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What was old is new again: for the first time since equal-distance racing policies were put into effect this season, the men’s field was set to race a 15 kilometer individual start. This particular distance has been raced at World Championships since guys with names like “Sixten” were racing on hand-carved wooden skis, but the extra five kilometers added to the men’s new-normal 10 kilometer World Cup distance provided a hint of freshness to this traditional World Championship event.
If the 15 k distance blurred predictions before the race, the roster of contenders in the field brought those predictions back into focus. As the last World Championships in Oberstdorf in 2021, the 15 k skate was a Norwegian sweep: Hans Christer Holund, Simen Hegstad Krueger and Harald Oestberg Amundsen going 1-2-3. American skiers also provided reason to be optimistic as the Team Relay approaches later this week, with Scott Patterson finishing 15th, Gus Schumacher 19th, Ben Ogden 27th, Hunter Wonders 33rd. Canadian finishers included Olivier Leveille 28th, Graham Ritchie 46th, Xavier McKeever 60th.
Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR) was also on the start list this morning, competing in a 15 k World Championship or Olympic skate event for the first time in his career. Based on the Norwegian skiathlon sweep last week, indications were that the Norwegian podium sweep of two years ago could likely be re-created today; the Norwegian shuffle at the top of the race was on.
15 k Individual Start Freestyle
As to who would stand atop the podium, indications were clear from the beginning. Kreuger is known for his ability to come on strong late in his seasons and late in his races, so his emerging as the early leader in this race suggested his form might prove unbeatable. By the 2.2 k checkpoint, Krueger was already out in front of a tight-packed field. American, Ben Ogden, described Planica’s course as one that could, “make you feel like a king for the first four kilometers, and then [make you] go ‘oh no, I still have 10 k to go’” Accordingly, Krueger’s early lead was one that didn’t warrant anointing him too early. But when Krueger came to the top of the long, winding climb defining the middle section of the course at 7.7 k with a 23 second gap over Sweden’s William Poromaa—and then kept adding to that lead at each subsequent checkpoint—it seemed like the probable outcome was becoming clear. Krueger was on his way to winning his second individual World Championship of his career, and in as many starts in Planica. As on-air broadcaster, Chad Salmela, pointed out, Krueger has started 10 races at World Championships and Olympics, and medaled in nine of them.
Krueger’s start position, bib 44, was relatively early among the main contenders. As a consequence, there remained considerable potential for drama to occur behind him as the field of contenders approached, but never matched, his high-mark at the later checkpoints. Holund started a minute behind Krueger in bib 46, but his checkpoint times put him in a closer race with Sweden’s Poromaa, with whom he traded on-course placings numerous times. Klaebo started in bib 48, two minutes behind Krueger, and through the first 2.2 k checkpoint was splitting seconds with him and leading the field, but Klaebo dropped to sixth place at 4.1 k and remained out of contention for the win the rest of the day. Amundsen—the 24 year old who had won a bronze at the Oberstdorf 15 k World Championships at only age 22—provided the late drama. Wearing bib 64, Amundsen led Krueger by 1.5 seconds at 2.2 k, was three seconds back at 5 k, and 11 seconds back at 7.7 k. When he put time into Krueger—he cut the gap from 11 seconds to 7.7 seconds in 3 k at the 10.8 k checkpoint—there was real intrigue. The gap grew in the last lap on the course, though even with a late push to finish 5.3 seconds back, Amundsen’s challenge to Krueger appeared to be over by the 12.8 k checkpoint. When he did cross the line, Amundsen had earned the second medal of his career, and Krueger took it as the sure sign he was safe to pull on the World Champions bib. Two years on from Oberstdorf, the 15 k skate podium had played a Norwegian shell game. 1st) Simen Hegstad Krueger, 2nd) Harald Oestberg Amundsen, 3rd) Hans Christer Holund.
In a post-race press conference, Amundsen—the youngest member of the Norwegian sweep—said, “It’s good to be on the podium. I trained a lot with [Krueger and Holund] the last few years, knowing they are the strongest guys after Oberstdorf.” As for what’s next, Amundsen sees one more step, literally: “Maybe in Trondheim [in 2025], I will fight for the gold medal.”
Patterson, Schumacher, and Ogden in Top 30 for Americans
The American skiers started their day before the podium action began, with Schumacher (bib 33), Ogden (bib 36), and Wonders (bib 37) all taking part in the bar-setting through early checkpoints. At 2.2 k, Schumacher and Ogden were near the front of the early starters, and by 4.4 k were on top; Schumacher first and Ogden second with less than a second between them. From there, though, Ogden would say in post-race comments that he “ran out of steam in the middle on the climbs.” His check-point times faded from the top, but still made clear the American was having a consistent effort. He would finish 27th; his first distance top 30 at a World Championships.
Schumacher continued to stay near the top of early-starters as he passed through the checkpoints. At each point past 5 k, he was slotting behind Andorran skier Ireneu Esteve Altamiras, and later France’s Maurice Manificat, Japan’s Naoto Baba, and Germany’s Jonas Dobler. The dividing line between early-starters and the main contention field was Sweden’s William Poromaa who bested the early group at each checkpoint past 5 k. As early starters filled in behind Poromaa at each check point, what became clear was that Schumacher’s early time marks were setting him up for a good finishing time. Schumacher sped through the final lap, eventually crossing the line standing in third place. He would ultimately find himself 19th. It was the best World Championships distance finish of his career, and a bounce-back for Schumacher after last week’s 38th place finish in the Skiathlon.
Of his quick return to form, Schumacher said to FasterSkier post-race that “my results have gone from really bad to really good a couple of times now, so I can start to have more confidence that when I give it my best effort, that might happen.” Schumacher also identified a belief in himself that emanated from advice given to him by newly crowned world champion teammate Jessie Diggins: “[After the Skiathlon] it was nice to have Jessie [Diggins] around. She said, ‘if you push well and do everything right, you’ve got to be happy.’” Schumacher also paused, and then reflected to FasterSkier’s Nat Herz that, “It’s a little crazy to think that [Jessie] is one of the best that’s ever skied, you forget that so easy because she’s such a good teammate.”
The top American performance of the day came from later start positions. Scott Patterson (USA) wore bib 70 on the day, working his was to an eventual 15th place finish. “I kept getting splits like ‘a couple seconds to eighth, you’re fighting for top ten,’ things like that,” said Patterson in post-race comments to FasterSkier. “[But] then I definitely fell apart in the last couple of kilometers and lost some time.”
Post-race, Patterson described his strange mix of disappointment and optimism from the 15th place result: “I wanted more from today,” he said. “Honestly, warming up, I went ‘I am not really feeling it,’ but I feel like I skied decent for how I was feeling.” Patterson added that he was “looking forward to the 50 k classic this weekend, for sure.”
15 K Results Point to Intriguing Team Relay
The World Championship program now turns back into a team affair, with the Women’s Team Relay event tomorrow and Men’s Team Relay on Friday. In the American camp, Gus Schumacher says they are “feeling pretty excited.” Part of that excitement may stem from today’s results, with Schumacher saying to FasterSkier that, “One of the Swedish guys pointed out that—besides Norway—there’s a lot of [team’s] that could battle it out, and I feel confident in my ability to contribute to that.”
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.