There were several occurrences in the recent World Cup weekend at Livigno that we have seen before. Klæbo won a sprint on the men’s side. Sweden dominated a sprint on the women’s side. Julia Kern and Rosie Brennan made a World Cup podium, which is actually a momentous occasion that deserves to be celebrated, but was also already the second team podium for Kern in her career and the fourth for Brennan.
This review of the last World Cup weekend takes a look at some more unusual and first-time aspects of the Livigno stage. It ends with thoughts from a pair of Americans: Lauren Jortberg, who broke through to the World Cup sprint heats for the first time; and Will Koch, who raced a World Cup for the first time.
Not that many athletes raced
There were 38 starters in the women’s sprint, and 55 in the men’s sprint. According to research done by the invaluable Statistical Skier (aka Joran Elias), this was the smallest field for a women’s sprint since the pre-Olympic World Cup in Pyeongchang (February 2017), when only 36 women made the loooong flight from central Europe for a single World Cup weekend. For European-based World Cups, the most recent comparand is Rybinsk (34 starters, February 2011), a 300-kilometer bus ride north of Moscow.
There were 55 starters in the men’s field on Saturday. A late stage in the 2021 Tour de Ski (51 starters, Val di Fiemme, January 2021), or the Drammen city sprint in March 2019 (52 starters), are more recent historical analogues here.
Emma Ribom raced without a bib
In the perennial debate between the desirability or potential superiority of two-piece race suits vs. onesies, the fact that Emma Ribom forgot her bib in the bathroom may be a thumb on the scale in favor of Team Two-Piece.
Ribom raced in the final, and raced well, finishing third on the day. But she did so without wearing a race bib: “It was forgotten deep inside the toilet,” Ribom told Expressen, according to an auto-translation, and no one was able to find it in time for her start. “I probably mostly drove around during the final and thought about the number plate, no it wasn’t good,” her comments continued.
FIS International Competition Rule 343.5 states, “Competitors must wear/use all the means of identification (bibs, leg bibs, transponders, GPS…) provided by the organiser.” Ribom was assessed a yellow card for her violation of this rule, the rare occurrence of ICR 343.5 at the bottom of an official results sheet. Her result from Saturday’s race stands, but she risks disqualification in a future race if she incurs a second yellow card later this season.
(More commonly seen ICR violations include obstruction, classic technique violations, and failure to follow the marked track.)
Linn Svahn raced a World Cup
Linn Svahn has had a rough two years. Prior to this weekend she last raced a World Cup in Engadin, at the end of the *2021* season. Other athletes in that race, which occurred nearly two full years ago, included Charlotte Kalla (now retired), Anamarija Lampič (now a biathlete), Katharine Ogden (now retired), and a bevy of top Russian women (now banned from FIS competitions due to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine). It’s been a while.
Svahn spent roughly 20 months away from any level of competition, while first attempting to rehab a shoulder injury, then undergoing surgery for same, then rehabbing after surgery. She returned to racing in early December 2022 with domestic competition in Sweden, then moved up to the Scan Cup. She had solid but not dominating results there, finishing third in a classic sprint in Östersund in December, then tenth in a classic sprint in Falun last weekend.
One week later, Svahn placed fifth in qualifying on Saturday, less than a second off of teammate Jonna Sundling in first, then was second in her quarterfinal and fourth in a fast semifinal to make the final. There she ran out of gas a little, but she was still fifth overall on the day. And she won the team sprint the following day with longtime sprint teammate Maja Dahlqvist.
The Swedish women have one spot still open on their World Championships team for Planica next month. Svahn, who garnered a heady nine World Cup wins and a Sprint Globe in her first two seasons on the circuit but does not yet have a World Champs medal to her name, is among several athletes hoping to fill it.
Jonna Sundling raced a World Cup
Jonna Sundling has not had so rough a time of things as her teammate Svahn — but Saturday’s race, which she won, was also her first World Cup start since World Cup Finals in Falun in March 2022, over ten months ago. Sundling caught a bad cold in late fall of this ski season, which left her largely unable to train throughout the month of November. This is, to put it mildly, bad for a cross-country skier.
“I was not bedridden but could have enough energy during the day to do everyday things, but not exercise. Sad, but what to do? It sucked,” Sundling told Expressen of her November, according to an auto-translation.
