Apologies for the delay in posting this story on a big news day. This reporter spent the morning parenting his children, which he does not regret, and then came home to an internet outage across much of Anchorage, which he does. Tomorrow’s sprint race coverage should, fingers crossed, be considerably more timely.
Race: Men’s 10-kilometer interval-start skate, Lillehammer, Norway
Is there embedded video you can watch? Once more, yes. All my thanks to this weekend’s Russian (?) YouTube user and uploader.
What happened at the front of the race: Norway happened. Johannes Høsflot Klæbo, who had swept the season’s first three races in Ruka, woke up on Friday with “a slight rumbling in his throat,” per an auto-translation from Langrenn. He tested negative for Covid and sat out the race, with plans to start tomorrow’s sprint and Sunday’s distance race.
Norway did not suffer greatly in Klæbo’s absence, as NRK anticipated when it did the pre-season math on World Cup standings sans Russia.
Even without Klæbo nine of the top ten finishers in the men’s race were Norwegian, led by surprise victor Iver Tildheim Andersen. The 22-year-old Norwegian, who was competing in his second-ever World Cup — he was 24th at Holmenkollen this spring, but also third and sixth in this year’s Norwegian national championships a month later, results that make today’s performance a little less surprising — crossed the line in 21:12.6. Didrik Tønseth was second, 2.8 seconds back, with Hans Christer Holund in third, 9.1 seconds back. (That’s Tønseth in the header image for this article; the raw feed didn’t even show Andersen’s start, reflecting his status as a relative dark horse.)
Andrew Musgrave of Great Britain was fourth, 3.4 seconds off the podium. Musgrave is undeniably British, by birth and by heritage; he was born in Dorset, England, and got into skiing after moving to Aberdeenshire, in Scotland, in adolescence. But his affiliation is listed in FIS results as the bivalent Huntly Nordic Ski Club/Røa IL, with the former being based in Aberdeenshire and the latter being an Oslo-based club that counts Martin Johnsrud Sundby among its notable alumni. Musgrave gives interviews to NRK in Norwegian, albeit with a Scottish inflection. All of this is to say, he is not Norwegian, but also, at some level, not not Norwegian.
The man who replaced Klæbo on short notice, Henrik Dønnestad, was 15th. It was also Dønnestad’s second World Cup start ever. There are a lot of good skiers in Norway.
There were also a lot of good skiers in this race, and they had difficulty establishing much separation on the Lillehammer course, particularly the “backup” biathlon-stadium course with its working downhills. The top 38 men, in a race with 79 athletes, all finished less than one minute off the lead. 43rd place in this race was under one minute off the podium. Every second counts out there.
What happened for the Americans: Zak Ketterson paced the Americans in 26th, 51.6 seconds back. The result is the second-best individual World Cup finish of Ketterson’s career, and his second top-30 (yes I know points are given out down through 50th now, bear with me here), after a 15th place in the 15km skate in Falun last March. Reports on another nordic ski news website that it was “a World Cup career-best 26th place finish” for Ketterson are not correct.
Gus Schumacher was 32nd (+55.9), Scott Patterson 40th (+1:03.3), Hunter Wonders 45th (+1:10.1), and Ben Ogden 56th (+1:31.5).
What do the athletes think about today? Great question. We have answers for you. Thank you to the athletes for their time.
Here’s Zak Ketterson, in a message to Nordic Insights, on his race today: “I think I skied a solid race. My plan was to go out a bit conservatively and then try to finish really strong and I think I managed to do that alright. It’s a plan that works better in 15ks than 10ks but my body still is getting used to racing again — I think later in the season I’ll feel better about starting harder.”
Ketterson also spoke to navigating the tight margins present in a relatively short race and a very deep field: “Today and Ruka were both extremely tight. I think it’s partly just the nature of racing 10ks, but also definitely a product of the depth in the men’s World Cup field. It was crazy to see how close I was to 16th today but I can also be happy that I wasn’t 7 seconds slower because those tight margins usually go in both directions! I think it’s just a mindset you have to carry in future races that every second could be critical and you can never lose focus.”
Here’s Scott Patterson, in an email to Nordic Insights, on some of these same dynamics, including on how the Lillehammer “backup” course skis (the main course was unavailable due to low snow conditions) and how he approaches tight races:
“It was an incredibly tight race and I didn’t quite have the gears today to take advantage of the small margins for a better result. The course on the biathlon side is quite rolly with working downhills. While this does make a decently hard course as it requires steady work all the way around, there is not much to separate skiers, especially in the midpack. Little seconds lost here and there cost many places while rides with strong athletes quickly help one climb the standings. Gus and I linked up shortly after my start and skied almost 2 laps together. While it was nice to work together, I think both of us would have liked someone pushing the pace a little harder as we were pretty even on speed. On the last lap driving the pace on my own, I bled some time in several sections. Overall, it wasn’t an awful race, but I was hoping for more. It’s still very early in the season though and there are lessons to learn and relearn with each successive race.”
And here’s Gus Schumacher, in a text to Nordic Insights, about how much he does or does not permit himself to play post-race math games with the results:
“That math is definitely an easy thing to focus on. It’s also true that 10 seconds would’ve moved me down like 15 places so I’m just glad with how I raced. If I could’ve gotten those 10 seconds today I would’ve, but that’s not how it worked out and I ended up where I did. Still happy with feeling better and better each race.”
— Gavin Kentch
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