U.S. Cross Country Championships (Soldier Hollow): Classic sprints
Jennie Bender of Bridger Ski Foundation and Kevin Bolger of the University of Utah won national titles in the classic sprints at 2017 U.S. Cross Country Championships at Soldier Hollow earlier Sunday afternoon. They each took narrow – but, for sprinting, relatively uncontested – victories, as each was in the lead coming into the stadium and led through the final 180-degree turn into the finishing straight.
In the women’s race, Bender took the victory over Becca Rorabaugh of Alaska Pacific University, who just edged out Kaitlynn Miller of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project for second. Miller had won the qualifier earlier in the day.
Dahria Beatty of Canada’s Alberta World Cup Academy in fourth, Anne Hart of Stratton Mountain School Elite Team in fifth, and Krista Niiranen, originally from Finland and now a sophomore at the University of New Mexico, in sixth made up the rest of the A-final. There was no B-final contested for either gender.
In the men’s race, Bolger’s victory marked his best performance in a national championship by a substantial margin: His previous best before today was 23rd, in the 15 k classic at SoHo in 2014. (His 37th in the sprint that same year marked his previous best finish in a national championship sprint.)
Bolger was followed to the line by Moritz Madlener, of the University of Denver, and Jesse Cockney, of the Canadian World Cup B-team. Cockney had qualified fourth that morning.
The rest of the A–Final was Canadian Bob Thompson, of National Team Development Centre (NTDC) Thunder Bay, in fourth, Petter Reistad of the University of Colorado in fifth, and Fredrik Schwencke of Northern Michigan University in sixth.
Madlener is German. Cockney and Thompson are Canadian. Reistad and Schwencke are Norwegian. The USSA selection criteria for World Championships in Lahti provide that, “For the purposes of the 2017 Championship Selection List, athletes that are not US citizens will not be included in the scoring, and US athletes will move up the results/scoring list as foreign athletes are eliminated.” American racers eliminated in the semifinals included, in no particular order, Ben Lustgarten of Craftsbury Green Racing Project, Cully Brown of the University of Vermont, John Hegman and Cole Morgan of Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) Gold Team, and Ben Saxton of Stratton Mountain School.
Earlier Sunday, Kaitlynn Miller won the women’s classic sprint qualifier. Starting sixth out of the 200+ woman field, Miller laid down an unbeatable time of 3:24.5 in difficult waxing conditions. She is the defending classic sprint champion from last year’s national championships.
Krista Niiranen, originally from Finland and now a sophomore at the University of New Mexico, was next fastest and tallied a time just 0.2 seconds behind Miller’s. Emily Nishikawa of the Canadian National Ski Team was third, Dahria Beatty of Canada’s Alberta World Cup Academy fourth, and Cendrine Browne from the Centre National d’Entrainement Pierre Harvey in Quebec clocked the fifth-fastest time.
The 30th skier making the cut for quarterfinals — Frederique Vezina, also of the Centre National d’Entrainement Pierre Harvey — was 16.53 seconds behind Miller.
Ben Saxton of the Stratton Mountain School Elite Team won the men’s sprint qualifier, notching the fastest time by 1.27 seconds over Etienne Hebert of Monteriski.
Canadians took the three of the top four spots in the qualifier, with Reed Godfrey of Canmore Nordic clocking the third-fastest time and Canada’s Jesse Cockney finishing fourth.
9.17 seconds separated the top 30 men who moved on to the quarterfinals. That included racers from at least six countries: the U.S. and Canada, but also collegiate skiers from Finland, Germany, France, and Norway. It also included one Under-18 competitor: Ben Ogden from the Stratton Mountain School.
FIS Nordic Combined World Cup (Lahti, Finland)
It was a World Championships preview weekend on the Nordic Combined World Cup circuit, with two large hill/10 k individual competitions held in Lahti, Finland.
On Saturday, Germany’s Eric Frenzel took the win in 29:13.7, holding off Finland’s Eero Hirvonen by 4.1 seconds across the line. After posting the second-best jump, Frenzel started the 10 k in second, ahead of Hirvonen in third, but still full 1:06-minutes behind Norway’s Jarl Magnus Riiber, who dominated the jump with 135.2 points. Hirvonen started 1:29 back in third.
Riiber went on to place sixth at the finish with the 38th-ranked course time (out of 43 finishers). Germany had two on the podium with Johannes Rydzek in third (+26.4).
American Bryan Fletcher finished 15th (+1:29.8) after jumping to 22nd and starting the ski race 3:06 minutes back. He skied the sixth-fastest 10 k to end up 1:29.8 behind Frenzel at the finish.
