Golberg Outsprints Klaebo to Claim Gold in Men’s 50 K, Patterson 16th

Ken RothMarch 5, 2023

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The long and winding road that is cross-country skiing’s World Championships came to an end today. The last stop: the men’s 50 kilometer Classic Mass Start. Throughout the men’s competitions, the story has been Norway; Johannes Klaebo’s domination, team Norway’s supremacy, and the competition amongst the Norwegian team members. Norway was expected to dominate again today, but there were many sub-plots within that expectation: one of the biggest was the performance of  Klaebo.  Touted by some as the greatest ever, but skeptics note that Klaebo hasn’t been nearly as impressive in distance events as other legendary skiers who came before. Klaebo has never been on the podium in a 50 kilometer race at a major event. To cement his name in conversations about G.O.A.T status, Klaebo would probably need to have a victory. He would also be trying to redeem himself after having been disqualified at the finish in the last World Championships 50 kilometer race when he interfered with Alexander Bolshunov (RUS).

Standing in Klaebo’s way would be what appeared to be a busload of Norwegian men. Finnish Classic standout Iivo Niskanen—who always seems to perform well in major events—would also present a major roadblock, with his eyes firmly on the podium in a long Classic race: his forte. America would look to Scott Patterson to lead the way for team USA, with Patterson having previously placed in the top 10 at 50 k in the Olympics and World Championships.

When the end of the World Championship Road was reached, it was Norway dominating again but with a somewhat surprising finishing order. Golberg finished first, out-sprinting Klaebo at the finish. William Poromaa (SWE) was third.

Scott Patterson (USA) had another excellent distance race for team USA finishing 16th (Photo: NordicFocus)
Men’s 50 kilometer Classic Mass Start

In 40 degree weather (4.4 C), with slow wet conditions, it was apparent early that the seven lap course would make for a race of attrition. It was also clear that the single allowed ski change could play a critical role.

As is typical in men’s distance racing, the skiers set out at an initially fast pace, then quickly settled down into the long grinding speed that would typify most of the race.

Scott Patterson (USA), was able to hang with the leaders early on. (Photo: NordicFocus)

At the 4.3 k mark, it looked good for team USA with Patterson at the front of the race. Also near the front was perennial crowd favorite, Andrew Musgrave (GBR).  But as the race ground on the favorites began to rise to the top, while the Americans and Musgrave drifted back.

Much to everyone’s surprise, Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR) was out-sprinted at the finish. (Photo: NordicFocus)

At 6.4 k, two Italians—Federico Pellegrino and Francesco De Fabiani—joined Golberg at the front to quicken the pace. Klaebo was 23rd, but only 5.2 seconds back. At this juncture, Klaebo’s strategy became clear. He would not lead. Instead, he would be content to mark the leaders the entire way and then rely upon his devastating sprinting ability to bring in the win. It was a sound strategy for the strongest sprinter in the field, but one that would not pan out today.

With the abundant heat and sun, the nutrition hand-ups were frequent, giving skiers an opportunity to make a move when others were being handed food and drink. This is exactly what Niskanen did at the 13 k mark; taking five skiers with him. This was the first time in the race when the field truly began to string out. But, during the next feed, the front of the race regrouped. This elastic effect continued throughout the next several kilometers with surges and contractions geared around hills, corners, and feed zones.

It was at about the halfway point when the hot grind of an hour’s racing began to take its toll and a true lead pack of about 13 skiers established a gap with Golberg and Nyenget still setting the pace. Golberg had now been out front for the last five kilometers.

David Norris (USA) finished 22nd having won the American Birkebeiner Saturday, then flew to Europe to race in the World Championships. (Photo: NordicFocus)

The North American contingent was led by Wonders, Patterson, Gus Schumacher (USA), David Norris (USA) and, Oliver Leveille (CAN). All were in a chase group 14 to 22 seconds off the lead. Fans were eager to see how Norris would perform. He won the American Birkebeiner last Saturday and made the unprecedented decision to fly to the World Championships to race the marathon. After the race, Norris told FasterSkier that he had arrived Tuesday morning and was satisfied with the way his body had adapted. He forced himself to stay up late every night to adjust to jetlag. “I don’t think jetlag was affecting the race at all.”

