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Today is day two for the World Cup stop in the Nordic skiing playground of Lillehammer, Norway. But it was all work and no play, today, as skiers faced the challenge of the 1.6-kilometer freestyle sprint course. It was another grey, overcast day in Lillehammer as skiers lined up for the races. Fifty-five women fought for the Sprint qualifiers, hoping to land a place in the heats. The top 30 qualifiers would earn the right to compete through to the quarterfinals—a bit of a misnomer, as there are actually five races in the quarterfinal round.
Going into the qualifiers, the United States was represented by Julia Kern of Massachusetts, Minnesota native Jessie Diggins, Vermont resident Alayna Sonnesyn, and Colorado native Lauren Jortberg. As reported yesterday, Jortberg is a coach’s discretionary pick, racing in her second World Cup weekend.
At the end of the day, Jessie Diggins (USA) was tantalizingly close to securing her second podium in as many days. She qualified 5th leading into the quarter finals, and made her way to the finals, but fell just short of the podium, finishing fourth overall. Julia Kern (USA) finished 20th in qualifying and made it into the semi-finals, just missing qualifying for the final heat.
The race was won by Emma Ribom (SWE), who is showing sprint prowess this year, having topped the podium last week as well. Maja Dahlqvist (SWE) was second, followed by Tiril Weng (NOR).
Lillehammer Women’s Freestyle Sprints
Diggins landed in the first heat and kept the pace brisk. A late turn of pace brought her to the front, and she finished in a photo-finish for second, which she took by .02 seconds.
Kern competed in the fifth quarterfinal, conserving her energy in the first half of the race, moving up to the lead in the last half of the race. She pushed very hard toward the end, separating herself going in the final turn. She ended up comfortably winning her heat.
“I found my gear and skied it tactically exactly how I wanted to and had really good energy to push in the second half of the course, which was my plan,” Kern said. “I walked away feeling super energized and confident going into the semi-final.”
In the semi-finals Diggins raced in the first heat, and Kern in the second.
In her heat, Diggins’ skis appeared exceptionally fast as she glided past many of her rivals. She bided her time, remaining toward the back for the first half. She then exhibited the cagey race tactics for which she is now known, deftly working her way through traffic. She ended up finishing third to advance to the finals in a lucky loser slot.
Kern used a strategy similar to what she had shown in the quarters, keeping back for the first half of the race; however, the racers bunched up at the half-way point and there was still a lot of traffic for Kern to make her way through. As the pack neared the finish, Lotta Weng (NOR) crashed, slightly disturbing Kern’s pace. Kern desperately pushed through to the finish, but finished fourth, failing to advance. Kern confirmed with FasterSkier that this affected her race:
“I saw it coming, I had a feeling there might be a tangle and was able to react pretty quickly and get around her,” she said. “That little blip and hiccup, that maybe cost me moving up. But, that’s sprint racing. I’m really happy with today, with how my skis felt and how my body felt. Looking forward to more racing tomorrow.”
“It was a super exciting day to have four in the top ten (including the men), Kern said. “We had ripping fast skis.”
U.S. Head Coach Matt Whitcomb shared with Fasterskier that, “Julia executed perfectly the general recommendation to get a reasonable start, and if you find yourself boxed out, take the opportunity to relax, and when you find a window go through it fast.”
“The strategy going into the races was based on footage watched earlier in the week,” Whitcomb added. “We do this to minimize the amount of talk race day, or the meeting before the race, to avoid putting too much stress on the racers. By the time we showed up, everyone pretty much had their own plan. Watching the athletes warm up, they knew what they were intending to execute, that’s a pretty special thing to watch.”
Whitcomb continued his explanation, adding that, “We felt that we had great skis today, which is nice because you can guarantee that Norway’s going to have great skis and that’s half of the competition for us.”
In the finals, Diggins was joined by Ribom, Dahlqvist, Tiril Udnes Weng (NOR), Johanna Hagstroem (SWE), and Victoria Carl (GER). Diggins started fast and still looked to have very fast skis. She shot into third place right off the start. After about a minute, the skiers were tightly bunched. Diggins managed to pass skiers on the outside of the track and move herself into the lead. As other skiers accelerated on the long hill leading into the stadium, Diggins gradually drifted to fourth, but she was still in the thick of things. Ultimately, she couldn’t match the pace of the top three as they separated from her going into the finishing stretch. Diggins ended up fourth—1.1 seconds off the podium—but it was definitely another of her signature sparkling days for the American star.
Whitcomb told Fasterskier that yesterday’s first-place effort had taken its toll on Diggins. “By the end of the race, Jessie felt like her arms had kind of run out of power,” Whitcomb said. “At this point in the season, she could have podiumed yesterday or today, but to have both, was going to be a tall ask. We’re so thrilled with yesterday’s race that getting fourth today feels like a podium.”
Full results can be found here.