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As dominant as Swedish women’s racing has been this season, it’s hard to imagine that a Swedish woman has never won a Skiathlon at the World Championships. The Swedish women were looking to break that streak; given the incredible run they have been on, it seemed that the odds were in their favor.
But Norway was still lurking, hoping to upset Sweden’s shot at history. The Americans were also waiting in the wings with Rosie Brennan (USA) vying to claim America’s first gold medal in an individual distance event at a World Cup Championship.
Jessie Diggins (USA) took the day off: as she had said in her pre-World Championships press conference, she did not intend to ski every race. U.S coach Chris Grover informed FasterSkier that she will be skiing the team sprint tomorrow along with Julia Kern. He also shared the news that J.C. Schoonmaker and Ben Ogden would be the men’s team.
After a warm day of racing, it was Sweden coming out on top again with Ebba Andersson taking the victory. She was followed by teammate Frida Karlsson. In a feel good story, Astrid Oyre Slind (NOR), who was called up to race as a last minute replacement, finished third. Slind is a long-distance specialist, competing on the Ski Classics tour, and in the warm Planica weather she stood out as she cut off her tights and turned them into shorts.
The Americans’ day was mixed with success and heartbreak. Rosie Brennan had a soul rattling outing. While she was skiing with the leaders, a binding broke and her ski fell off. She ended up finishing 19th. Newcomer Sydney Palmer-Leger had a breakout day finishing 20th. Haley Swirbul was 26th, followed by Sophia Laukli, 29th.
For Canada, Katherine Stewart-Jones was the top finisher in 25th. Behind her were Jasmine Lyons 34th and Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt in 40th.
Women’s 15 kilometer Skiathlon
It was a very warm day for the Women’s 15 k Skiathlon, as temperatures bumped up against the 50 degree mark. Most racers shed their hats, some took off their gloves, and in Slind’s case, converted her tights into shorts. According to U.S. coach Chris Grover, course officials decided to salt the course the night before the race.
While course conditions were the subject of much post-race discussion, Grover said that he thought, “in general, for how warm it was…the course was probably in as good as shape as it could have been.”
The day began with high hopes for the U.S. With Jessie Diggins resting, Rosie Brennan became the default front runner for team USA.
At the beginning all looked very good for the Americans. One kilometer into the race, skiing the classic section, Brennan was toward the front with Kerttu Niskanen (FIN) and Krista Parmakoski (FIN) setting the early pace. They were in a group with Frida Karlsson (SWE), Ebba Andersson (SWE) and Delphine Claudel (FRA).
Throughout the early stages, Brennan looked extremely strong and jockeyed for position with the leaders. Niskanen was still setting the pace using her classic technique prowess to try and establish an advantage before the transition to skating.
By the 3.8 kilometer mark, Andersson moved to the front of the pack with Slind joining the leaders. Brennan was right in the mix in eighth place, skiing with the leaders, and appeared to be skiing the race she wanted to.
It was at about the five kilometer mark that the wheels came off for Brennan—literally. As she was going through a corner, her binding broke sending her ski flying. Brennan immediately collected her ski and pushed herself along with one foot as the leaders sped away from her. After the equipment failure, Brennan moved from being in the front of the field to being forty seconds behind the leaders. By the time she reached the ski exchange, she was over a minute behind the lead. It was a deficit which would be impossible to overcome.
When the leaders reached the ski exchange, Andersson, Karlsson, Slind and Ingvild Oestberg (NOR) were in a virtual dead heat.
As the skate portion of the race unfolded, Andersson began to assert herself, putting a six second gap on Karlsson with Niskanen and Slind about 20 seconds behind. Anderson continued on a grinding pace which the rest of the group could not match. At 10 kilometers she had put another 10 seconds on Karlsson, but then Andersson fell on a downhill and opened the door for teammate. But Karlsson couldn’t take advantage of the fall as Andersson jumped to her feet quickly and only lost a few seconds. Karlsson was able to stay in touch through the 13 kilometer mark, but couldn’t make any progress reeling Andersson in. At about the 14 kilometer mark, Andersson found another gear which no one else could match, and she extended her lead to almost 20 seconds.
At the finish, Andersson was comfortably in the lead, finishing 22 seconds ahead of Karlsson. Slind had hung on to finish third about 48 seconds back, making her last second race call up a heartwarming story.
But, after the race, all the talk was about Brennan and what could have been.
In the reporters’ mix zone, Brennan—always the consummate professional—took events in stride when she elaborated about her days’ problems. “Everyone was putting on the brakes, and I did too, and I caught some slush and the binding came off the ski. It makes it kind of hard to go when you have only one ski.” Despite her equipment issues, Brennan sounded energetic and optimistic. She commented that her bad luck seemed to attract a great deal of media attention. With a mix of humor and irony she said while laughing that, “this is the most I’ve ever been stopped in the mix zone, and for one of the worst races…I don’t know what that says about the state of the world. People should be more concerned with the good things, not the bad things. Today is a day we can all forget about.” Brennan hadn’t initially realized that the binding had come off and tried to put the ski back on. After figuring out that her equipment was broken, she found coach Jason Cork for a replacement ski. But the damage was done: the pace at the front didn’t slacken and there was no catching up. Brennan had contemplated stopping, but just for a moment. “When you show up at a Championship, you’re here to represent your country and you always give it your all until the end. I decided to keep fighting until the finish. I felt great up until that point.” Brennan was not injured from the impact.
U.S. coach Matt Whitcomb was about three minutes away from Brennan when she fell. He said, “Jason [Cork] got her one of her skis…it did have race wax on the glide zones. But the time was lost, and you’re no longer in contact with people skiing your pace.” He continued that, “we’re grateful that she’s ok…we can move past this. She looked great [before the fall] and was controlling the pace up the hills.”
Grover told FasterSkier that, “She was skiing really well when this happened.” From the team perspective it hurts, but Grover elaborated that “it is part of sport…everyday there are some favorites that end up with some bad luck.”
Brennan’s disappointment was tempered some by the standout performance of Sydney Palmer-Leger (USA), who finished 20th. Today was Palmer-Leger’s first World Championship race and first Skiathlon competition ever. She told FasterSkier that she was able to avoid the crashes which claimed so many skiers. She said that her background as a bike racer helped her prepare for the Skiathlon. “The transition went pretty well. I’m used to calming myself down.” She continued that “the corners were sketchy…you needed to carry speed through the corners, not slow down. I don’t think snow plowing was the best move.” She added that, “I just turned 21, so getting top 20 at my first World Champs is pretty amazing.”
Grover added that the team took solace in Palmer-Leger’s performance. “It was definitely the high point of the day,” Grover said. “It was really fun to see that half way through the classic section she was just off the lead group, so she was really holding her own.”
Sophia Laukli also had her difficulties, falling twice. Her 29th place performance was all the more remarkable, as she shared with FasterSkier that she broke a pole on the second crash.
After the dust had settled, broken equipment repaired and collected, the day would be remembered as a continuation of Swedish dominance, a breakout performance by a new American star, and thoughts of what might have been for Rosie Brennan.
World Championships Women’s Skiathlon Results