DAVOS, Switzerland — Ingvild Flugstad Østberg didn’t plan to start Saturday’s 15 k skate World Cup like a bat out of hell.
But by 2.2 kilometers into the course, she already had a 7.9-second lead over Heidi Weng, her Norwegian teammate and the overall leader of the World Cup.
That gap widened and closed and widened and closed, and at the finish Østberg had just that: a 7.9-second win over Weng, and her first World Cup victory ever in a distance longer than ten kilometers.
Østberg has an Olympic silver medal in the sprint and a gold medal in the team sprint, but last season emerged as a real overall threat on the World Cup, winning five and ten kilometer races and ranking in the top three in the Tour de Ski, Ski Tour Canada, and overall World Cup standings.
Yet the win in a 15 k still represented another step in her evolution as a complete skier.
“For sure it feels really good,” Østberg said in a post-race press conference. “It’s a long time since I won a sprint now. So maybe I have to focus more on sprints! It has been a lot of training for several years, and now my first win in a distance over 10 k. So I’m surprised and very happy.”
Weng, who started two bibs ahead of Østberg, found the race challenging. It is the first time the World Cup has been to altitude this season; Davos sits at over 5,000 feet above sea level. Despite the pain and fatigue, Weng tried to maintain her pace and technique.
“I thought it was very hard from the beginning,” she said in the press conference. “I opened slowly. I thought that I can go better, and that everyone would be tired on this track.”
It was true: with the altitude and the long flat and climb – there’s virtually no rest on the course for the first three kilometers of the five kilometer lap – lots of women were suffering.
“For sure you have to pace yourself really good here,” Østberg said. “Otherwise it will be not a good feeling if you start too fast.”
At some points on the course Østberg’s split was only one or two seconds faster than the time Weng had just laid down; Krista Parmakoski of Finland was also within 10-20 seconds.
But Østberg kept pushing, despite her accidentally fast start.
“I heard that I had some seconds on Heidi and Krista, but I know that both of them ski really fast at the end,” Østberg said. “So I tried to keep up the speed, because I knew I couldn’t slow down.”
In the end she was able to open it back up, earning the second Davos win of her career.
“I had my first sprint World Cup win here, and this is my first win in 15 k, so maybe Davos is a nice place for me,” she said.
Parmakoski also held her pace, moving from fourth on the first lap – Swiss local Nathalie Von Siebenthal had opened hard – up to third by the halfway point. When all was settled her finishing time was 16.7 seconds off the mark set by Østberg.
“Because these last few weeks have been classic, and I thought I would be a little bit better on classic style, I was a little bit nervous before this race,” Parkmakoski said in an interview. “Now I’m happy because I know that my technique is better than last year and I know that I can do also good results in skating. I have done a lot of work this summer on the skating technique.”
While the Norwegians went one-two and put four athletes in the top 12 (Ragnhild Haga seventh (+1:10.8), and Kari Øyre Slind 11th (+1:38.9), the Finns also had a good day, with Riitta-Liisa Roponen eighth (+1:21.4), Kerttu Niskanen 12th (+1:41.7), and Laura Mononen 14th (+1:48.1).
“The men have also had some good races,” Parmakoski said. “The women’s team knows that we all have to ski fast because we have been so close in the summer training. So we have a good feeling on our team right now.”
That bodes well for World Championships, to be held on their home turf in Lahti. Parmakoski didn’t think that her fast start to the season – this was her third podium of the season – would compromise her ability to perform in the coming months.
“Of course I hope that I am in a little bit better shape there,” she said. “But now it is important that I am healthy, and that I get some good training during the season, before the World Championships.”
Von Seibenthal faded as the race went on, first dropping to fourth place and then by the finish to sixth (+1:05.6). It was still the best World Cup result of her career.
Rising to take fourth place was the U.S. Ski Team’s Jessie Diggins, who hovered in sixth place at the halfway point but skied aggressively over the last five kilometers to decisively seal a top finish; she was 54.3 seconds behind Østberg’s time, and 6.2 seconds ahead of fifth-place Yulia Tchekaleva of Russia.
Both Diggins and Tchekaleva dodged questions about the McLaren Report, released yesterday, which documented widespread systematic doping by Russian athletes, including those in cross-country skiing.
“My role here is to compete,” Tchekaleva told the press before leaving the mixed zone.
Diggins said that her statement was summed up by a petition begun by the U.S. Track and Field Athlete Advisory Committee, and which Diggins said that she had signed.
The petition demands, among other things, that the World Anti-Doping Agency is given authority and capacity to investigate all instances of non-compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code, including imposing consequences for noncompliance, and that international competitions are no longer held in Russia.