At 28.4  kilometers Toenseth made a push to the front. Klaebo, who still had not led, was just a couple of seconds behind the leaders. The grinding race of attrition continued and it became clear that the winners would come out of the lead pack of 13 skiers. A surprise skier in the lead group was Snorri Einarsson of Iceland. Einarsson would go on to have one of his best finishes ever, finishing 15th.

With two laps remaining, every one of the now 11 lead skiers opted to stop at the ski exchange. During the exchange, there was a crash involving Niskanen and Jens Burman (SWE),when Niskanen cut in front of the Swede on his way into the ski corral. The tangle knocked Burman to the ground but didn’t seem to harm his time in the exchange or affect Niskanen.

David Norris (USA), Scott Patterson (USA), Gus Schumacher (USA), (l-r) were able to ski as a pack in the middle stage of the race. (Photo: NordicFocus)

The biggest surprise in the lead group was the presence of 23 year old Frenchman, Theo Schely, who is somewhat of an unknown outside France. Schely does not have a top 20 finish in a World Cup distance race, but was seemingly undeterred by the pace. He ended up finishing ninth in what was unquestionably the second biggest surprise of the day.

At about 43 kilometers the action livened up as Burman crashed in a corner, pushing him toward the back. At about the same time De Fabiani (ITA) broke a pole, and he was pushed out the back. With five kilometers left the race had boiled down to all the favorites with nine skiers lining up for finishing attacks. Toenseth dialed up the pace with Niskanen going along with him. Niskanen continued to push the pace—hard—but was unable to pull away from the chasers. But this reduced the field to only seven skiers, with Poromaa going with Niskanen at the front. Klaebo still sat in the middle of the pack, matching the leader’s moves but never leading.

Paal Golberg (NOR) celebrates at the finish having just shocked everyone—himself included—by sprinting past Johannes Klaebo (NOR). (Photo: NordicFocus)

At the two hour mark, with one kilometer to go, the race turned into an all out sprint with Golberg pushing to the front and Klaebo going with him in second place. It was here where the biggest surprise of the day took place. The pace was blistering with Klaebo charging up the final hill. Everyone watching expected Klaebo to turn on his famous sprint and pull away. But Golberg had a devastating sprint which Klaebo could not match.  Klaebo faded in the last 100 meters and Goldberg surged, pulling away from Klaebo, putting him in second place, with Poromaa hanging on to finish third. After the race Golberg admitted his surprise in beating Klaebo. “I had amazing skis,” he said. “I didn’t think I could take Johannes.”

Regarding the race’s finish Norwegian, coach Eirik Nossum said that he was “really impressed by Paal [Golberg]. He’s had such a good season, today is icing on the cake. Every guy who beats Johannes in a finish is shocking, but it’s hard to have a sprint after 50k. You can’t just order it…it’s hard…even for Johannes.”

William Poromaa (SWE) ended Sweden’s medal drought, finishing third. (Photo: NordicFocus)

It was also a big day for Sweden. Head coach Anders Bystrom told FasterSkier that, “finally we got the medal, and it’s so important for the whole sport in Sweden. The women are so great, the men have been in the shadow of the women, so this is really important.” Calle Halfvarsson, who finished fourth reiterated to FasterSkier the medal’s importance to Sweden. “We, the men, don’t yet have any medals,” he said. “It was really good that we could take [a medal].” Halfvarsson also commented on Klaebo’s performance in distance events: “Today showed that Klaebo is human. “

After the race, Patterson told FasterSkier that he had missed a couple of crucial feeds. He also expressed dissatisfaction with his race tactics. “I should have swapped [skis] earlier.”

Schumacher told FasterSkier that “My energy definitely tailed off towards the end, but I felt like I skied well the whole time.”

At the end of the World Championship Road, Norway was still supreme with only the finishing order being a shocker: Golberg outsprinting Klaebo at the finish, stunning the crowd and completing the World Championships on a surprising note.

Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR), Paal Golberg (NOR), William Poromaa (SWE) celebrate podium finishes to cap off the World Championships. (Photo: NordicFocus)

World Championship Men’s 50 K Classic Mass Start RESULTS







Ken Roth

Ken lives in Southeastern Michigan. He's an avid outdoor sport enthusiast. He's an attorney, former Mayor of Northville, Michigan, and former bowling center owner. He's spent much of the last 35 years trying to chase down his wife on classic skis; to no avail.

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