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The clock is winding down on the World Cup season. After this weekend, there will be only three individual races remaining—two of those are Sprints. With time running out, increased urgency has attached to each race and the fight for the women’s Sprint Crystal Globe is tight. Coming into today’s race in Falun, Sweden, Nadine Faehndrich (SUI) is in first place by only five points over Maja Dahlqvist (SWE). Johanna Hagstroem (SWE) is in striking distance 34 points back. Given sprinting’s volatile nature, this is a neck and neck race; as dramatic as it can get.
For someone leading the points race, Faehndrich has flown somewhat under the radar (perhaps because she’s not from one of the dominant cross-country nations). With time fleeting, today was her chance to move by herself into the spotlight, to expand her lead, and to hand Switzerland its first Women’s Crystal Globe.
Also looking to beat the clock were Americans Julia Kern and Jessie Diggins. Kern currently sits in fifth place in the Sprint competition and would hope to cement her position. Starting the day, Jessie Diggins was 145 points behind Tiril Udnes Weng (NOR) for the overall crystal globe competition and needed to earn points on Weng to close the gap.
After the clock had stopped, Kristine Stavaas Skistad (NOR) emerged to take first place. She was followed by Jonna Sundling (SWE) and Maja Dahlqvist. Faehndrich finished fourth.
The top American finisher was Jessie Diggins in 13th. Right behind her was Julia Kern, 14th. Sammy Smith finished 27th, Rosie Brennan was 29th, Novie McCabe 42nd, Hailey Swirbul 45th, and Lauren Jortberg 46th.
The top Canadian was Liliane Gagnon in 32nd. Katherine Stewart-Jones was 36th.
It was a day of narrow misses for the Americans with none of the women advancing out of their quarterfinals. Kern and Diggins both finished third in their heats but were unable to advance via the lucky loser route. In Brennan’s quarterfinal, the race was broken up early. Brennan was quickly thrown to the back and simply couldn’t match the pace which ensued. Her day would end there. She commented after the race that “with all this racing, after a pretty long season, my body’s been a little unpredictable…today my body had nothing…it was tough to find much sprint or power in my legs. Time to rest up and a few more races to fight for.”
In the third quarterfinal Kern and Smith faced Jonna Sundling (SWE) who was the fastest qualifier. Sundling kept the pace hot from the start and established a very large lead which left Kern with rest of the pack trying to advance. Kern put on a hard burst at the end, finishing third, but did not find a lucky loser spot. Smith finished sixth, but still had a breakout day by qualifying for the first time in a World Cup Sprint.
Critically, T. Weng was also knocked out which opened the door for Diggins to gain points.
Diggins went off in the fifth heat. The highest other qualifier in her heat was 12th. It was a golden opportunity for her to gain points on T. Weng. Diggins looked extremely strong and fast at the beginning. She clearly had excellent skis which helped propel her toward the front of the pack. However, toward the end she faded slightly and was swallowed by the pack. She ended up third and would not find the lucky loser time to advance.
The first semi-final was a very tactical heat with no one wanting to lead until the half way point when Jonna Sundling (SWE) pushed to the front, showing that she was unafraid to set the pace and that she was able to turn on the speed at will. Dahlqvist finished third and would advance on a lucky loser spot. In the other semi, sprint leader Faehndrich dominated her heat, winning easily to advance.
So, the finals would line up with the two Sprint leaders facing off. The race began with a slow pace. As the skiers hit the first big climb Sundling shot out of the pack to the front with Skistad following her establishing a big lead over the rest of the field. Faehndrich and Dahlqvist were locked in battle behind the two leaders. Sundling pushed into another gear, but Skistad was able to slingshot past her.
A few seconds back, Dahlqvist battled past Faehndrich to take third. Faehndrich ended up fourth. After a full day of racing, Faehndrich still led Dahlqvist, but by only two points in the hunt for the Sprint globe.
There will be another mid-week event Tuesday in Tallinn, Estonia which consists only of a Sprint Freestyle race. With the sprint standings so close, the race will have an outsized impact on the hunt for the Sprint World Cup.
An otherwise disappointing day for team USA was tempered by Smith’s breakout performance. Smith is a seventeen year old who has received early acceptance to Stanford to play soccer and is a coach’s discretionary pick to race World Cup. Coach Matt Whitcomb said that the team’s somewhat disappointing performance was “overshadowed by Sammy qualifying in the top 20 as a 17 year old. It completely changed our day into one of the most memorable ones of the year.” Whitcomb had nothing but praise for Smith’s tactics in the qualifying round. “We were so impressed with her track craft in the qualification…we had no expectations.” Whitcomb continued that “she is here to race all of the final period sprints…in addition she will race as starts open up… she’s as well known as a soccer player as she is skier. She’s a gamer in any sport she plays.” Smith has adjusted to the international scene quickly. “In week two here, she’s joking around and she seems like she’s been travelling with the team for years,” Whitcomb said. “This last week and a half should be a continued blast.”
After a day with American hopes dashed, it was a teenager who brought a smile to everyone’s faces.
Women’s Freestyle Sprint RESULTS
Women’s Sprint World Cup STANDINGS
Womens Overall World Cup STANDINGS