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Today the Classic Sprints marked the beginning of the first full day of competition at the FIS World Championships in Planica, Slovenia. In the women’s field, there was not a prohibitive individual favorite coming into the race. So evenly matched is the women’s field that the last nine Classic World Cup Sprint races have produced nine different winners! While no individual has dominated women’s Sprinting, the Swedish team has amassed a stock of Sprint superstars who have been on a dominant run lately. For the last 3 individual Sprint races coming into the World Championships, the Swedish women have occupied 7 of 9 podium positions. Norway and USA have been the most consistent challengers to the Swedish domination. The U.S. fielded its own quartet of Rosie Brennan, Jessie Diggins, Julia Kern, and Hailey Swirbul to take on the world.
At the end of the day, the Swedish Sprinting stars rose to the top sweeping the podium with Jonna Sundling taking first, Emma Ribom second, and Maja Dahlqvist third.
For the Americans, Rosie Brennan was seventh—her best Classic Sprint performance ever—followed by Julia Kern in eighth, and Jessie Diggins 21st. Hailey Swirbul finished 33rd just a bit more than half a second away from qualifying. The American women are working without the availability of Novie McCabe and Alayna Sonneyson who, though nominated to the World Championship team, for health and training reasons chose not to attend the World Championships.
No Canadian women made the heats. Dahria Beatty finished 35th only 1.1 seconds from qualifying. Katherine Weaver was 36th, Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt 38th, and Liliane Gagnon 47th.
The Women’s Individual Classic Sprint
It was a warm day in Planica with temperatures staying above freezing overnight. This prompted officials to unexpectedly salt the course, and wax technicians to put klister on racers skis. U.S. Coach Chris Grover confirmed with FasterSkier that the conditions were a mix of firm and slush which posed challenging conditions for the racers. This resulted in many non-contact falls throughout the day. Grover added, “The course has technical corners with winding sections where the snow is banking and channels are carved, and those are opportunities…to fall.” The tenuous conditions limited access to the course for warmups, and according to U.S. coach Chris Grover, “Staff never skied on the course.” Coach Matt Whitcomb said that, “This condition begs for salting and frankly we are in support of firmer conditions if at all possible, it was not an unwelcome surprise.”
The first American in the heats was Rosie Brennan in heat number two. Brennan’s heat was stacked with headline talent with Ribom (SWE) and Nadine Faehndrich (SWI) lining up with her. After cresting the first big hill, Brennan’s heat quickly boiled down to a pack of three skiers, with Ribom and Faehndrich out front. Brennan was able to keep on the leader’s tails and maintained contact throughout the race. Coming into the end of the heat, Brennan was still in touch with the leaders—finishing third—and would have to wait and hope for a lucky loser position.
Julia Kern went off in the fourth heat and would face Linn Svahn (SWE) who has recently returned to the World Cup having recovered from a shoulder injury and has been sprinting extremely well. Kern pushed to the front early and positioned herself extremely well forcing Svahn wide on the course. Kern was able to set the pace up the first steep hill and looked extremely strong. But by the top of the second hill Svahn had worked herself through to the front of the field and established a large gap over Kern. Kern was able to maintain her second place positioned and moved on to the semis finishing second.
In her heat, Diggins settled into the middle of the field at the start and put in a burst going up the first steep hill to put herself near the front. But she faded quickly after that, finishing fifth. Her day ended there. But, Diggins disappointment was Brennan’s benefit; Brennan moved on as a lucky loser and would face her teammate, Kern, in the semis. The star-studded Swedes placed five skiers in the semifinals.
The first semi read like a who’s who in the sprint skiing with Jonna Sundling, Emma Ribom, and Maja Dahlqvist representing Sweden. Kristine Skistad (NOR) Nadine Faehndrich (SWI) and Treza Bernanova (CZE) rounded out the field. The depth of this heat led to a very tactical race with Skistad setting the pace for most of the race. Skistad ground away throughout most of the course until toward the finish when Ribom pushed through Skistad and just beat her at the finish line.
In the second semifinal Kern and Brennan would face the formidable combination of the Swedish duo of Svahn, Johanna Hagstroem as well as Laura Gimmler (GER) and Tiril Udnes Weng (NOR). From the start Brennan and Kern drifted toward the back of the field. Then quickly, Brenan asserted herself up the first big hill shooting into the lead and stepping up the tempo for the rest of the field. After the second hill, Brennan had cracked the field and was with Svahn and Weng. At the finish, Brennan skied hard and finished third, but her time did not qualify for a lucky loser position. Kern was unable to meet the pace throughout most of the race and finished fourth.
After the race, Brennan expressed her satisfaction with the outcome.“it was my best classic sprint ever,” she said. And my best World Championship finish ever. I love klister skiing!”
Kern said that she “felt pretty good and had hoped for a little bit more, but it’s sprint racing and you never really know what’s going to happen.”
After the race, both Brennan and Kern described the course to FasterSkier as sloppy klister skiing.
The final came down to the field which had been anticipated: four Swedes and two Norwegians. Ribom, Svahn, Sundling, and Dahlqvist would take on Weng and Skistad. At the start, Skistad bolted into the lead, determined to break the four Swedes trailing her. Weng then put on a burst of speed to join the leaders, and it looked for a moment like Norway could crack the Swedish wall. But about one-third of the way through the race Sundling edged up to the front and was then neck and neck with Skistad; eventually pushing past her. Then the Norwegian dam couldn’t hold back the Swedish pressure and finally burst with the Swedish wave surging to the front with all four Swedes forming a solid wall in front of the Norwegians and quickly gapping Norway. Just past the halfway point, it was all Sweden with the only question left being which Swede would win. It came down to Sundling and Ribom fighting it out at the finish with Sundling holding off Ribom, and Dahlqvist coming in third.
After the racing was over U.S. coach Matt Whitcomb described the Swedish women’s performance as, “next level.”
After many twists and turns, the women’s sprint day ended up much as it had been predicted with team Sweden totally dominating, and the rest of the world left trying to figure out how to match the matchless Swedish women.
World Championship Women’s Individual Classic Sprint RESULTS