Note: This article has been updated to include comments from Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla.
For the second day in a row, Charlotte Kalla, a name synonymous with the yellow and blue of Sweden, stood atop the podium, placing first in the women’s 10-kilometer classic International Ski Federation (FIS) race on Saturday in Gällivare, Sweden. On Friday, Kalla won another individual-start race, the 5 k freestyle, by a margin of 8.8 seconds. She more than doubled that time gap by the finish of Day 2, winning the 10 k classic in 27:55 minutes, 17.7 seconds ahead of Russia’s Yulia Tchekaleva in second place. Natalia Nepryaeva, also from Russia, skied to third, 40.9 seconds back of Kalla.
“I am feeling good and I think I am where I should be at this moment,” Kalla wrote in an email. “I had a good feeling on the classic race and handle the condition well. On Friday I opened hard and tried to push hard all the way.”
Known as a skate powerhouse, Kalla has improved her classic skiing and is now a double threat. “I have improved my classic technique the last years,” Kalla explained. “When I am in shape it doesn’t matter if it is skating or classic. I am glad I managed to ski well in the condition we had. It was a little bit soft because of the snowfall.”
Although a home FIS event for Sweden, Russia secured six of the top-10 spots with Sweden settling for three. Japan’s Masako Ishida, the only non-Russian or Swede outlier in the top 10, placed fourth (+1:02.4). Russians Anna Zherebyateva raced to fifth (+1:08.8) while teammate Yulia Belorukova was sixth (+1:12.8).
Sweden took the next two spots with Stina Nilsson in seventh (+1:20.9) and Anna Haag in eighth (1:20.9). Russia rounded out the top 10 with Anatasia Sedova placing ninth (+1:24.1) and Mariya Guschina in tenth (+1:25.0).
Sweden’s Ida Ingemarsdotter, a World Cup regular, placed 11th (+1:30.6).
Kikkan Randall was the only U.S. Ski Team member at the race, and a day after finishing eighth in the 5 k skate, she finished 15th (+1:48.1) on Saturday. In an email, Randall explained that snow had fallen continuously for the last 24 hours in Gällivare.
“Conditions were pretty nice, the track was a little soft and a lot of racers here made the pole track a little punchy,” she wrote.
Considering the massive time-zone shift from her home in Anchorage, Alaska, to Central European Time, it appears Randall is adjusting well.
“I felt decent today, not too tired from the jet lag or yesterday’s race. I wanted two back-to-back races to get ready for next weekend’s triple World Cup opener,” she wrote, referring to the first three World Cup races in Kuusamo, Finland, starting Friday, Nov. 23.
Throughout Saturday’s 10 k, Randall steadily improved her overall placing: she was 32nd at 4.2 k, 23rd at 6.8 k and locked into 15th by 9.2 k.
“It was definitely good to race a 10km classic today,” Randall wrote. “I had trouble really digging into my race gear on the first lap today. I think I was skiing a little stiff and not carrying my momentum down the track. Nepryaeva [the third-place finisher] caught me going into the 2nd lap and that was the jumpstart I needed. I was able to match her pace for most of the rest of the race and it helped me find better technique and tempo.
“I wanted to be a little stronger today but I got some really important feedback on where I’m at and what I need to work on as the race season progresses,” she added. “My fitness feels pretty good and now it’s just a matter of fine-tuning.”
Emily Nishikawa was the only Canadian entered on Saturday and finished in 51st (+3:39.3). Sixty-nine women started the race, 38 from Sweden, 17 from Russia, seven from Japan, two from Switzerland and Estonia, and one each from the U.S., Canada, and Poland.
Yesterday’s 12th-placed skier, Russian Evgenia Shapovalova, who was recently handed down a lifetime Olympic ban by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), did not start the race.
In Friday’s 10 k skate in Gällivare, only Swiss star Dario Cologna kept the Russians from sweeping the top nine by placing third. In that race, Evgeniy Belov and Sergey Ustiugov of the Russian national team finished first and second, respectively.
Saturday was a different race, a 15 k classic, but with a similar thread and no Cologna as a Russian foil.
It was Russia, Russia, Russia.
Alexander Bolshunov, winner of the 30 k skiathlon at 2017 U23 World Championships, won the race in 37:13, one second ahead of Maxim Vylegzhanin in second. Alexey Chervotkin was third (+5.1).
Classic specialist, Kazakhstan’s Alexey Poltoranin finished fourth, 13 seconds off the podium, and Cologna placed fifth (+22.1).
Despite being on Swedish soil, the rest of the top 10 became a mostly Russian affair. Russian teammates Alexey Vitsenko and Artem Maltsev placed sixth (+29.5) and seventh (+37.4), respectively, Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson interrupted the trend by tying Russia’s Evgeniy Belov for eighth (+38.0), and Russia’s Alexander Bessmertnykh took 10th (+40.1).
There’s a pattern: Russia took 14 of the top-20 places. Twenty-eight of 126 starters were from Russia, with the vast majority of the field being Swedish. Outside of the top 10, Sweden’s Daniel Rickardsson was the next-best Swede in 12th (+49.6).
Devon Kershaw (World Cup Team), who finished 12th on Friday, once again led Canada in 20th (+1:06.7). At 6.8 k, Kershaw was ranked 15th, and at 9.6 k he was down one spot to 16th. By the 11.4 k checkpoint, he began slipping further in the standings.
“Today was a tough one,” Kershaw wrote in an email. “I felt pretty good but conditions were soft, so you had to really feather it (the technique) – especially on the climbs. Pacing wise I think I was doing pretty well, but in the last 2.5km today I was missing any semblance of a kick to the finish and ended up conceding a few seconds to those around me, knocking me from about 15-16 to 20th.”
Although an interval start race, Kershaw never found a strong pacing partner. “I was skiing alone – no help at all today,” Kershaw wrote of his solitary effort. “It would have been so helpful! Especially that last lap when things get tough. But in individual start races, you need to learn to do it alone. So good to try and get used to that “time trial” feeling.”
Three other Canadians competed, with Graeme Killick (World Cup Team) finishing 50th (+2:32.3), Jack Carlyle (Alberta World Cup Academy) 91st (+4:06.1), and Brian McKeever (Para Nordic Team) 110th (+5:16.0).
As of press time, Fasterskier could not confirm if the International Ski Federation (FIS) held an emergency meeting to discuss the involvement of IOC-banned Russian skiers in FIS-sanctioned races. Of the six IOC-sanctioned Russian skiers, four are men: Belov, Vylegzhanin, Alexander Legkov, and Alexey Petukhov. All four skiers raced on Friday, however, Legkov and Petukhov (and Shapovalova, one of the two women sanctioned by the IOC) did not contest Saturday’s race.
Racing continues in Gällivare on Sunday with classic sprints.