and Brennan, went in favor of Myhre. This left Brennan in fourth place, with a time not quick enough to make lucky loser.
“Drammen is such a cool event and I really love doing the city sprint thing at least once during the season,” wrote Brennan after the race. “It’s been a few years since I’ve raced here and with so many improvements in my sprinting since then, I felt I could have a good day today. As with all city sprints, a big part of it is not getting too pushed around and that part I did a bad job of today. After a decent qualifier, I got way to pushed around and skied over in my quarterfinal to move on. I had a strong finish and thought maybe it was enough but I lost another lunge this weekend. It’s always a tough way to get out because it’s so close, but that is such a big part of sprinting. I guess I will have to work with master lunger Tyler [Kornfield] (Brennan’s partner) and see if I can improve on those close finishes in the future. In the meantime, it’s a fast turn around to Holmenkollen so I will be focusing on recovery.”
The second heat saw another fall on the initial climb, Lucia Scardoni of Italy got bogged down in deep snow and broke a pole, taking herself out of contention. In the end, Maja Dahlqvist of Sweden strided to victory, with Anamarija Lampic also qualifying.
In heat three, Lotta Udnes Weng of Norway and Jasmi Joensuu of Finland got tangled on the hill. The third time in three sprints that Joensuu has broken a pole in the quarterfinals. Maiken Caspersen Falla of Norway proved again that the Norwegians had ripping skis as she gained on the downhill and put in a fast finish, Nadine Fähndrich of Switzerland and Laura Gimmler of Germany also qualifying from this heat.
As in Lahti last weekend, roommates Julia Kern and Jessie Diggins chose the same heat, both going in quarterfinal number four. All athletes making it up the initial climb without a fall, it seemed like this might be the first heat to get away without any spills, only to have the fastest qualifier, Hagström (SWE), wipe out on the downhill. Losing all her speed at the wrong moment, Hagström was out and the two Americans capitalized on this. Diggins entered the final turn in first, followed by Kern. On a deceptively long finishing straight, Kern continued to press hard, besting Falla’s time from the prior heat. Behind her, Diggins battled a surge from Katharina Hennig of Germany, ultimately both of them qualifying for the semis.
“I didn’t know what to expect going into today,” shared Kern, “I’ve only done Drammen once and was around 60th or so, so I was really excited to have qualified in this iconic sprint.”
The final quarterfinal heat saw a relatively chill pace. In the end, Anna Dyvik of Sweden took first and Katri Lylynpera of Finland also qualified, finishing second.
Moving into the semi-finals, the first heat hosted two Norwegians, two Swedes, a German and a Slovenian. It was the Slovenian, Lampic, who took the pace out hot from the start. She was followed closely by Sundling and Dahlqvist as they rounded the corner at the bottom of the course.
Coming from the back, Falla (NOR) went wide to get a clear track into the finish and put in an impressive burst of speed. She took the win followed by Sundling (SWE) as Lampic dropped to third. Dahlqvist came in fourth but given the fast pace, both qualified in lucky loser spots.
The second semi featured higher bib numbers, with the lowest qualifier being Dyvik of Sweden in bib 13. Both Kern and Diggins were in this heat and when the gun went off, Kern shot to the front. Her quick start was matched by Dyvik but on the first climb, Kern began to pull away. Over the top, she appeared to have created a gap to the rest of the field, however she was quickly reeled in and passed by Dyvik (SWE) on the descent, her ski speed no match for those of the Swede.
Fähndrich (SUI) also pulled ahead of Kern and those front three maintained their respective positions exiting the final corner. Fähndrich nearly fell in a sudden loss of balance but managed to stay on her feet and came across the line in second, behind Dyvik. Despite her efforts out of the start, Kern finished third and the heat was not as quick as the first. Diggins came in fifth to end her day in 10th position.
“It was a really cool atmosphere out there, that was super fun to see,” Diggins shared with FasterSkier. “They always do a great job here, everyone was out cheering and it really felt like spring World Cup out there. It was sunny, it was warm and honestly the course held up pretty well given that it’s snow that they had to truck in and it is super warm. But there were a lot of crashes out there, it was sort of crazy, wild skiing.”
Diggins continued, “Andy Newell reminded us last night that in Drammen you just have to embrace the chaos. It was cool to get out there and I’m feeling really lucky to be able to be racing right now.”
For Kern, her approach was to stay flexible. She said, “I knew the start was important, but I also had a flexible approach since in tight city sprinting you never know where you slot in out of the start. I ended up almost tangling and finding my open lane on the right out of the start, and it ended up being the tactical move that I liked. My body was feeling good, I’ve had great energy the past two weeks and my skis were climbing well.”
Lining up for the final, it was Dyvik, Sundling, and Dahlqvist for Sweden, with Falla for Norway and Fähndrich for Switzerland. Out of the start, Sundling went to the front, eager to take on the lead work as four skiers slotted in behind her. Over the top of the course Sundling, Falla and Lampic had pulled clear of the others.
As they exited the bottom corner, Falla cut wide once again. With all three skis abreast, Sundling looked strong and had a slight lead. But Falla executed another incredible change of pace, switching to diagonal stride and edging ahead of the Swede she crossed the line in first.
“I felt so good,” said Falla in a FIS interview afterwards, “it’s so good to be back here in Drammen, to have a good atmosphere and it was a really good day.” Falla has had a challenging season, the only other time she made a sprint final was back in November in the first weekend of racing in Ruka, Finland.
The Drammen event is something of a favorite for Falla however, she has won it on five occasions prior to today, her last win here coming in 2019. “It is really good to be back,” continued Falla, “I’ve been watching a lot of ski races on TV this season. I’m so happy to be here and to finish the season in a good way.”
Behind Falla, Sundling finished second, continuing to show her strength in sprint racing with yet another podium finish. Lampic finished third, her fourth third-place finish of the season. For Dahlqvist, who finished fourth, it was her first time off the podium in a sprint yet this year.
Results: Women’s sprint
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.