Sundling then won Saturday’s sprint qual, won Saturday’s sprint final, and placed second in Sunday’s team sprint final alongside Emma Ribom, who was wearing a bib this time.
Everyone raced at altitude
Back to the rules for a second. ICR 311.2.7 states that, for Olympic, World Championship, and World Cup races, “the highest point of a Cross-Country course should not exceed 1800 m.” The homologation manual anticipates that homologation requirements such as total climb may be reduced by up to 20% for Continental Cup–level courses (e.g., the SuperTour in this country) above this altitude, but makes no such allowance for World Cup courses.
The highest point in the weekend’s sprint course was roughly 1,838 meters above sea level, according to a review of multiple Strava tracks from athletes who raced in Livigno (the official homologation certificate is still not available online). This is clearly not much above 1,800 meters, roughly 2 percent, but also is undeniably above that limit.
“Livigno is above the altitude limit for World Cup racing, but with the challenges with snow this winter, an exception was made so that made it a new experience for everyone as well,” Rosie Brennan wrote after Saturday’s race in an email to multiple media outlets. “I am very comfortable racing at altitude [Brennan grew up in Park City] so that part wasn’t too big of a concern for me.”
In response to Chad Salmela’s question about this weekend potentially auguring a relaxation of the 1800-meter limit for World Cup skiing in a warming world, Norwegian ski commentator Petter Skinstad wrote, “Serious talks about increasing the max altitude for races, yes!”
Lauren Jortberg made the heats
When we last heard from American Lauren Jortberg, the SMS athlete was speaking candidly about the confidence issues posed by publicly subpar results through Period 1 of the World Cup.
“I think recently, I’ve had a little bit of confidence issues, or like lack of confidence, in the last few weeks of just World Cup racing,” Jortberg told Nordic Insights in early January following a strong third-place finish in the Houghton SuperTour skate sprint, behind only an on-form Hailey Swirbul and Novie McCabe.
“I think I’ve been focusing a lot on process goals rather than result goals. And I think internally it’s been helpful, but I do feel like, Oh, I’m sure people want to see the results. And it definitely doesn’t feel good. And I’ve been trying to work on just focusing on, like, how I feel racing, on what I can control and what I can do myself, rather than, like, what other people are thinking of me.”
Two weeks later, here’s an ebullient Jortberg, this time via email to Nordic Insights but hearkening back to her in-person comments in the U.S. Nationals mixed zone, after making the heats in a World Cup sprint for the first time:
“Today was truly so cool. I think our conversation in Houghton left off on dealing with some confidence issues, and I think today was a great example of how powerful belief is. I gained a ton of confidence from the sprint qualifier in Houghton, and I thought, well, might as well take the same approach and believe that I can make heats.
“I skied super smoothly and executed my plan to try as hard as possible not to blow up on the never-ending finish. I honestly had no idea what to expect for the heats, but I tend to ski well in packs/heats, so I planned to position myself in the best possible position and see what I could do. Unfortunately, I exploded the biggest explosion of my life with about ten meters to the finish, but otherwise, I wouldn’t have skied it any other way. It was an incredible learning experience and a huge building block for the rest of period three and my entire ski racing career. It’s always fun to have a day that reminds you why you do what you do.”
Will Koch made his World Cup debut
Last but not least, Will Koch (Jortberg’s teammate at SMS; also currently skiing collegiately for Colorado; also on the USST) was one of two Americans to make his World Cup debut in Livigno this weekend, along with Adam Witkowski of Michigan Tech. Koch was asked about some highlights of the weekend for him, as well as what he will take away from the experience moving forward.
Here’s Koch, via email to Nordic Insights:
What he liked: “It was an amazing experience getting to finally compete against the best guys in the world, who until a few days ago were only faces on TV to me. Additionally, the US Ski Team support staff and waxing team was very professional and the service was excellent. Even though it was a new environment, the coaches explained everything well and I felt well-supported through all of it.”
And what he’ll take with him moving forward: “My biggest takeaway from my first World Cups is that even if I’m new, I am right in the mix with some very accomplished skiers. In the sprint prelim, I was just 1.2 seconds away from making heats, which is very motivating — I know that with some small changes, I can cover that second between me and qualifying top 30.”
Koch’s next start is presumptively in the classic sprint in Les Rousses on Saturday.
— Gavin Kentch
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