World Cup: Period I into Period II

FasterSkierDecember 29, 2022

Editors note:  FasterSkier’s coverage of FIS Cross Country World Cup Period I has been a cooperative effort among three dedicated staff writers: Ben Theyerl, Ken Roth, and John Teaford. Many early mornings, many calls and texts, many quotes and comments, many unforgiving deadlines bring this reporting to FasterSkier’s readers. We hope their insights  have served to improve everyone’s enjoyment of the excellent racing witnessed in Period I, and that they can serve to prepare viewers for the excitement and intrigue of Period II, and beyond.

Jessie Diggins’ (USA) recent World Cup win in Davos has her positioned as one of the favorites entering Period II’s Tour de Ski. (Photo: Nordic Focus)
Ken Roth

In the Women’s World Cup, Period I has been a tale of two halves. During the first two weeks, Sweden looked unbeatable. Then, a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to global domination: illness overtook team Sweden, and they only placed one skier on the podium in individual races each of the last two weekends. For most teams, those results would be pretty good; for the Swedish women it was disappointing.

While Sweden was fading, the U.S. was surging. Jessie Diggins was transcendent in Davos, taking a first and a second. Rosie Brennan bounced back from illness to ski to third in a great 20-k freestyle race and showed unmatched grit. In retrospect, the single biggest factor of the first four weeks was the start list. I’m not throwing any shade on the Americans’ success, but many of the top skiers were absent the last two weeks, and a fair assessment must acknowledge that reality. The other reality is that you can only beat whoever shows up, and the American squad looked great doing just that.

As the World Cup tour enters Period II, the Swedes may be anticipating a resurgence. Sweden’s Tour de Ski start list includes most of their superstars. The question is, will they remain healthy? The Swedes do themselves a real disservice when they fail to provide details about absences, as information vacuums often fill with speculation. This was especially evident with regard to Frida Karlsson whose absence from Davos raised questions about her health (which Team Sweden has identified as a concern in the past).

Norway lists the three Wengs on its start list, so the competition will be stiff. Tiril Udnes Weng is skiing so balanced between distance and sprinting that, barring illness, she should be the Tour favorite. For the same reasons, you have to put Diggins into the mix.

Another big question lingers around the U.S. squad:  will anyone emerge to supplement the 1-2 punch of Diggins-Brennan? Julia Kern has been right on the edge in sprints; my guess is she’ll be the next American to podium, while the women’s squad remains mostly unchanged for Period II. And FIS, your holiday present to the ski world can be to change the rules for mixed relays; and do it now. Allow teams to ski in any order they want and to submit their lineups just before the race starts (Full disclosure: I’m totally stealing this idea from the Devon Kershaw Show). Can you imagine an anchor leg with Jessie Diggins given a lead and trying to hold off Johannes Klaebo? I would pay real money to see that—and I suspect most of the cross-country fan world would too!

Ben Ogden (USA) enters Period II with top North American finishes in both sprint and distance events. (Photo: Nordic Focus)
Ben Theyerl

In his comments to FasterSkier’s Nat Herz describing the Beijing Olympics 15 k Classic Individual Start, Ben Ogden said that when Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo passed him he “Wasn’t going at a totally inhuman pace. I think one day I’ll be able to ski a longer percentage of the race at that speed.” I don’t think we anticipated how close that hypothetical day might be. With Ogden coming within an inch of Sprint Finals in consecutive weeks in Lillehammer and Beitostolen (in both Classic and Skate, to boot), it’s clear the gap is shrinking. JC Schoonmaker in sprints, and Gus Schumacher in distance races, have both continued to show the potential of the “young Americans” who were introduced to ski fans with Junior World Championship medals in 2018, 2019, and 2020. As far as percentages go, they’re not quite 100% of the way to Klaebo-pace for an entire race, but they’re definitely getting closer. Are we at a point where we might see the return of an American male to the podium for the first time since Simi Hamilton in Toblach, 2017? Considering the auspicious steps taken by young American skiers so far this season, I wouldn’t rule that out in Period II.

Finn O’Connell, Zak Ketterson, Hunter Wonders at the Tour de Ski: When I spoke to Finn O’Connell following his nomination to the US Ski Team last May, he said that one of his biggest successes last year was figuring out, “What [being] a professional skier looked like.” Along with teammates Zak Ketterson and Hunter Wonders, O’Connell is in the group who became professional skiers during the pandemic, and who have seen the early steps in their careers severely complicated by COVID’s impact. O’Connell, who had earned World Cup starts in 2020-2021, will step on to a World Cup start line for the first time at the Tour de Ski. Having the Tour de Ski be your first World Cup experience poses some unique, and demanding, challenges. O’Connell is likely to take cues from teammate Zak Ketterson who faced the same prospect just a year ago. When I spoke to him last May about hopping from the SuperTour to the World Cup for a week straight of racing, Ketterson said, “[The Tour de Ski is] overwhelming. Those first few races do feel different. It’s hard not to be super nervous, and you’re not really skiing like yourself.” That might sound daunting, but Ketterson also added that the Tour de Ski as an introduction to the World Cup, “Made the rest of races [on the World Cup last season] seem very chill by comparison.”

That TDS-inspired confidence led to Ketterson being part of the American team that won the Team Relay in Falun last season, and has seen him settle into World Cup racing this season, highlighted by a 26th in the 10 k Classic in Lillehammer. He’ll now return to the Tour de Ski for a second time. Hunter Wonders and Finn O’Connell meanwhile, will start their first TDS with the same kind of trial that Ketterson had in his first Grand Tour-style race last year.

Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR) crosses the finish-line in Ruka wearing the yellow Overall World Cup leader’s bib. He’ll hope that a winning effort at the Tour de Ski may allow him to be wearing that bib again at the end of the 2023 season. (Photo: Nordic Focus)
John Teaford

Two weeks ago, Johannes Hosfloet Klaebo claimed his pursuit of the overall World Cup crystal globe was over. It sounded as though he might just concentrate on World Cup sprint events and save his distance-skiing energy for this season’s FIS World Championships. Then the start list for the Tour de Ski came out:  Klaebo’s name is on the list. Game on . . .

FasterSkier’s Ben Theryl recently wrote about changes to the World Cup point system, summing up the changes as, “A whole lot more points for a whole lot more skiers” resulting in top skiers needing to ski more races if they hope to do well in the race for the overall Crystal Globe. Exiting Period I, Klaebo and Paal Golberg are both on the Norwegian team for the Tour de Ski (TDS), and embroiled in a close, point-by-point battle for the Crystal Globe. If Klaebo succeeds in winning this year’s TDS, he could claw back the overall title, not by hundreds of points at a time, but by a grinding accumulation of points that could—to the FIS’ delight—make the battle for the Crystal Globe very exciting, indeed.


American Team Selections for Period II (including the Tour de Ski) can be found in FasterSkier’s recent posting from US Ski and Snowboard.


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