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World Cup Finals began under overcast Finnish skies Friday, as the circuit looks to settle the questions of a long season over the next three days. Who was—and who wasn’t—racing in Friday’s non-World Cup point scoring event provided evidence that the Crystal Globes remain at the forefront of concerns this weekend.
With the Women’s Overall, Distance, and Sprint World Cup classifications all still undecided going into this weekend, Friday’s Team Sprint was absent any women standing within the top five of any of the World Cup classifications. The most notable absences drew attention straight to the top of the World Cup standings: Jessie Diggins (USA) sits second in both the Overall and Distance classifications, with 110 points separating her from Overall leader Tiril Udnes Weng (NOR), and just 22 points between her and Distance leader Kertuu Niskanen (FIN) ahead of Sunday’s 20 k classic. The gap is also 22 points in the Sprint classification between leader Nadine Faehndrich (SUI) and second place Maja Dahlqvist (SWE). The cascade of absences beyond the top two further revealed the closeness of the Women’s field. With points standings tight and the stakes for gaining an additional place or keeping one high, skiers like Rosie Brennan (USA), four points ahead of Heidi Weng (NOR) for fourth Overall, were absent. Julia Kern (USA) joined that list too, looking to hold onto a top five in the Sprint classification that she holds onto by just eight points over Laura Gimmler (GER).
The Men’s Team Sprint field, meanwhile, was much more complete. Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR) holds an insurmountable 421 point lead over second place Paal Golberg (NOR) in the Overall. The same is true in the Sprint, where Klaebo holds a 254 point gap over Lucas Chavanat (FRA). The only Men’s Classification still technically unsettled is the Distance, where Paal Golberg’s 112 point lead on Klaebo would technically be passable if Klaebo were to win Sunday, win intermediate bonuses, and not have Golberg score any points (which appears unlikely). Further down the Men’s field, the majority of points gaps are larger, which played into Federico Pellegrino (ITA), Lucas Chanavat (FRA), Edvin Anger (SWE), and Richard Jouve (FRA) all being present in the field today. There were other who sat out this team event: notably, Ben Ogden (USA) who is pursuing the best American Men’s World Cup Overall finish since Bill Koch in the 1980s, sitting less than 20 points behind Calle Halfvarsson in seventh Overall.
Women’s Team Sprint
For all the absences from the Women’s field Friday, the defending World Champions in the Team Sprint—the Sweden I team of Emma Ribom and Jonna Sundling—still made it to the start line. Sweden I made it a good race, and a creative one too. “We wanted to have fun, to make it a more tactical race,” Sundling said to FIS media after the race was over.
As to how that plan played out, Ribom and Sundling took turns dutifully marking the Norway I team of Julie Myhre and Anne Kjersti Kalvaa at the front of the race. When they reached the final climb on the Lahti course, Sundling simply hop-skated away to victory. It was a crisper, cleaner, version of the tactic that she had used in Planica to win the Team Sprint World Championship, and of the one she made in Drammen to win Falun’s 4 x 5 k Mixed Relay for Sweden last weekend.
Behind Sundling’s move, late-race heroics were making for a thrilling finish. The lead pack through most of the race had included the Sweden I team alongside Norway I and the Finland I team of Jasmi Joensuu and Jasmin Kahara. A move from Joensuu in her last leg had created a clean break for the trio of teams; through most of the last lap, Kahara looked like she would hold the separation between her and the chase group. When Sundling went, Anne Kjersti Kalvaa (NOR) was able to stick with her just long enough to win Norway I second place. Behind her, though, two German teams had started to chase down Kahara. As the Finn entered the stadium, Coletta Rydzek for Germany I and Sofie Krehl for Germany II were skiing in tandem, and skiing their way back up to the Finn. The race for third went to the line. Three lunges produced a result that saw Rydzek come across the finish in third place, while Finland I took fourth in a photo finish over fifth place Germany II.
Men’s Team Sprint
The Norwegian World Championship Team may have lacked Paal Golberg on Friday, but Erik Valnes would prove to serve as a worthy replacement to pair with Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo for Norway I. With the Italian World Championship runner-up team of Francesco De Fabiani and Federico Pellegrino also present, the Men’s race held promise for a close front-of-pack race, mixed with a field hungry to challenge the prevailing order among Team Sprint powers.
That dynamic was on display through each of the early laps, as Federico Pellegrino and Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo danced around each other in the early part of the course, and a whole pack of teams filed in to try and keep with the two. In the final lap, Pellegrino looked for an opportunity to entice Klaebo into a long-burning attack; it’s no secret that leaving a sprint finish meant facing Klaebo’s finishing kick that none were likely to match. Klaebo, though, responded as he has throughout the season to this tactic, ticking his pace up just enough to keep the pack close, and then forcing the pack back to stasis. Four challenging teams made it to the last climb: Sweden I with Edvin Anger, Norway II with Sindre Bjoernestad Skar, France II with Richard Jouve, and Germany with Jan Stoelben. Then, Klaebo went, and Pellegrino followed. The pair had a gap into the stadium, and the prevailing order of the Team Sprint had held. Klaebo crossed the line to win for Norway I, Pellegrino crossed to take runner-up for Italy I, and Skar won a two-way sprint over Anger to take Norway II to third.
Americans, Mix, Match, and Push Team Event
Two American teams qualified for the Team Sprint finals. The USA I team for the Women featured the World Cup relay debut of Sammy Smith, who has qualified for heats in successive sprints in Drammen and Falun. Smith paired with Hailey Swirbul, who has become a relay mainstay for the US. “[I love] the energy of team events,” Swirbul said after last week’s Falun relay. “It really emphasizes how ski racing involves much more than only an individual to make a great day happen.”
Smith and Swirbul traded off skiing well within the relay pack early in Friday’s race. As the pack strung out through lap three, Smith slipped to 15th place as she handed to Swirbul for lap four. By the end, the pair had made a resurgent push to finish 11th place on the day, delivering an auspicious effort for the young Americans in a team event.
“I really enjoyed getting to race with Sammy, and be in a more low pressure team event situation,” said Hailey Swirbul post-race. “It was a really cool way to build experience for Sammy and myself, and she skied really well today.”
The pairing of Zak Ketterson and JC Schoonmaker held in the tight men’s race through their first couple of exchanges, before pace increases at the front led to a falling off. The pair pushed on to take 13th place on the day.
“Zak and I were pretty excited to just be able to ski with the pack and make decisions on the fly,” said Schoonmaker in post-race comments. “That’s some of the most fun you can have in ski racing. I definitely wish I could have hung in the main pack longer than I did because Zak was skiing super well, but we did what we could.”
Schoonmaker added that this year’s team events have come with added joy for the men’s team. “It’s been really cool to get to race with some different guys this winter,” he said. “We have a strong men’s team right now so being partnered with any of those guys is an honor.”
Sprint Classification Settled Tomorrow
World Cup Finals continues tomorrow in Lahti, as a classic sprint is set to decide the winner of the Nadine Faehndrich-Maja Dahlqvist Sprint Crystal Globe race in the Women’s field. On the Men’s side, a final act is being planned for the dominant Sprint campaign of Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo.
Meanwhile, Jessie Diggins (USA) will begin her final, two-day push to reel back the Overall Crystal Globe, looking to best Tiril Udnes Weng NOR) with her finish tomorrow and net valuable World Cup points.
Full Women’s Team Sprint RESULTS
Full Men’s Team Sprint RESULTS
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.