Ben Loomis was the second American competing on Saturday. He finished the day in 40th (+5:18.5) after jumping to 35th.
On Sunday, Germany swept the podium with Fabian Rießle leading the charge, Frenzel in second and Rydzek in third. Rießle jumped to fifth and captured the win in 25:44.2, ahead of Frenzel (+4.2) and Rydzek (+11.6). Frenzel led after the jump and started the 10 k just 6 seconds ahead of Italy’s Samuel Costa, who ended up sixth at the finish (+40.6).
Rießle started 16 seconds after Frenzel and posted the third-fastest course time en route to the win.
Bryan Fletcher raced to 16th (+1:30.7) on Sunday, after jumping to 28th. Loomis did not start.
The NoCo World Cup moves to Val di Fiemme, Italy, for competitions next Friday through Sunday. Lahti World Championships will hold nordic-combined competitions Feb. 24-March 3.
IBU World Cup (Oberhof, Germany): 12.5/15 k mass starts
Two North Americans started the International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup women’s 12.5 k mass start on Sunday, with one of them finding out at the last minute that they were in for the 30-woman race.
American Susan Dunklee knew she had qualified well ahead of time after ranking 17th in the overall World Cup. She raced to ninth on Sunday, finishing 1:43.5 behind from the winner, Gabriela Koukalová of the Czech Republic, who cleaned the four-stage race to finish first in 37:20.5.
Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier made her first appearance of the week in the final race of the World Cup stop in Oberhof, Germany, placing second in the mass start, 31.5 seconds behind Koukalová, with one standing miss (0+0+1+0). The Czech Republic had two on the podium with Eva Puskarčíková in third (+45.4), with clean shooting.
Dunklee was in contention with the leaders until the last two standing stages, where she missed one target then two more (0+0+1+2) for a total of three penalty laps. Ninth place helped elevate Dunklee to 15th in the overall World Cup standings.
Canada’s Rosanna Crawford jumped into the race being listed as a reserve athlete on standby. Wearing bib 30, she finished 25th (+3:08.6) with two clean stages and two penalties (0+1+1+0).
On Sunday in the men’s 15 k mass start, Germany’s Simon Schempp celebrated his first victory of the season, and it was a special one in front of thousands of cheering fans at home in Oberhof. On the final lap, he desperately tried to hang onto the ski tails of France’s biathlon star Martin Fourcade, who pushed hard on the first climb out of the shooting range unsuccessfully trying to create a gap.
“He started attacking immediately up the Birxsteig [climb],” Schempp told German TV broadcaster ZDF. “And I thought either you blow up or you can stick with him, and I could. Because I was in the draft, I saved a few percent, that probably was the decisive point in the end.“
Schempp kept right behind Fourcade, then started an attack on the last climb himself and outsprinted his rival on the finishing stretch, celebrating across the line with a time of 38:30.9 minutes, with just one penalty (0+0+1+0).
To the joy of the German fans, Schempp’s teammate Erik Lesser managed to overtake France’s Jean Guillaume Beatrix on the final loop closing up to the two athletes in front on the last meters, and outlunged Fourcade in a photo finish sprint (both +0.4 seconds).
“They pushed up the Birxsteig so incredibly hard,” Lesser told ZDF. “I thought I could only fight for position five. Then I saw that Beatrix wasn’t skiing very clean anymore either. So I just tried a full attack… I never would have believed that a second place would come out of that.“
“My father-in-law is probably watching the Tour de Ski today and saying, ‘Finally the guy makes a lunge,’ ” Lesser joked about the finish sprint. “I never would have believed that Fourcade still lets himself get beaten by the little Lesser. Finally all the strength training paid off.“
Fourcade had incurred two penalties in the third shooting stage, having to make up a 44 second gap to the top. In the final shooting he stayed clean, but already had to invest a lot of energy on the prior loop so he could not create a significant lead on the last one.
“I skied as fast as I could, but Simon was just faster and Erik as well,” Fourcade said during the press conference. “I tried my best in the beginning of the lap because we were too [many] people… I gave all I had. I must say I didn’t see Erik until he passed me in the sprint… It was a great competition, a great fight.”
Coming into the last shooting stage Lesser had been leading the race with Norway’s Ole Einar Bjørndalen, but both missed a target and had to a penalty lap while Schempp and Fourcade stayed clean.
Fourcade’s teammate Beatrix finished fourth with one penalty (+13.2), Bjørndalen was fifth (+19.5) also with one penalty.
No North American men competed in the mass start, with US Biathlon’s Lowell Bailey ,who would have been qualified via the overall World Cup standings skipping the race week in Oberhof for a training block. Bailey is currently ranked 19th overall.
