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After Maja Dahlqvist (SWE) qualified third in Saturday’s classic sprint, the tension rose to a fever pitch. With ten bonus points earned, Dahlqvist had cut the Sprint Crystal Globe gap between herself and Nadine Faehndrich (SUI) in half. After five months of racing, the two sprint rivals were separated by just 12 points. The statisticians sharpened their pencils.
In remarks to FIS media before the decisive heats kicked off, Dahlqvist said she “had nothing to lose” in chasing Faehndrich. “Maybe,” she added, “my teammates can help me.”
In skiing, an individual’s relationship to a greater team is often cited. On the final day of the World Cup Sprint season, though, a self-sacrificing action converted teamwork into literal World Cup points, and a Crystal Globe . . . thanks to the selfless actions of Dahlqvist’s teammate, Moa Ilar (SWE).
As Dahlqvist wound through the course in her quarterfinal, she was followed by her teammate, Ilar. The Lahti course offered a long-climb with a one-hundred eighty degree turn on the way up, and a one-hundred eighty degree turn on the way down. Dahlqvist had led all the way through, but the pack was tight with Ilar following the whole way. Ane Appelkvist Stenseth (NOR) had followed too, with Katharina Hennig (GER) fighting back to the front. On the final downhill, Hennig glided and glided until she was right up on Dahlqvist. Then, in an instant, she moved her ski and caught Dahlqvist’s pole. It was a clean break, and with it went Dahlqvist’s prospects for advancing. Continuing gamely—with only one pole— Dahlqvist sprinted as well as she could, but her chances of advancing faded with each single pole plant. That was until on the final stretch, when another skier vying for a bid to the semifinals noticed Dahlqvist’s plight. Moa Ilar looked over, seemed to do a quick calculation of what was at stake for Dahlqvist, and stood up to allow her teammate to finish ahead of her. Selflessness, generosity, nobility: Ilar had sacrificed her own race, and kept Dahlqvist’s season alive.
Battle for the Crystal Globe
Dahlqvist would have a chance. But first, Nadine Faehndrich was performing heroics of her own. In a quarterfinal where Tiril Udnes Weng (NOR) and Jessie Diggins (USA) were embroiled in their own pitched battle for the Overall World Cup, the Swiss skier hung on through every pace increase and shot through the pack in a sprint to earn a place in the semifinals.
The long road that began in Ruka last fall ultimately led to Lahti this spring. The second semifinal featured both Dahlqvist and Faendrich, head-to-head. Dahlqvist finished the heat second ahead of Faehndrich in fourth. Dahlqvist was into the Finals, and Faehndrich was out. A quick set of calculations revealed that Dahlqvist needed to finish no worse than fifth in order to claim the season-long Sprint crown. When Dahlqvist finished the day in fourth place, she knew that her performance would bring smiles, celebrations, and a Crystal Globe.
Women’s Classic Sprint
The conclusion of the World Cup Sprint chase captured the spotlight all day, but the continuing rivalry of Kristine Stavaas Skistad (NOR) and Jonna Sundling (SWE) would be played out at the finish line. In the Final, Sundling produced a burst of speed early on the course’s biggest climb. As the race wound into the stadium, though, Skistad was back in the picture, reeling in the Swedish World Champion. In the finishing straightaway, Skistad shot around the outside, unleashing a finishing double-pole that had brought her victory at the last four World Cup sprints, and did so again today. Skistad first, Sundling second, and Tiril Udnes Weng (NOR) adding to her remarkable season in third.
In the finishing area, the Swedes all embraced each other as champions. In that final embrace, a season in which the Swedish team had demonstrated their preeminence over the World Cup sprint field found its fitting ending. The one Norwegian among them, Skistad, had secured a conclusion which added emphasis. She will put her skis on the start line of the Ruka sprint course next November having not lost a World Cup sprint in 2023. Jonna Sundling, the only other winner in a sprint this year- the World Championships no less – will be there too. After three consecutive weeks of exciting sprint duels, the duo have established a choreography that all ski fans will look forward to revisiting when the snow falls again.
USA Qualifies Three: Julia Kern Finishes Season in Top 10
The Americans qualified three for heats today, with Jessie Diggins, Julia Kern, and Rosie Brennan all taking the starting line in different quarterfinals.
Kern took the line in the first quarterfinal, alongside Skistad and Emma Ribom (SWE). Ribom was the heat’s main mover, pushing the pace as the field hit the steep climb. Skistad made her way back to Ribom, while Kern pushed from the back of the pack to put herself firmly in the race. The American faded slightly in the stadium, but managed to maintain her position in third place (a lucky loser spot until Laura Gimmler (GER) and Jasmi Joensuu (FIN) bested her in the next heat).
“I knew I had more in me after the qualifier. I felt ok in my heats, nothing went wrong, nothing was really amazing, but I gave it what I had, and I’m proud of how I finished strong.” said Kern in post-race comments.
Rosie Brennan ended up sixth in a hard–charging heat that produced the other lucky loser. While Jessie Diggins, skiing in the fifth quarterfinal alongside Weng and Faehndrich came out in fourth place.
Diggins saw positive signs on Saturday for what might be ahead tomorrow, saying post-race that, “it’s fun to feel like I’ve had decent energy at the end of the year. When it comes down to the end of the season, what you have is what you have.”
With the Sprint World Cup concluded, Julia Kern has officially secured her career-best position in the season-long sprint standings. Kern finished seventh, improving upon her eighth place finish in last year’s campaign.
Distance Classification Finale
With her podium today, Weng wrapped up the World Cup Overall. The Norwegian sits 154 points ahead of Diggins who holds a firm grasp on second place Overall, 99 points ahead of third place Kertuu Niskanen (FIN). Those skiers will still be the main focal point of tomorrow’s 20 k Classic World Cup finale.
In the Distance classification, Niskanen holds a 22 point lead over Diggins. Further down the standings, Brennan sits just 4 points ahead of Heidi Weng (NOR) for fourth place in the Distance classification, vying to make it a second time in three seasons that the American duo of Diggins and Brennan have both finished top five.
Sunday, then, will be another race for the number-crunchers. Context for what that means in terms of excitement? Look no further than Saturday’s race. The gap that Maja Dahlqvist overcame to win the Sprint Crystal Globe; 22 points. Jessie Diggins’ deficit to Kertuu Niskanen heading into tomorrow; 22 points.
Women’s Classic Sprint RESULTS
Full World Cup Points STANDINGS
Ben Theyerl was born into a family now three-generations into nordic ski racing in the US. He grew up skiing for Chippewa Valley Nordic in his native Eau Claire, Wisconsin, before spending four years racing for Colby College in Maine. He currently mixes writing and skiing while based out of Crested Butte, CO, where he coaches the best group of high schoolers one could hope to find.