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Norway has long been a dominant force in cross country skiing, but that dominance may never have been more clearly evident than now. Norwegian men have claimed victory in the last eight World Cup distance races. Thus far in Period I of the World Cup season, Norwegian skiers have claimed 13 of the 15 World Cup podium positions in distance races. Norway’s dominance seems impenetrable: injury interferes with one star performer, illness sidelines another; yet ever more Norwegians step up to fill the podium. Results in Davos would be no different, as Norway claimed the top six places in the Men’s 20 k Freestyle. Winner on the day was Simen Hegstad Krueger, followed by Hans Christer Holund in second, and Sjur Roethe third. Johannes Hosfloet Klaebo would finish fifth, securing his second-place position (behind Golberg) in the World Cup Overall points standings.
Canadian skiers were coming off an historic day in which Graham Ritchie finished a career-best 17th in the World Cup Sprint, leading four Canadians into the quarterfinals. In Sunday’s 20 k, Team Canada’s successes continued as Ritchie finished 21st, followed closely by teammate Antoine Cyr in 24th. American finishers included Gus Schumacher 18th, Ben Ogden 22nd, Hunter Wonders 33rd, Scott Patterson 38th, and Zak Ketterson 43rd.
Men’s 20k Freestyle
If Klaebo’s World Cup campaign has been thrown into question by virtue of the many races he’s missed, then today was his chance to begin reclaiming some of those squandered points. World Cup Overall Leader, Paal Golberg (NOR), would be absent from both the sprint and distance fields in Davos. Klaebo has skipped numerous distance races this season, so much anticipation accompanied his name’s appearance on Sunday’s start list.
Klaebo appeared to ski his race conservatively, perhaps knowing that the new points system would reward more than just the day’s winner (finally, that system would be working in his favor). This weekend, Klaebo would earn points for his second place in Saturday’s sprint qualifier, for his second place in Saturday’s sprint final, and for his fifth place finish in the 20 k . . . all while Golberg nursed a cold back home in Norway. For Klaebo: mission accomplished.
But Sunday’s story was about far more than just Klaebo: Facing twenty kilometers skied over four laps of a five kilometer course, racers in Davos’ 20 k freestyle seemed likely to join up with other skiers in gaps of 22-23 places. In the otherwise random selection of start positions, this seemed most likely to benefit Norwegians Krueger and Holund who were separated in the starting order by 22 places—Holund would start earlier, with Krueger starting 22 places later. Predictably, Krueger and Holund were able to pair up at the beginning of Holund’s second lap, enabling Holund to convert his 8th place standing at the 10 kilometer checkpoint into a sizable lead at his finish. But Holund’s time would need to stand up against that of Krueger who still had one more lap to race. Ultimately, Krueger was able to drive on toward the finish—alone in his last lap—to finish in 42:12.3, besting Holund by 22 seconds.
In his post-race interview, Krueger elaborated on his feelings for Davos. “It’s amazing. I love this course. It’s my favorite track,” he said. “It was a really good feeling to take the victory today.”
Of being able to team up with Holund during today’s 20 k, Krueger beamed, “We made up a good pace,” he said. “And a great team effort as well.”
Numerous North American men also had impressive weekends in Davos, as Schumacher (USA) has begun finding the distance-racing form for which he has become known. He finished 18th on the day, followed closely by Canada’s Ritchie at 21st. Going into the holiday break, North American skiers should feel reassured by their season’s preparations, and optimistic for the Tour de Ski and FIS World Championships to come later in the season.
USA Team Leader in Davos, Chris Grover, commented on Schumacher’s race: “Gus had a great day,” Grover said. “That was cool to see him take another step forward. He ended up getting a ride with Krueger towards the end of the race. It really helped to hold him in the top twenty.”
As for Team USA’s plans for the holiday break, Grover described a number of different plans for athletes and staff: “A lot of the main athletes are staying in Davos,” he said. “Obviously, it’s close to Val Mustair where the Tour starts. It’s a little bit of a logistical challenge; typically, people will try to take a little bit of recover. Then they’ll try to have a little bit of a training block. You can’t go into the Tour carrying fatigue.”
As Period I of FIS Cross Country World Cup 2022 comes to a close, the Norwegian ownership of the podium seems unchallenged. They have survived illness and injury, they have thrived in a system where the greatest challenge in skiing may not be climbing onto the World Cup podium, but climbing into a Team Norway race suit. Any skier qualifying for this team has a chance to claim World Cup glory . . . at least until the following weekend when yet another Norwegian star is likely to rise.
Davos World Cup 20 k Freestyle RESULTS