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For the last week of World Cup sprinting, two pairs of skis have followed each other back and forth, every stride marked in tandem with the other. Twenty meters from the finish in Tallinn, Estonia Tuesday night, the matched skis of Kristine Stavaas Skistad (NOR) and Jonna Sundling (SWE) knocked together. Through the quarterfinal, semi-final, and final it had been the same sight: Sundling leading out Skistad at the front of each of their heats, completing two laps of the up-then-down downtown course as night-time city-racing returned to the World Cup. Sundling had burst over the top of the final climb each time to distance herself from the chaotic tangles that characterized the racing the rest of the night. But in the Final, Skistad followed, closing on Sundling as they hit the bottom of the hill, moving to the outside and, for the third consecutive World Cup sprint, crossing the finish in first place.
With the exception of the World Championship Classic Sprint—which Sundling won—Skistad has not lost a World Cup sprint she started this calendar year. Tallinn was the latest chapter in her remarkable emergence to the front of the World Cup field after having struggled under the weight of expectation the past few seasons. It also marked the first victory on matched glide wax in World Cup history, adding to the luster of Skistad’s winning move on the final Tallinn downhill. Skistad will look to cap off this run as the World Cup heads to its final sprint in Lahti, Finland next Saturday.
Sprint Crystal Globe—Focusing on the Semifinals
(Click here for a refresher on the New World Cup points math this season)
What had been a grouping of just Skistad and Sundling through the quarterfinal and semifinal was joined by one other skier in the final. Nadine Faehndrich (SUI) went into the last steep pitch of the final climb in a defiant hop skate that moved her over the top of the climb in third place, and closer to a Crystal Globe. When she crossed the finish line in third place to round out the podium, it marked a significant step towards securing first place in the sprint classification for the whole season. As the World Cup began its final week, eyes were just as much on that result as they were on the day’s winner. Faehndrich had entered the day just two points ahead of Maja Dahlqvist (SWE) for the sprint Globe with two races on the calendar.
The pair wouldn’t meet head-to-head, but Faehndrich’s approach to her semifinal was a sign that her eye was on the Swedish sprinter’s results. Faehndrich started the second semifinal with the knowledge that Dahlqvist had just finished in a lucky loser spot in the first quarterfinal. Which spot, third or fourth, wasn’t exactly clear, as Dahlqvist closed late on a move from Czech skier Tereza Beranova in the sprint for third place, with it going to a photo finish. When the question was resolved, Beranova had won the boot throw, nipping Dahlqvist by 0.01 seconds. Dahlqvist stood in the second lucky loser spot.
In the second semifinal, Faehndrich wasted no time pushing the pace. By drawing out the field, there was a chance that the third place skier in her semifinal could knock out Dahlqvist by posting a faster time. Faehndrich proved to be a step ahead of the field, easily cruising to first place in the heat; behind her, the chase had left two skiers vying to keep her pace. Coletta Rydzek (GER) won the two-way battle over Lena Quintin (FRA), but Quintin finished third place a second ahead of Beranova and Dahlqvist’s time. With the first lucky loser spot, Quintin knocked out Dahlqvist, and gave Faehndrich the opportunity to net points ahead of Lahti. With Faehndrich’s third place—and Dahlqvist seventh—the Swiss skier netted 18 points, which after bonuses grew to 20 points. Into the final race, then, the difference was 22 points, as Faehndrich angled to become the first Swiss woman to win the sprint classification, and the second Swiss skier after Dario Cologna.
Four Americans in Heats, Globe Hunt Little Changed
Jessie Diggins, Rosie Brennan, Julia Kern, and Sammy Smith all advanced to the quarterfinals. The layered nature of the World Cup field was fully on display in the first quarterfinal; Jessie Diggins and Sammy Smith lined up in an all-star heat that included Sundling and Skistad. Smith looked to continue her impressive World Cup debut, qualifying for heats in a second straight race at 17 years of age, while Diggins stood poised to try to gain some points on Tiril Udnes Weng in the World Cup Overall classification (the difference between the two at the start of the day stod at 102 points). Despite the stakes, Diggins’ approach stayed centered on racing the race in front of her. “For me personally, I’m just trying to focus on racing the best I can,” Diggins said. “I have concrete process goals everyday when I go out there.”
Sundling and Skistad stayed controlled through most of the heat, before pushing over the final climb. Smith held onto the back of the heat through the first lap, before Sundling pushed the pace. Diggins had moved from the back of the pack on the last climb, but Sundling’s move over the top left her out of the race when the pack stretched in the final downhill. She ended up finishing fourth, sitting for themoment in a lucky loser spot.
Weng followed in the second quarterfinal that included Maja Dahlqvist and eventual finalist Tereza Beranova (CZE). Beranova skied with bib 28, and with her resilient push to the final, would prove to play a big role in both Crystal Globe races today. After following a move on the final climb from Weng, Beranova edged the World Cup leader out for the second spot. That left Weng in the second lucky loser spot, which knocked Diggins out of the running. Weng’s own lucky loser spot, though, would be lost in the next quarterfinal, when Appelkvist Stenseth came across the finishline and bested her time by half a second.
The race for the Overall left Tallinn largely in a stalemate. Weng finished 14th on the day, while Diggins finished 18th, netting the Norwegian 8 points and bringing her lead to 110 points. Diggins also enters Lahti in second in the Distance classification, just 22 points behind Kertuu Niskanen (FIN).
Julia Kern finished as the top American on the day in 17th, after Kern’s skis traversed the soft snow at the periphery of the finishing curve, and an untimely fall left her fourth in the heat.
Mixed Reactions to Wax Protocol
The first ever wax protocol-controlled World Cup race in Tallinn saw mixed reactions from the techs and skiers. “It was an interesting concept,” said US Ski Team Coach Jason Cork, “but in practice when you pick skis the day before and see conditions change, it’s really challenging…it can leave you frustrated.”
For many, ski selection frustrations alone wouldn’t have been a reason not to try the concept, but when combined with the timing of the event in Tallinn, such a drastic race day change was ill-advised. “There is so much that’s unsettled in the World Cup standings,” Cork said in post-race comments. “Do this as a test event or showpiece, but on the World Cup, with so many points and so much money on the line, it seems a little crazy.”
All eyes will be on the race for the Crystal Globes as the World Cup heads to Lahti for its final weekend. A Team Sprint kicks off the weekend Friday, before the Faehndrich-Dahlqvist battle in the Sprint classification is decided Saturday, and the Overall and Distance classifications are settled in a 20 k classic Mass Start Sunday.
In that Overall title chase, Jessie Diggins is coming away from Tuesday with positive signs for the weekend. “I’m really pleased with how my energy has come back,” she said. “It was quite a lot doing a 50 k, two sprints, and a 10 k in the span of seven days. I was pretty tired yesterday. I’m missing power right now, but am happy with where my energy is headed.”
Full Tallinn Skate Sprint RESULTS
World Cup Classification 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.