Race: Women’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 (women’s final is embedded three paragraphs below):
What happened at the front of the race: It is not an original observation that the Swedish women are good at sprinting; there were three Swedes in today’s final, and Emma Ribom has won both sprints held so far this season. And this is with Jonna Sundling and Linn Svahn both still out, too; the Swedes’ bench is deeper than most countries’ A Team.
All of which is to say, Emma Ribom of Sweden won the final in 3:20.40, with her teammate Maja Dahlqvist 0.17 seconds back in second. Tiril Udnes Weng of Norway, who is quickly becoming a versatile overall skier (and indeed currently leads the World Cup overall standings), was third, roughly a second back.
But Jessie Diggins was fourth in the final, another second or so back of Weng, so let’s talk about the final now. Here is the video:
From left to right, that’s Victoria Carl of Germany (bib no. 14), Jessie Diggins of, well, you know (5), Tiril Udnes Weng of Norway (8), Maja Dahlqvist of Sweden (3), Emma Ribom of Sweden (red bib), and Johanna Hagström of Sweden (10), all set for their fourth trip of the day around the Lillehammer sprint course.
The three Swedes set the pace to lead out of the stadium, with Diggins moving up into third down the first descent. It was Dahlqvist in the lead, Ribom second, and Diggins third going up the climb, but no meaningful separation from anyone in the pack on the nearly all-V2 course.
It was more of the same down the hill a second time, Dahlqvist leading with Weng and Ribom right behind, but still absolutely anyone’s game.
Diggins at this point used strong skis and a powerful free skate to work the downhill, moving up toward the lead, then pounced going up the climb the second and final time. But Dahlqvist and Ribom were stronger, and had pulled around her by the time the pack was on flat ground re-entering the stadium. It was Ribom, Dahlqvist, then Weng coming into the final corner, with Diggins well in the shot in fourth but also just out of touch with the leaders.
Ribom skied the final curve well (read: tightly) to ensure that she maintained her lead, then kept it to the finish. Dahlqvist came on strong down the home straight, but Ribom had enough left to hold her off for the win. Ribom first, Dahlqvist second, Weng third, and Diggins fourth, much as the athletes were positioned coming into the stadium. Carl was several seconds back in fifth, with Hagström chilling across the line in sixth.
Diggins’s success — she is now second in the overall World Cup standings for this season — should not inure you to the fact that her longtime World Cup roommate, Julia Kern, was eighth on the day, 0.18 seconds out of advancing to the final. (If you’re keeping score at home, add that to the margins from the men’s race and the Americans were a combined 0.82 seconds away, over three athletes, from sending a history-making four skiers to a World Cup final on the same day. Sprint racing!)
So let’s rewind to the second semifinal. It starts at roughly the 45:35 mark of the first video embedded above. Kern sat in fifth leaving the stadium, content to sit in the draft of the train in front of her. She was sixth up the climb the first time, but also taking the shortest line and moving well, skiing up into fifth by the start of the downhill.
The race heated up, predictably, the second time up the climb, as Ribom moved to the front with a leave-no-doubt acceleration. Lotta Udnes Weng was holding a strong second with just a few hundred meters left to go, but took herself out and stumbled. Kern was able to move around her, but lost some momentum while she did so.
Kern had a strong line into the finish, but was not quite able to make up the gap to third. Ribom took the heat, with Johanna Hagström second and Victoria Carl third. Kern was fourth in the heat, eighth overall on the day.
Kern ends today tied for sixth in the sprint standings, one spot ahead of Diggins in eighth.
What else happened for the Americans: Alayna Sonnesyn was 39th in qualifying, her first time cracking the 30s in World Cup sprint qualifying. Lauren Jortberg was 41st in qualifying, her best finish yet in four World Cup races.
Rosie Brennan has been unable to race yet this weekend while battling a cold. She has been spending her downtime fielding questions from viewers on the APU Instagram feed, giving some illuminating answers about life on the World Cup.
What do the athletes think about today? Great question. Here are some answers.
Full audio from Jessie Diggins is embedded above. Diggins stated that she was “really happy” with her race today, while simply not quite having the gas and the sharp race form feeling in the final that she would like. She noted that the additional obligations attendant to yesterday’s win — extra time going through doping control processing, extra media obligations — took more energy out of her than would otherwise be the case.
And here is full audio from Julia Kern:
Kern walks through her day in detail, including tactically skiing her quarterfinal just as she wanted to, and walking away from that heat “feeling pretty energized” and with some confidence going into the semifinal. She discusses a small tangle on the turn while lapping through, which cost her some momentum on the downhill and left her unable to execute the race strategy she had in mind.
Kern also notes Weng falling right in front of her near the finish, which she saw coming but which nonetheless caused just a little hesitation for her. “It was just that little blip and hiccup that maybe cost me moving up around the turn,” Kern notes. “But that’s sprint racing. I wish I had been further up in the pack, but I’m really happy with today.”
Finally, here’s Lauren Jortberg, via email to Nordic Insights:
“I was really happy with today. I’m trying not to put a ton of pressure on myself with cracking the top thirty because I know that that kind of pressure will just hurt me (really felt it in Ruka… so we’ve learned). Rather than focusing on results, I was really happy with how my body felt and how I skied it. I’m proud of my efforts, but I also know where I can pick up those couple of seconds to make the top 30. This course honestly really doesn’t suit my strengths of climbing, so I tried to channel my inner Julia Kern and ski super powerfully. And I feel good about my efforts there. Racing here in Lillehammer is a super cool atmosphere and really cool to see the US skiing so well.”
What’s next? Racing continues tomorrow with the inaugural women’s World Cup 20km mass start classic race. Look for Jessie Diggins, Julia Kern, Sophia Laukli, Novie McCabe, and Alayna Sonnesyn on the start line. Rosie Brennan also has start rights for tomorrow, if her health permits; stay tuned.
— Gavin Kentch
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