Kerttu Niskanen Takes 10km Classic in Beitostølen; Diggins 6th, Brennan 8th


Race: Women’s 10-kilometer interval-start classic race, Beitostølen, Norway

Is there embedded video you can watch? Maybe? This YouTube channel currently has highlights from the men’s race up, and hopefully/potentially could add the women’s race at some point.

Short of that, as I wrote yesterday: Ski & Snowboard Live would be happy to take your money for a subscription if you would like to watch the full heats. Alternatively, you can use a VPN (instructions here) to watch a full re-broadcast on Norwegian station NRK (broadcast link here, not available outside of Norway). You can also get a decent replay of some parts of the day on Ski & Snowboard Live, registration required but no subscription.

Here is a six-minute highlight video:

What happened at the front of the race? Tradition happened. It was an interval-start classic race. The women raced 10 kilometers. It was cold, around 0° F, and athletes’ breath billowed around them in golden coronas as they were lit by the low-angle, lambent light of December in the north. The Finnish teams had good skis for cold snow. At one point skiers literally raced past the back door of bucolic Norwegian ski cabins lining the course. If you have an image in mind for what cross-country skiing “should” look like, this was probably it.

Oh, and Kerttu Niskanen won a 10km classic interval start race, which is pretty traditional also. Today marked the 34-year-old Finnish skier’s fourth individual World Cup podium in a 15-year career. Three of them have come in interval-start 10km classic races; the fourth came in a mass start 10km classic race. She added a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics this February, in the, well, 10km classic.

Beitostølen 5km course profile. (photo: screenshot from FIS homologation certificate)

Today’s race covered two laps of a 5km course at Beitostølen. The elevation profile is relatively benign, by World Cup standards, with 157m of climbing per lap. The most photogenic feature of the course is a long A-climb, at roughly the 2.5km mark, climbing up from a descent, a small frozen lake in the background. The course then traverses an out-and-back section, past the aforementioned vacation cabins, before returning to the stadium. The course is more pleasant than particularly technical (source: I have skied it, though clearly not under World Cup race conditions, which surely make for a less pleasant ski experience).

Niskanen’s split through the base of the main climb on lap one, 2.6km into the race, ultimately ranked her third overall, though by wearing bib no. 38 she was starting in the first half of seeded athletes and was the leader on course at the time. Niskanen’s main competition on the day ultimately came from Anne Kjersti Kalvå of Norway and Frida Karlsson of Sweden, who started some time after her in bib no. 56 and no. 60, respectively.

With the benefit of hindsight: Niskanen’s time through 2.6km ranked her third at the end of the day, behind first Kalvå and then Karlsson, with one Jessie Diggins and Rosie Brennan fourth and fifth at that point in the race.

By the 5-kilometer time checkpoint, lapping through the stadium midway through, Niskanen’s time ranked first, 1.1 seconds ahead of Kalvå and 2.7 seconds ahead of Karlsson. By 6.3km, the gap over second (now Karlsson) was up to 6.3 seconds; by 8.2km, the gap to second (now Kalvå again) was 7.7 seconds.

The margin at the finish was 12.7 seconds, as Niskanen skied the final portion of the course strong to put time on her rivals. Niskanen took the win in 26:56.3, with Kalvå finishing in 27:09. Kalvå was 3.8 seconds ahead of Karlsson in third.

What happened for the Americans at the front of the race? Jessie Diggins, who has competed in every race so far this World Cup season and currently sits third in the overall standings, was sixth. Her partner in top-level American women’s distance skiing, Rosie Brennan, who had similar plans to race broadly this year but had to sit out all three races in Lillehammer last weekend with a cold, was eighth. It was Brennan’s third top-8 finish in five races this year. It was likewise Diggins’s third top-8 finish this year.

Diggins started strong but faded slightly over the final third of the race: she was fourth at the 1.3km, 2.6km, 5km, and 6.3km time checkpoints, but fell back to fifth by the 8.2km mark, and lost just enough time from there to the finish to end up in sixth. She was 2.8 seconds back of Johanna Matintalo in fifth, and 33.8 seconds back of Niskanen in first.

