Falun World Cup Freestyle Sprint: It’s Klaebo’s World . . .

John TeafordMarch 18, 2023

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Once in his career, Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR) stood up too early before the finish line and was famously (and embarrassingly) nipped at the line. In Falun’s World Cup Freestyle Sprint, no other sprinter was even close. (Photo: Modica/NordicFocus)

This guy is simply incredible . . . can we just admit that? Thirty skiers qualify for every sprint quarterfinal—all having demonstrated their sprint prowess, all with a burning desire to win—Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR) routinely bests them all. Sprint courses provide tight turns to maneuver and steep hills to hop-skate, yet those never seem to present the same sorts of challenges to Klaebo that they present to others. There are poles that can snap and skis that can tangle, yet none of this ever seems to befall him. Sprint days are exhausting, with repeated lactate-producing efforts accumulating throughout the day; Klaebo never seems to tire. Getting through quarterfinals and semifinals and finals on a sprint day is skiing’s version of a minefield: be as skilled and prepared and careful and lucky as possible, but some unseen obstacle may still undo you. Even the world’s best sprinters seem incapable of mustering any significant degree of consistency: Federico Pellegrino (ITA) is a great sprinter, yet he often fails to advance to the final (last week in Drammen he failed to even qualify for the heats). Even Northug (NOR) has the famous family name and presumably the sprint genetics, but he is not consistently a factor (failing to advance to the final in Falun). Richard Jouve (FRA) won last season’s World Cup Sprint championship in Klaebo’s absence, but his results are irregular, and his endurance sometimes comes into question. Occupying second place in the season-long World Cup Sprint standings, Lucas Chanavat (FRA) is the most consistent of the other sprint contenders, but it’s difficult to even remember him being a factor in sprint finals this season. The rest of the world’s best sprinters—Erik Valnes (NOR), Edvin Anger (SWE), Renaud Jay (FRA), Ben Ogden (USA), Marcus Grate (SWE), Calle Halfvarsson (SWE), Jules Chappaz (FRA), Paal Golberg (NOR)—consistently peck away at each other, failing or advancing seemingly at random, buffeted by quarterfinal and semifinal sprint-storms that never seem even to ruffle Klaebo’s neatly coiffed hair. Nordic Sprinting is Klaebo’s world; everyone else is just living in it . . .

In today’s World Cup Freestyle Sprints at Falun, Sweden, that dominance was clearly on display as Klaebo coasted to a win ahead of Valnes and Pellegrino. It was Klaebo’s 17th World Cup win of the season (his 8th sprint victory). After today’s races in Falun, his lead (over Chanavat) in the season-long Sprint World Cup competition stands at an astonishing 235 points.

Ogden was the highest finishing American, qualifying 12th, though ultimately finishing 17th. His high-profile, high-speed efforts in the last few races may be catching up with him this week, as he appeared relatively flat in his quarterfinal, a slow heat in which he finished fourth (and from which no lucky losers advanced). Other Americans included Kevin Bolger 36th, Zak Ketterson 49th, Luke jager 58th. Among Canadians, Graham Ritchie was 42nd, Russell Kennedy 44th, Xavier McKeever 59th, Antoine Cyr 61st, Olivier Leveille 63rd.

Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR) is careful never to lead until the moment comes to break for the finish line. He calmly stalked Lucas Chanavat (FRA) and Even Northug (NOR) in the Individual Sprint semifinal at Falun, Sweden. (Photo: Modica/NordicFocus)
Men’s Freestyle Sprints

Well, that was weird . . . or maybe it was a brilliant tactical attempt on Chanavat’s part? Whatever the reason, the final did not go according to Klaebo’s plan; though seemingly nothing could have affected the predictability of the outcome.

Klaebo was joined in the final by Pellegrino, Valnes, Chanavat, Jouve, and the surprising Haaakon Asdoel, making his first World Cup start and reaching his first World Cup Sprint final. They’re all great sprinters, but really they were likely to be fighting each other for Klaebo’s table scraps. It’s as though Falun’s sprint course was designed specifically for Klaebo and his skis, for Klaebo and his speed, for Klaebo and his tactics. A ski-speed downhill leads into a slingshot rise and descent, emptying into a long straightaway to the finish line. Klaebo skied the course to script and to perfection in his quarterfinal and semifinal, each time emerging from the pack on the downhill, separating himself by virtue of his perfect timing, innovative line selection, and blazing fast skis.

Staying out of the lead, and making sure others are first onto the downhill: Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR) follows Edvin Anger (SWE), Lucas Chanavat (FRA), and Even Northug (NOR) in a sprint semifinal in Falun, Sweden. Chanavat attempted to undo Klaebo’s plan in the sprint final, but the end result was the same. (Photo: Modica/NordicFocus)

“This sprint in Falun is really tactical,” Klaebo said in post-race interviews. “Don’t be in the front on the last downhill: that was my tactic.” That’s the tactic Klaebo had demonstrated throughout the day. In the final, Chanavat seemed determined to interrupt that. So, when the field reached the top of the final downhill, Chanavat just stopped.

“Everyone stopped at the top,” Klaebo explained. “No one wanted to go first down.” What resulted was a race that virtually came to a halt, with Pellegrino caught drifting to the front. Pellegrino actually turned around to look at the other racers, and would’ve come to a complete stop had not Chanavat given him a gentle nudge down the hill. Even then, Pellegrino wouldn’t take the bait, and the pack slow-skied down the upper slope. It was at that moment that Klaebo awoke to the situation, realizing that his typical advantage—his fast skis on the downhill—was being negated. But there’s no situation in sprinting in which Klaebo is not superior: he’s the best tactician, and possessed of the highest top speed. He’s the most adept descender and cornerer, while also being capable of the most rapid acceleration. His skis are always the fastest on the course, and both his V2 and freeskate technique are unmatched. The race might not have been going according to Klaebo’s plan, but he was still in position to win. Springing into action, Klaebo quickly accelerated down the middle of the hill, breaking into a freeskate that none of his rivals could match. Though his original tactic had been undone, the result was the same: Klaebo reaching the slingshot bump in the lead, and pulling away with time to stand and salute the crowd before crossing the line as sprint-mayhem continued unfolding behind him. Pellegrino—always the capable opportunist—sprinted clear of a flat-footed Chanavat and an exhausted Jouve, and nearly caught Valnes at the finish line. The best sprinters had made it to the podium . . . and of course the best sprinter had won. Order was restored on the Sprint course, and the world was Klaebo’s again.

Men’s Freestyle Sprint RESULTS

Erik Valnes (NOR), Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR), Federico Pellegrino (ITA) on the podium at FIS World Cup cross-country, Individual Sprint in Falun, Sweden. (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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