Race: Men’s 1.6-kilometer skate sprint, Lillehammer, Norway
Is there embedded video you can watch? Yup. Here are the full heats, but not the finals, both men and women:
And here is just the men’s final:
What happened at the front of the race: Johannes Høsflot Klæbo came back, seemingly healthy once more after yesterday’s minor cold, and dominated with ease, winning his fourth World Cup race out of four starts this season. His sustained excellence at the highest level of the sport is remarkable, and worthy of admiration, and we will break down the final soon.
But first, let’s talk about the Americans! Ben Ogden (World Cup sprint best coming into today: 12th) qualified in 20th. JC Schoonmaker (World Cup sprint best coming into today: 7th, in last year’s Ruka classic sprint) qualified in 24th.
Ogden chose the fourth quarterfinal, which he won by more than half a second. Schoonmaker chose the fifth quarterfinal, which he also won, albeit by a smaller margin (0.21 seconds).
Second in Ogden’s heat was Erik Valnes, a man with eight World Cup podiums and the athlete tapped to pair with Klæbo on the juggernaut that is the Norwegian men’s team sprint at both the Beijing Olympics and Oberstdorf World Champs. Second in Schoonmaker’s heat was Richard Jouve of France, the man who won the Sprint Cup in the 2021/2022 World Cup season. Ogden and Schoonmaker are both still U23s. For American men’s sprinting, the future is now.
So Ogden and Schoonmaker both crushed, and proceeded to the second semifinal. There they were paired up against Valnes, Jouve, and Norwegians Pål Golberg and Ansgar Evensen.
The second semifinal starts at roughly the 54:40 mark of this video (there is a bit of a lag in the recording after it starts; you may need to jump forward a little after pressing play):
Evensen led into the first downhill, roughly a minute into the course, with Ogden close behind in second. Schoonmaker was in fifth, riding the draft in a train of athletes and very much still in contact.
Ogden took the lead up the final climb, Evensen just off his right. Jouve and the other two Norwegians were in the row behind him, with Schoonmaker at the back of the group.
By the top of the climb and the return into the stadium, it was Evensen still in the lead, Ogden second, Jouve third, Schoonmaker and Golberg both sitting in fourth. Valnes was off the back, out of the race. Evensen got the inside track through the curve and claimed the line he wanted, then led out the sprint. Golberg timed his move and his energy reserves perfectly to accelerate through the turn, move up to Evensen’s right, and approach second. The first semifinal had been significantly faster, so (hindsight makes apparent) only the top two finishers from this heat would make it through.
The sprint course at Lillehammer is 1,588 meters long. If it had been 1,578 meters, Ogden would have been in the top two and made the final. As it was, three men lunged for the line, and for two spots. Golberg took the win, after skiing the final 300 meters better than anyone else in the heat. Evensen was second, 0.05 seconds back; Ogden was third, 0.17 seconds back; Schoonmaker was fourth, 0.57 seconds back.
The two American men missed making the final by a combined 0.64 seconds. That’s sprint racing.
Okay, now onto the final:
From left to right, that’s Federico Pellegrino (bib no. 5), Ansgar Evensen (13), Edvin Anger (7), Klæbo (red bib for Sprint Cup leader, but you can probably recognize him anyway, he’s the guy who wins), Pål Golberg (8), and Even Northug (15). Pellegrino is Italian; Anger is Swedish; the rest of the field is Norwegian.
The young Swede took the lead out of the stadium, with Pellegrino behind him and the Norwegian train content to bring up the rear. Anger was still in the lead the first time up the course’s main climb, a minute-plus into the race. The athletes were skiing smoothly and the field was tight.
Pellegrino and Klæbo moved up from the back the second time down the descent, Pellegrino taking a superb line to slip past Anger on the inside approaching the climb.
