Falun 10 k Classic: Kerttu Niskanen Re-Energized, Klaebo Still Not Tired

John TeafordMarch 17, 2023

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A re-energized Kerttu Niskanen (FIN) dominated the World Cup 10 k Classic Individual at Falun, Sweden. Photo: Modica/NordicFocus)

She’s just so fun to watch . . . and He just keeps getting faster; together, Kerttu Niskanen (FIN) and Joahannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR) demonstrated levels of dominance on Falun’s classic tracks, delivering convincing victories in Friday’s FIS World Cup 10 k Classic Individual. Niskanen entered the weekend with a narrow seven point lead in the World Cup Distance standings (over American, Jessie Diggins), while Klaebo keeps adding a few points each race to his lead over countryman, Paal Golberg (who’s having an incredible season, just not as incredible as Klaebo). No one can afford to sit out a race anymore: the competition in the season-long standings is just too close.

Today in Falun, Niskanen dominated a World Cup field that lacked two of her main rivals—Sweden’s Ebba Andersson and Frida Karlsson—who skipped this race (as well as last week’s Holmenkillen 50 k) due to illness. Katharina Hennig (GER) followed Niskanen in second while Anne Kjersti Kalvaa (NOR) finished third.

Among Americans, Diggins was fourth followed by Rosie Brennan (6th), Novie McCabe (14th), Hailey Swirbul (30th), and Sammy Smith (41st). Canadian Katherine Stewart-Jones finished 40th.

Norway’s leader in the World Cup Overall standings, Tiril Udnes Weng, finished 10th on the day, surrendering ground to Diggins, but maintaining a lead of 145 points in the race for the Crystal Globe.

In the Men’s 10 k, things proved exciting early on and tense in the middle, but it was really a one-man race. While the lead at intermediate checkpoints teetered back and forth between fast starters and fast finishers, it was Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo who both started fast (just behind the impressive intermediate times posted by American Ben Ogden), and who set a blistering pace over the final kilometer (well ahead of mid-race threat, Martin Loewstroem Nyenget); Klaebo would finish first ahead of Nyenget and Harald Oestberg Amundsen (NOR). In the race for the season-long World Cup Overall Crystal Globe, Klaebo extended his lead to 224 points over countryman, Paal Golberg, who finished the day in fourth.

Americans placed two in the top 20: Ogden (13th), Scott Patterson (17th), Gus Schumacher (35th), Zak Ketterson (41st). Canadian finishers included Antoine Cyr (20th), Olivier Leveille (37th), Xavier McKeever (47th).

The Finns had fast skis today—Perttu Hyvarinen (5th), Ristomatti Hakola (6th)—so it really was a pity that their teammate,  classic specialist Iivo Niskanen, did not start in Falun.

Women’s 10 k Classic Individual

When it comes to classic skiing, Niskanen just does it differently. First, she skis fearlessly in the classic tracks, driving the momentum, forcing the pace, pushing the tempo higher than any of her competitors. Second, Niskanen’s technical mastery allows her to glide farther with each stride: where others scramble and rush, Niskanen just glides. It’s amazing to observe how much more glide she achieves with each stride than all other skiers. Even on the steepest climbs, Niskanen’s boot slides forward where others set the wax much earlier in the stride. It’s so fun to watch . . . and she’s seemingly found a new level of energy late in this World Cup season that will make her difficult to beat, at least in classic distance racing.

Niskanen always races with heart, but the 10 k distance on classic skis always seems to animate her even further. Blazing around the three laps of Falun’s 10 kilometer course, Niskanen followed the early lead of Jonna Sundling (SWE) to take over the lead by the half-way point, ultimately crossing the finish line with a lead of 22.3 seconds over Kalvaa. Finishing later, Hennig, was able to squeeze between them for second.

Painful moments at the finish line: Jessie Diggins (USA) can always be relied upon to give her all. Her fourth place finish in Falun was a career-best for Diggins in Individual Start Classic Distance racing. (Photo: Modica/NordicFocus)

Racing bravely into fourth place on the day, Diggins knows she’s fighting battles on multiple fronts: narrowly trailing Niskanen in the World Cup Distance standings, doggedly pursuing Weng in the World Cup Overall standings, and always capable of snatching a World Cup race victory on any given day. And, on any given day, Diggins always seems to display a fierceness that few other competitors possess. She can charge harder and endure more than just about anyone in sport. While many spectators remark about the exhausted, demonstrative carnage that often litters the finish area of World Cup events, few would question the astonishing levels of effort that Diggins commits to her racing. It can be a little bit scary to see a human dig so deep.