Brennan’s intermediate splits trace a similar trajectory: 5th, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 8th. Brennan finished eighth, a scant 1.7 seconds back of Tiril Udnes Weng in seventh, and 39.8 seconds back of Niskanen.

The result was more than enough for Weng to hold onto the yellow bib for the fifth race in a row. She leads the overall World Cup standings by 102 points over Karlsson in second, and 152 points over Diggins in third.

What happened for the rest of the Americans? Sopha Laukli was 29th (+2:00.9). Novie McCabe was 32nd (+2:05.1). Alayna Sonnesyn was 47th (+3:29.4) after breaking a pole. Lauren Jortberg was 53rd (+4:03.8). Julia Kern did not start.

How cold was it out there, anyway? It was pretty cold! The official results give an air temperature of –18.1 C, which is above the official temperature cutoff of –20 C, but is also still –0.6° F. Karlsson missed the podium ceremony while receiving medical attention; the Expressen article on this development explained that she was in the warming tent at the time. Kalvå told FIS, “It was a hard race; it’s cold and tough conditions today.”

Rosie Brennan wrote, “It was VERY cold today!” in her emailed statement to media outlets. Alayna Sonnesyn used the phrase “frozen brain” on Instagram; also, “Chilllllllll 😮‍💨🥶.” Sophia Laukli wrote on Instagram, “Got to be a popsicle for the day.” Julia Kern (who did not start due to overall energy management across a long season) chose the Maroon 5 song, “Cold,” to soundtrack her Instagram story for the day. Jessie Diggins referred to “a deep fatigue from battling the cold.” In conclusion, it was pretty cold out there.

What do the Americans think about their day? A great question. Here are some answers for you.

Here’s Rosie Brennan, in an email to multiple media outlets:

“It was VERY cold today! I think the temperature actually dropped from when we woke up to when we started and the course sits in a bit of a cold sink too. I am normally not bothered by the cold, but I was admittedly not as prepared as I could have been. That said, I was really happy with my skiing, especially coming off illness. My skis were great as well. I did what I could with the body I had and it was definitely missing a gear that I wanted, but it was a very solid effort with some improved technical skiing.”

Here’s Novie McCabe, in a text message to Nordic Insights:

“The race today was alright! I was honestly hoping for more, but am proud of the effort, and we had so many super strong team performances which was cool. It was definitely quite cold and I think a lot of us got a bit chilly out there despite trying to be prepared, so I think that’s something that we need to remember for tomorrow. As far as sprinting goes it has for sure been cool to get the starts and I am trying to approach each as a learning opportunity. I’m definitely not super pleased with the results, but something I hope to continue to work on!!”

photo: screenshot from @jcorkski Instagram story

Here’s Jessie Diggins, in transcribed audio sent to multiple media outlets:

“What a cool day as a team that was. That was really fun to see a lot of people having great races. And I think our skis were just on fire. So that was really, really fun to be a part of that.

“Personally, I was really proud of how my classic technique has progressed; I felt like I was able to really focus on finding the glide and trying to ski smooth out there. I was having some really weird — I felt kind of detached at certain points of the race like I was just mentally and physically not there. And at the finish, I was like not okay, I needed to be helped out and I definitely just, I think, had to dig pretty deep. And it was taking a definite toll on me. I feel like it was kind of a deep fatigue from battling the cold.

“I think when we got to the truck, it was negative 20 Celsius, so it was extremely cold out there. I raced with the Sidas heated socks and boot covers, and I was still struggling to keep myself warm out there. So it was definitely a challenging day in that regard. But I’m happy to not have any frostbite and I’m really really thankful for our team. They took really good care of me. … The techs and our PTs were really, really awesome at getting me warm and putting a bunch of clothes on me right afterwards so that it didn’t leave me in a really bad place. So, feeling thankful for the team and really proud of the team.”

And here’s Alayna Sonnesyn, on Instagram, mentioning broken poles and the implications of same:

What’s next: Tomorrow is relay day (!). Here are the starters for the two American teams, per today’s update email from USSS:

Julia Kern, Hunter Wonders, Sophia Laukli, Ben Ogden

Alayna Sonnesyn, Zak Ketterson, Novie McCabe, Gus Schumacher


— Gavin Kentch

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