FIS Cross-Country Tour de Ski Stage 7 (Val di Fiemme/Alpe Cermis, Italy): 9 k freestyle
Heidi Weng of Norway proved that she was the threat everyone was fearing – despite a few races in the Tour de Ski with bad skis or low energy, Weng had a dominating performance up the Alpe Cermis and took her first ever Tour de Ski title.
At 6.2 k of the 9 k course, Weng passed Stina Nilsson of Sweden, who had started the day in the leader’s bib with a 19.2-second advantage. Weng just stepped on the gas from there, turning in the fastest climb time of the field and winning by 1:37.0.
Further up the hill, Nilsson was also passed by Krista Parmakoski of Finland, who gapped the Swede and earned second place.
And Nilsson had to hold off one more attack, from Norway’s Ingvild Flugstad Østberg near the top of the climb. Østberg had started in fourth place and got close to Nilsson, before the Swede found her second (or third, or fourth) wind and sprinted it in to the finish to secure third place and her first Tour de Ski overall podium.
Weng has three previous Tour de Ski podiums, but never a win. Parmakoski’s previous best overall finish was fourth, in 2014.
Jessie Diggins of the U.S. Ski Team started behind Østberg and almost made contact at one point, before the Norwegian slipped from her grasp. Diggins finished the Tour de Ski fifth (+3:09.0) — where she had started the day — to tie for the best-ever Tour finish with Liz Stephen, who was fifth in 2015.
Today, Stephen clocked the second-fastest time up the climb, behind Weng, and finished 14th (+6:45.6).
Rosie Brennan, the third and final U.S. woman to finish the Tour de Ski this year, landed 28th, +12:59.9. Her time was the 23rd-fastest up the Alpe Cermis.
In the men’s 9 k freestyle hill climb that followed, 24-year-old Sergey Ustiugov of Russia raced to his first Tour de Ski victory, heading out of the gate with a 1:12-minute head start over Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby and finishing 1:02.9 ahead for the win in 30:27.7.
Sundby put time into Ustiugov over parts of the course, particularly in the first kilometer along a flatter section leading up to the climb and then again between 6 and 8 k on Alpe Cermis itself.
Sundby skied alone throughout the pursuit race, with Switzerland’s Dario Cologna starting 52 seconds behind him. Cologna had a 29-second head start on Finland’s Matti Heikkinen, who entered the race in fourth, and 30 seconds ahead of France’s Maurice Manificat in fifth, but Manificat caught and even passed Cologna with about 0.5 k remaining. Cologna proceeded to pass Manificat back while Heikkinen skied about nine seconds back in fifth.
Canada’s Alex Harvey had started sixth and helped lead Manificat and Heikkinen in chasing down Cologna early in pursuit, but he faded to seventh, behind Sweden’s Marcus Hellner (who started seventh, 12 seconds after Harvey) by 8.5 k. There, Hellner trailed Heikkinen by 14.6 seconds, and Harvey was another 27.9 seconds back in seventh (and nearly a 54 seconds ahead of the man skiing in eighth at the time, Norway’s Simen Hegstad Krüger).
Half a kilometer later, it was all over with Cologna securing third overall in the Tour, 1:19.1 behind Ustiugov and 16.2 seconds behind Sundby.
With the fastest 9 k time of the day, Manificat moved up one place for fourth overall, finishing 1:26.9 after Ustiugov with a time of 29:20 minutes. Heikkinen was the second fastest on course, 6.1 seconds slower than Manificat, for fifth overall in the Tour (+1:31.3). Hellner took sixth at the finish (+2:05.8), ahead of Harvey in seventh (+2:39.7). For Harvey, it was his best overall finish in four competed Tour de Skis (last year, he finished 14th. His best result was 12th in 2012).
Norway swept the next five places with with Krüger in eighth (+3:27.2), Hans Christer Holund in ninth (+3:50.4), Niklas Dyrhaug in 10th (+4:24.9), Sjur Røthe in 11th (+4:56.4), and Didrik Tønseth in 12th (+5:07.7).
Canada had two in the final climb with Devon Kershaw finishing 25th (+9:32.2) after starting 23rd. Graeme Killick did not start after being positioned in 37th overall in the Tour.
Kershaw finished 8.1 seconds ahead of Noah Hoffman, the lone American racing to the top of Alpe Cermis. Hoffman moved up from 30th at the start to finish 26th (+9:40.3) overall, and in doing so, he posted the 15th-fastest time of the day, 1:05.3 back from Manificat.
Harvey’s time ranked 14th (+1:04.9). Norway’s Holund had the third-fastest time after starting 11th and ending up ninth, Hellner was fourth fastest, and Cologna fifth fastest.