At this point Klæbo shifted into fifth gear, and — again with the benefit of hindsight, though given how he has skied this year maybe also apparent in real time — the race was effectively over. Klæbo led the field up the hill and into the stadium. He employed the subtle tactic of “ski faster and more smoothly than anyone else” to distance himself from Pellegrino (who is, like, a good skate sprinter) with every powerful V2.
Behind him, Pellegrino carefully took a tight line through the final curve, hugging the V-boards to prevent anyone else from sneaking by him on the inside, then accelerated into the final stretch. Klæbo had time to stand up and look around in first, as did Pellegrino in second. Northug skied the finishing stretch adroitly to move up into third, claiming his second podium in as many weekends.
With the win, Klæbo remains undefeated in races he has entered this year. He extended his own record for all-time World Cup wins (for men), to 51. Klæbo is currently leading the men’s sprint standings with a perfect score, and is second in the overall standings to his teammate Golberg.
What else happened for the Americans: Luke Jager qualified in 27th and ended his day in 25th, after finishing fifth in his quarterfinal. It won’t get the headlines on a day like today, but it was also Jager’s third time ever making the heats in a World Cup sprint, and his first time doing so in a skate sprint.
Kevin Bolger was 40th in qualification. Logan Diekmann was 49th in qualification.
What do the athletes think about today? A superb question. We have answers for you.
Here’s Ben Ogden, via email to Nordic Insights, addressing the duality of both a career-best day but also being just 0.12 seconds out of his first World Cup sprint final:
“I am really happy with how today unfolded of course. Sprinting is brutal in that it always leaves you wanting more and unsatisfied. I am very happy with the result and the effort but of course there is some part of me that is bummed that I couldn’t have kept going. It was extremely close but sitting here now I see that as more motivating than it is frustrating. I’m stoked with my own performance and of all my teammates as well. Great day on the track.”
“I am really happy with how I skied the heats today. I have a history of being a little impatient and not being smart with my energy in world cup heats where there is just no room for error. I think today coming from the back of the qualifier I was just a little more on my heels so to speak so I was more patient in the heats. This happened to work out decently well today so I’m happy with that.
Here’s JC Schoonmaker, via message to Nordic Insights, addressing some similar themes, and candidly engaging with how he would have skied his semifinal if he had the chance for a re-do:
“Definitely happy with today but for sure would’ve liked to make the final and take that next big jump. Today is a step in the right direction and will definitely give me some confidence for the rest of the season.
“In that semi I think I would try to jockey for better positioning earlier in the race so that I was further up the field when things started heating up. I think I was just a little too far back to make anything happen in the end there. At the end of the day I also just need to be better at those higher speeds because the semis are sooo tight with all those fast guys together.”
Here’s Luke Jager, via text to Nordic Insights, speaking candidly about what it means to finally make the heats in a skate sprint, and on what he gains from his teammates’ success:
I have had a huge mental hurdle of qualifying for skate heats on the WC. To get that monkey off my back in Norway was a great feeling. I get so much momentum from seeing Ben and JC figuring it out every weekend. I feel like I’m a step behind them in my development, so having them around in the heats etc. makes me feel so much more comfy and talking with them about it helps me figure out the nuances of heat skiing so much better.
“I agree with what Ben said that once u get the taste it’s just maddening and u want to keep trying again and again. Hopefully my qualifying struggles are over so I can start logging the practice it takes to know how to advance consistently like these boys are figuring out!”
And here’s Logan Diekmann, via email to Nordic Insights, talking about what it’s like to have “one of those days” out there:
“Honestly, today was a tough day. I felt flat out there and didn’t have the pop I needed to make anything happen. I guess it’s just one of those days. And unfortunately when you’re in a field like that, and you don’t have the gas, you get left in the dust. So, I’ll dust myself off and give it another go next weekend in Beitostolen.”
What’s next? Racing continues tomorrow with the inaugural men’s World Cup 20km mass start classic race. Look for the American men’s distance squad on the start line: Scott Patterson, Zak Ketterson, Gus Schumacher, Hunter Wonders, and Ben Ogden.
— Gavin Kentch
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