Race: Men’s 1.4-kilometer classic sprint, Ruka, Finland
Is there embedded video you can watch? Yes, from Finnish broadcaster YLE:
What happened at the front of the race: It looks like Johannes Høsflot Klæbo’s hamstring tendon is okay after all. The Norwegian classic sprint superstar, who had finished on the podium in the Ruka classic sprint six times already coming into Friday’s race (for perspective, Klæbo is still only 26 years old), had been a question mark as recently as just a few days ago on the question of whether or not he would even start this race.
But the tendon held up while he swept a pair of distance races in Beitostølen last weekend against deep fields, and so on Friday morning Klæbo made his way to the start line for the sprint qual in the Ruka classic sprint. He proceeded to set the fastest mark in qualification by 1.21 seconds, over countryman Pål Golberg in second.
Fast forward to the final. Click through to the second image here. Then this happened:
You can also view the full men’s final starting at just after 1:38 of the YouTube video embedded at the top of the page.
But briefly put, Klæbo was never threatened. He skied in the pack as the six men in the final exited the stadium with relative leisure. He used impossibly good skis, and a skilled line, to move to the front down the first downhill. He skied up the first climb with poise and finesse, approached the hairpin turn at its top, then put in a sharp burst of speed going around that turn into the second downhill.
Hindsight is 20/20, but it felt like at this point, 600 meters in, the race was over, and it was. By the bottom of the downhill, Klæbo had a gap of at least 10 meters. He then ascended the notorious final climb on the Ruka sprint course:
faster than anyone else in the field, too. He kept his feet around the final corner, unlike poor Maja Dahlqvist in the women’s final shortly before this, and that was that.
Here’s Klæbo full-on standing up to take a look behind him, roughly 30 meters out from the line. You would be forgiven for not realizing that this is the finishing stretch of a World Cup sprint final, given that there is literally no other man visible in this wide-angle view of the finish.
In conclusion, Klæbo had the best fitness, the best skis, and the best line out there today, and won going away. Seems like he’s pretty healthy after all.
What happened for the Americans:
JC Schoonmaker qualified in 19th to start the day. The USST athlete selected quarterfinal no. 4, which was led out quickly by Pål Golberg of Norway, with Schoonmaker close behind. Richard Jouve of France passed Schoonmaker on the outside leading up to the hairpin turn at the 600-meter mark, and Schoonmaker was near the back of the field by the base of the final climb.
Schoonmaker skied the final climb and maneuvered well to be in a position to fight to advance, but came up slightly short in the final sprint. He was fourth in the heat, 0.03 seconds behind Sivert Wiig of Norway and 0.15 seconds behind Golberg. Golberg advanced; Wiig and Schoonmaker did not. The margins are tight in sprint racing.
Ben Ogden was 13th in qualifying, the second-fastest U23 athlete in the field behind Valerio Grond of Switzerland. He chose quarterfinal no. 2, and led the race out of the stadium. He seemed to have slower skis than some other athletes in the race and lost some ground, only to regain the lead by the hairpin turn at 600 meters. He ultimately lost kick by the end of the heat, herringboning the final uphill and losing ground. Ogden placed 22nd on the day.
There were five American men in today’s race. Logan Diekmann of BSF finished 32nd in qualifying, 0.39 seconds out of the heats. USST athletes Luke Jager and Kevin Bolger followed in 40th and 46th.
What do athletes think about today?
Here’s Luke Jager, via text, speaking to what if anything was different between last year (finished 18th in this race) and today (finished 40th and didn’t make the heats):
“I think I was in better shape this time last year in general with so much focus on qualifying for the Olympics. I just feel like I’m missing some of the top end gears I’ve had in the past, but don’t feel like they’re far away.
“In general though, I’m having a really good time with the relaxed feeling of this season compared to the stress of the Olympics from last year, and am having a lot of fun even though today was a bit of a bummer!”
Here’s JC Schoonmaker, via message, on his overall process goals and his approach to skiing the heats:
“My process goals going into today were to get a really good warm up and be ready to rip the qualifier since I haven’t done many hard efforts recently. I think I executed that well since I ended up with a decent qualifier and I felt pretty solid there. I also was focusing on holding my core together and making an extra effort to fully use it for striding and double pole. I think I did a decent job of that in the qualifier but in the heats I was a little frantic and I think I lost my technique there. It’s always a little tough to keep your composure when racing against these really fast guys and it feels like you need to do more than you’re capable of but I’m starting to learn that and do a better job of it I think.
“In my quarter final if I could do it over I think I would try to relax just the tiniest bit on the final climb rather than panicking and trying to close the gap all at once. I felt good about my tactics and lane choices but just didn’t ski super technically well. Closing a bit faster would’ve been nice too but that’s a hard one when the guys around you are giving everything they have too. Overall I’m happy with that for the first race of the year but definitely hungry to do better next week.”
And here’s Logan Diekmann, via email, with some real talk on being soclose to the heats once again, on the first race of the year, and on how he skis the final climb of this course:
On being 34th, 38th, and now 32nd in his three World Cup sprint quals to date, achingly close to making the heats:
It’s one of the most frustrating things I’ve had to deal with in ski racing in a long time. A crash or fall is honestly less frustrating because it puts me out of the race. With these close results, I just have to sit and think about what I could have done better to make it happen just a few tenths of a second faster.
“Despite the frustration though, I am happy to see that I am so close. All it’ll take now is a little sharpening of the shape to fall into that top 30. And once that happens, it’s game on! Anything can happen from there.
“I think there are a few minor tweaks I could have made, but for the most part, I think I skied a solid qualifier. I think the biggest thing that I can do now is have confidence that this race today and the warm-up that went with it, will help to have me racing faster next weekend in Lillehammer.”
On how he approaches the first race of the year: “The process at this point in my career is pretty locked in. I don’t have to think too much about what to do leading up to a race. It usually flows well and I have the experience to adapt should things change. With the experience comes confidence, and with confidence comes fewer nerves. I believe that I am in the right spot, and can be just as fast as anyone out there racing on the World Cup.”
On how he approaches this course, with that notorious final climb: “The start is about 100m of flat double pole followed by a big downhill. So, you can start hard and expect recovery by the bottom of the hill. After that, I definitely feathered it just a touch on the first hill in preparation for the final climb. You need to be able to get up that last climb quickly and accelerate over the top of the hill and into the finishing straight. All that being said though, it only takes two and a half minutes to complete the course, so its hot from the start and finishes hard.”
— Gavin Kentch
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