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Following the men’s Olympic 50-turned-28.6 k in Zhangjiakou, long-time American distance champion Kris Freeman and Devon Kershaw called Scott Patterson an “Olympic Specialist”, commenting on how Patterson had found many of his top results at either World Ski Championships or during the Olympics in PyeongChang and Zhangjiakou.
His top championship results are this: 8th in the 30 k free in Beijing, 11th in the 15/15 k skiathlon; 14th in the skiathon and 10th in the 50 k classic during the 2021 World Ski Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany; 21st in the skiathlon in the skiathlon during the 2019 World Champs in Seefeld, Austria; 18th in the skiathlon, 21st in the 15k skate and 11th in the 50 k classic during the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang.
Until today, Patterson had raced into the Top-20 on the World Cup five times individually, with his best result – and only other individual Top-10 – arriving in 2017 in the 30 k skiathlon during a pre-Olympic World Cup in PyeongChang. This event saw just 31 finishers, and a scan of the results sheet shows only a small number of names that frequent this site.
But here in Falun, Sweden, Patterson popped a 7th place finish in the 15-kilometer individual start skate, finishing 42 seconds behind winner Didrik Tønseth (NOR) as the first non-Scandinavian athlete on the tails of five Norwegians plus Calle Halfvarsson of Sweden.
Roughly another 40 seconds back, Team Birkie’s Zak Ketterson was rolling too. In a steady effort that saw him inside the Top-20 throughout the day, he not only his first World Cup points, but finished 15th, +1:20.8 on Tønseth.
In short, Patterson and Ketterson shaped the final men’s distance race of the season into a high note for the U.S. And both men did it as early-starters, before the seeded group.
Diving into the race, a winning strategy looked to be a conservative first of four laps on the championship-caliber course in Falun. While the top-three established themselves early, the eventual winner, Tønseth, did not make his charge for the win until the final lap. 23-year-old Harald Østberg Amundsen (NOR) was on top at the first lap, followed by Halfvarsson of Sweden, and then Tønseth. At the half, it was Halfvarsson on top, with Amundsen and Tønseth just under four seconds back. Then, Tønseth slowly turned the dial upward.
With one lap to go, Tønseth had five seconds on the Swede, and ten on his young countryman. With just over 2 k to go, this lead had grown to +13.3 seconds, of which he ceded very little through the finish. Tønseth stopped the clock at a ripping 31:57.6, knocking down the time of Halfvarsson who had started eleven bibs earlier. The Swede kept the second spot on the podium (+9.0), while Amundsen, who faded in the second half, kept pace from the back-half of the seeded group to finish third (+20.4).
Today marked Tønseth’s second consecutive podium, after taking 3rd at Holmenkollen last weekend, and his career first World Cup victory in freestyle. It had been a nearly three year stretch since his previous World Cup podium, which took place in Québec City in March, 2019.
“I’m happy to end it like this,” Tønseth told FIS after the race. “This year has been pretty good, to finish it off with victories – I’m really happy with that. Considering the last two seasons before this one have been tough, and it was not working, but this one has been better and better, and I ended up at the top, so I’m really happy.”
On his season highlights, Tønseth continued, “For me, the most important is that my body works and I can train it. I can train hard, and things respond, and I’m happy to go ski fast.”
Asked his feelings on sharing the podium with teammate Amundsen, Tønseth said, “He is a rookie, but he showed last year, he is a good cross country skier. I’m happy for him to be on the podium and I’m happy to beat him as well.”
Expanding on the conservative start – though the eventual podium athletes would simply reshuffle themselves throughout the race, the remainder of the top-10 saw some changes, like France’s Clement Parisse falling from fourth place at the halfway mark to 8th at the finish, and two Finns, Remi Lindholm and Iivo Niskanen, dropping from fifth and seventh at the first lap to 14th and tenth at the finish.
Meanwhile, the seemingly more patient starters, like Martin Løwstrøm Nyenget, who won last weekend’s 50 k classic at Holmenkollen, were climbing the rankings at time checks. Nyenget was in eighth at the half, before ascending to fifth at the finish (+23.6), just behind his teammate Hans Christer Holund, who took fourth (+21.2).
