Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla and Hanna Falk went 1-2 in Sweden’s season-opening International Ski Federation (FIS) race on Friday in Gällivare, with Kalla winning the women’s 5-kilometer freestyle by 8.8 seconds in 12:58.1 minutes. Falk, her teammate on the Swedish women’s team, placed second and Russia’s Yulia Belorukova took the third spot on the podium, 10.3 seconds out of first.
The host nation had three in the top four, with Ida Ingemarsdotter in fourth (+16.1). Switzerland’s Nathalie von Siebenthal finished fifth (+17.8), Russia’s Yulia Tchekaleva placed sixth (+23.4), and Russia’s Natalia Nepryaeva was seventh (+25.0).
Kikkan Randall of the U.S. Ski Team raced to eighth (+27.2), just ahead of Sweden’s Evelina Settlin in ninth (+32.0) and Russia’s Anna Nechaevskaya in 10th (+33.5). Japan’s Masako Ishida was just 0.3 seconds out of the top 10 in 11th.
In an email, Randall explained that she decided to venture to Europe earlier this year to get some racing in ahead of the World Cup.
“We also wanted a little extra time to let Breck adjust to the 10hr time change!” she wrote of her 1-year-old son, who will be traveling the World Cup circuit with Randall and her husband, Jeff Ellis, this winter.
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Most of the U.S. Ski Team arrived in Rovaniemi, Finland, on Thursday, Nov. 16 (with the exception of Andy Newell, who is racing this weekend in Beitostølen, Norway, with Noah Hoffman). The rest of her teammates planned to train at the Santasport Olympic training center in Rovaniemi until Nov. 21, when the entire team will meet up in Kuusamo (also known as Ruka), Finland — the site of next weekend’s World Cup opener.
“I’m happy with my start today,” Randall wrote of Friday’s race. “It took my a couple km’s to get going today but I felt like I was finding my rhythm in the 2nd half of the course. It’s my first hard session this week after the travel over so today was a good jolt! It was a competitive field and I was satisfied to be in the mix.”
Ninety-two women raced the Gällivare 5 k skate, compared to 56 women on Friday in Beitostølen (Norway’s FIS season-opener). Randall planned to race the 10 k classic on Saturday in Gällivare, then skip Sunday’s classic sprint.
“It’s great to be back around other World Cup skiers again and I’ve always liked Gällivare so it’s nice to be back here,” she wrote. “My former wax tech lives here and has been taking great care of us. … Looking forward to meeting up with the team in Ruka next week.”
With 46 Swedes and 23 Russians accounting for most of the women’s field, Canada’s Emily Nishikawa put herself in the mix in 26th, 54.9 seconds behind Kalla. Nishikawa’s Canadian World Cup teammate Dahria Beatty placed 56th (+1:38.3).
For Nishikawa, who’s known as a distance skier, the top-30 result was notable in that a 5 k falls somewhere between a sprint and a distance race.
“5km is such a hard distance, and it is over so fast, but it is a lot of fun,” Nishikawa wrote in an email. “I have been able to work on my sprinting a bit more this summer as I have been injury free, so I’m looking forward to seeing more speed in my racing this season.”
She planned to race all three days in Gällivare, including Sunday’s sprint.
“With these races, I am just hoping to fine tune my fitness and get some hard intensity in to feel sharp for the upcoming World Cup races,” added Nishikawa, who’s entering her fifth World Cup season as a leading member of the Canadian women’s World Cup Team. “Today’s race was a really hard effort and I am happy with how I skied today.”
The 12th-ranked Russian woman on Friday, Evgenia Shapovalova, who was recently banned for life from future Olympics, placed 22nd.
Belov Bests Ustiugov
In the men’s 10 k freestyle on Friday, another one of the Russians sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Evgeniy Belov won in 23:08.5. He was 6.5 seconds faster than his Russian teammate Sergey Ustiugov, who placed second. Ustiugov is the defending Tour de Ski champion and Overall World Cup runner-up.
Switzerland’s Dario Cologna placed third, 7.6 seconds out of first, and Russia swept fourth through ninth, with Sweden’s Marcus Hellner following in 10th (+36.4). Out of the five actively competing skiers the IOC sanctioned earlier this month, all five raced on Friday in Gällivare, which was legal considering FIS had not ruled they can’t.
Four of those skiers are men. In addition to Belov, Maxim Vylegzhanin placed 14th (+43.2), Alexander Legkov followed in 15th (+45.9) and Alexey Petukhov finished 23rd (+56.7) out of 157 finishers on Friday.
Ahead of them, Canada’s Devon Kershaw ended up 12th (+39.9), tying another Russian Artem Maltsev (who is not on the IOC-banned list) with identical times.
“My stance on the whole Russian fiasco is unchanged,” Kershaw wrote in an email, referring to a previous email he wrote to FasterSkier earlier this week when asked how he felt about the IOC-banned Russians competing in FIS events. “I find the entire thing both disturbing and hilarious. The fact that FIS is risking their credibility like this makes no sense to me. Apparently there will be an emergency meeting of sorts tomorrow about it (with FIS I’m assuming but I haven’t heard much about it) – so we’ll have to all wait and see what they come up with.
“As for seeing Belov win – I mean, that’s no surprise,” Kershaw continued. “He’s shown that he’s a force when he’s in form. But yeah, the fact that he and others have been recently banned for life by the IOC are winning races after that news came out just shows the Mickey Mouse club that our sport has become.”
As for his own race, Kershaw wrote that he felt great about it. The course suited him well without too much hard climbing. “… You kind of need to be pushing the whole way around. I really like courses like that,” he wrote.
The conditions, however, with about 10 to 15 centimeters of new snow from the early morning that continued into the race, made the course slower, which Kershaw found to be more challenging.
“But that is another reason why I am so satisfied with the effort today. Individual start skating in soft conditions? Not my favourite, so I’m happy how I was able to execute things,” he wrote. “For me to be in the mix in a 10km skate like that feels great. I had good energy all race and hit my technical goals for the race too, so I have to be satisfied.”
Kershaw and the rest of Canada’s Period 1 World Cup team arrived in Gällivare last Sunday. Over the last week, they’ve been testing equipment and getting into a race routine ahead of the World Cup opener, he explained.
“I changed various things with my training this year so it’s exciting to see how my body feels in the beginning of a new season,” Kershaw wrote. “… My goals are really to just be calm and execute well – which means going into the racing with no expectations other than to ski as technically well as possible while working on the whole pacing thing (which can be challenging at the beginning of the season when you don’t have that many races in the body). I’ll look to have another well executed race tomorrow and the results will be what they will be.”
Canada’s NorAm leader at the end of last season, Russell Kennedy (Team R.A.D.) was the next-best Canadian in 48th (+1:35.7), followed by Len Valjas (World Cup Team) in 49th (+1:37.0). Jack Carlyle (Alberta World Cup Academy) placed 67th (+2:07.2), Julien Locke (National U25 Team) was 72nd (+2:10.9), Graeme Killick (World Cup Team) 90th (+2:32.2), Brian McKeever (Para Nordic Team) 97th (+2:39.0), and Jess Cockney (World Cup Team) 119th (+3:10.7). Knute Johnsgaard (World Cup Team) did not start.
Racing continues in Gällivare this weekend with 10/15 k classic individual starts on Saturday followed by classic sprints on Sunday.