“This was my best ever career result for an individual start classic distance race,” Diggins said. “and it was really really confidence boosting . . . I really had to fight for it!”

Women’s 10 k Classic Individual RESULTS

Katharina Hennig (GER), Kerttu Niskanen (FIN), and Anne Kjersti Kalvaa (NOR) celebrate on the podium after the FIS World Cup 10 k Classic Individual in Falun, Sweden. (Photo:  Modica/NordicFocus)
Men’s 10 k Classic Individual

The snow that began falling during the women’s race continued to fall through the beginning of the men’s race, settling in the classic tracks and making the job of the wax technicians even more challenging. The men would race on freshly fallen snow in temperatures just above freezing (that’s a classic waxing conundrum). It was evident that most racers continued to opt for klister with only the earliest starters seeming to struggle with kick in the tracks. By the time the contenders took to the course, it seemed that the new snow in the tracks had been skied in, and the slipping suffered by earlier racers no longer seemed to be a significant issue.

Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR) just keeps getting faster. (Photo: Modica/NordicFocus)

Someone really needs to talk to FIS about their World Cup scheduling: this season’s must-do-every-race points system originally seemed intended to undo the dominance of Klaebo (who, in the past, could win most of the races he entered, and skip others in order to remain fresh). This season’s schedule (especially in the race-crowded closing weeks of this World Cup season) appears determined to race the energy right out of Klaebo’s sprinter’s legs. Ironically, Klaebo now appears to be one of the few skiers who remains energized after so many days and weeks and kilometers of racing. In Falun, he started quickly (trailing only the speedy Ogden at the first checkpoint), then just kept pouring it on. His tempo and intensity over the final kilometer was unmatched, and he finished with a surprisingly large margin over skiers who had matched his earlier split times. They faded, he accelerated. No one is going to catch him now . . .

This kid just charges: Ben Ogden (USA) races boldly, fearlessly, aggressively. He led at many of he early checkpoints, before fading to 13th in the closing kilometers. Evidently, he’ll keep trying this strategy until he sees just how far he can take it. (Photo: Modica/NordicFocus)

Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the racing in Falun was the ongoing pacing-adventure of American, Ben Ogden; whether sprint or distance, Ogden continues to race in a manner that throws caution to the wind, seemingly determined to press the accelerator to the floor just to see how far that momentum can carry him. It’s an audacious plan; one that merrily dispenses with the long-held American philosophy of gradual improvement and steady progress. Ogden seems to be saying, “I’m going to ski with the best guys, or die trying.” Weeks ago, when he first introduced this tactic in a Tour de Ski sprint heat, the response was chuckling among the commentators and high-fives among the fans. No one really took him seriously; it looked like a gag, like a mid-race prank, like a bit of fun thrown into an otherwise over-serious race day. When he threw down this tactic again in both the quarterfinal and semifinal of the Drammen World Cup Sprints, we began to consider that Ben Ogden doesn’t see things that way.

“To be honest that tactic is sometimes a conscious decision and sometimes isn’t,” Ogden admitted. “In [Drammen sprint heats] it certainly was . . . Once it worked and once it didn’t, but I think that a man like myself needs to ski to his strengths and thats exactly what I did. Today on the other hand was less of a race plan and more a product of the circumstances. It was a tricky ski day and we spent a lot of time testing and worrying about that in the warmup. Once I started, I realized I had quite fast and easy kicking skis, so I just got somewhat carried away. I knew I was going too fast in the first 5k but I just couldn’t bring myself to slow down!”

“I am counting on one day doing that and just not slowing down,” Ogden said. “That is how you accomplish your goals; the more comfortable you get at that intensity the longer you’ll be able to do it!”

After today’s race in Falun, latest evidence would seem to suggest he’s going to keep pushing this tactic until it finally works. Keep charging, kid . . .

Men’s 10 k Classic Individual RESULTS

Ristomatti Hakola (FIN), Perttu Hyvarinen (FIN) finished fifth and sixth on the day, only 30 seconds behind the winner. The Finns took advantage of great skis in Falun, leaving fans to wonder what might have happened if classic specialist Iivo Niskanen (FIN) had raced the 10 k Classic? (Photo:  Modica/NordicFocus)

John Teaford

John Teaford—the Managing Editor of FasterSkier — has been the coach of Olympians, World Champions, and World Record Holders in six sports: Nordic skiing, speedskating, road cycling, track cycling, mountain biking, triathlon. In his long career as a writer/filmmaker, he spent many seasons as Director of Warren Miller’s annual feature film, and Producer of adventure documentary films for Discovery, ESPN, Disney, National Geographic, and NBC Sports.

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