Both Patterson and Ketterson exemplified this tactic also, knocking off three spots each between the halfway mark and the finish. Propagating a banner day for North America, Canada’s Olivier Léveillé was also steadily climbing the ranks, moving up from 16th at 7.5k to finish 9th (+48.9). Léveillé’s teammate Antoine Cyr had skied up from 37th at the half to finish 25th (+1:42.3), while fellow Canadian Phillippe Boucher took 29th (+1:45.0) as the third member of his team inside the top-30.
While Patterson was 15th in Falun last year, and has aforementioned strong results on championship courses like this one, Patterson said in a post-race call that the venue has actually been a challenge for him through his career. Though it’s a championship course, it lacks the high altitude factor of Zhangjiakou, where Patterson thrived, and has just one major climb, the signature “Morderbakken” which rises 65 vertical meters over the course of roughly 0.6 k. Gaining from his experiences racing on this course, Patterson shared what he’s done to solve the puzzle.
“A lot of my approach today was trying to find some of the same feelings as last year, which was a lot of pushing hard, working through all the transitions. There’s a lot of time out there — beyond Morderbakken, there’s a lot of twisting down hills and gradual flats where it’s easy to lose time. But if you’re on form and thinking about it all the time, it’s a good place to gain time.”
Patterson also shared that he was unsure how his form would be today, as he was carrying fatigue from his performance at the Holmenkollen, which he identified as below his expectations.
“I started questioning my fitness. So it was nice to turn that around today with a good race and actually remind myself that I can ski well again and also appreciate a good distance skate race.”
Overall, the season has been one of high highs and low lows for the 30-year-old. A late-fall broken wrist inhibited his ability to capitalize on the fitness he built over the summer, along with his early-season results, which would be critical for making the 2022 Olympic team. Patterson discussed the turning point of his season, which will end on a high note.
“[I hit a] big turning point going into nationals, where I had a lot of pressure, but I felt like I was actually starting to find my form and race well. So that was one big point, just coming into nationals and actually pulling out those results to make the Olympic team. But also, just going into the Olympics, I I had a really good training block in Bozeman. I was staying with my parents instead of going over to Livigno, like a lot of the US Olympic team. And I think that was really productive for me getting some altitude training, but also just keeping the stress low, which really helped going into the Olympics.”
Here’s the full interview with Patterson, including non-race season highlights and how a trivia night in Lahti helped bring the North American contingent closer together, making today’s results even more exciting for Patterson to be part of.
Outside the Top-30 for the U.S., Crafttsbury’s Adam Martin skied to 44th (+2:20.9), while Logan Hanneman finished 52nd (+2:58.4), and Peter Holmes took 68th (+4:20.0). For Canada, Thomas Stephen was 61st (+3:32.2), while Xavier McKeever was 62nd (+3:36.9).
Post-race interview with Matt Whitcomb:
With World Cup individual racing now complete for the 2021/22 season, awards for both the overall and distance champions were handed out today in Falun.
Though he was 10th today, Finland’s Iivo Niskanen ended his season with 493 points, overtaking previous leader Alexander Bolshunov (RUS) to win the distance standings. Bolshunov remained in second, trailing by 75 points. After a remarkable Olympic run, Bolshunov missed the final two distance races on the World Cup following FIS’ ban of Russian and Belarusian athletes on March 1st. Also unable to compete in the final two World Cup distance events after contracting COVID-19, Johannes Høsflot Klæbo finished third, at an 80 point deficit.
With Niskanen still the only podium member present to accept his awards, this leaderboard was reshuffled for the overall standings. Having won the 2021/22 Tour de Ski and consistently proved his range beyond the sprint course, Klæbo ran away with the overall World Cup victory to finish with 1375 points. He’s had some cake, but receiving the crystal globe will have to wait for the time being.
Bolshunov held his ground in second place, 497 points back, while Niskanen took third in the overall standings, 631 points behind Klæbo.
You can expect more analysis on the seasons of these World Cup champions, but first, we’ve got one final day of World Cup racing on deck. The final day of racing in Falun will feature a mixed-gender 4 x 5 k relay in the morning, followed by a mixed team sprint in the afternoon.
Rachel is an endurance sport enthusiast based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. You can find her cruising around on skinny skis, running in the mountains with her pup, or chasing her toddler (born Oct. 2018). Instagram: @bachrunner4646