Norway, Italy, France in Men’s Team Sprint in Planica; Canada 4th, U.S. 10th


Skiing off the front all day didn’t quite lead to a gold medal for the American women in the team sprint at 2023 Cross Country World Ski Championships, but it sure did for the Norwegian men. Pål Golberg and Johannes Høsflot Klæbo led virtually wire to wire in Sunday’s men’s team sprint, extending a dominating run that has seen a Norwegian man atop the podium in all three races so far this week. Franceso de Fabiani and Federico Pellegrino were second for Italy, as Pellegrino’s valiant final-lap attempt at dethroning the king came up short. Renaud Jay and Richard Jouve were third for France.

The U.S. duo of JC Schoonmaker and Ben Ogden faded over the second half of the race to finish tenth. The plucky Canadian pair of Antoine Cyr and Graham Ritchie carried the day for North America with a strong fourth. Great Britain, skiing in its first-ever team sprint at a world championships, also turned heads among nontraditional ski nations, with James Clugnet and Andrew Young teaming up for a sixth-place finish.

The men’s final started with fifteen teams, Golberg leading the way for Norway in bib no. 1. Golberg finished the opening lap in first, with the top ten teams all within two seconds of the lead, neither of which was really a surprise.

There was a comparable lack of surprise through lap two, with Norway, Italy, and France, generally in that order, at the front. There were two men in the field who had beaten Klæbo in an individual sprint within living memory, Federico Pellegrino of Italy and Richard Jouve of France, and Klæbo was up against both of them on the anchor leg. It’s a tall order to take the sting out of the legs of the likes of Pellegrino or Jouve, but that was likely on Klæbo’s mind as he set a stout pace through lap two. For the U.S., Ogden stayed in contact not far off the lead.

There was more of the same on lap three: Norway, Italy, and France. If the Norwegian pair of Klæbo and Golberg had spent so much energy in Friday’s skiathlon that their remaining races in Planica were affected, it sure didn’t show today. The two men are 1–2 in the World Cup overall for a reason, and they skied it like on Sunday.

Behind, but not too far behind, Schoonmaker was in seventh midway through lap three, with Canada a surprising fifth. At the next exchange, the halfway point of the race, the U.S. was down to ninth, 5.25 seconds back of Norway, with Canada in sixth.

Lap four continued these themes: Norway at the front, France and Italy not far off, Klæbo skiing like he knew the CVs of the men around him and wanted to push the pace before the final lap. Behind them, Edvin Anger skied strong for Sweden to pull them up into fourth. At the penultimate exchange, it was Canada in fifth, roughly 1.5 seconds out of third. Ogden had pulled the U.S. up into sixth, three seconds behind Canada, his neighbours to the north relative to his native Vermont.

Golberg set out for his final lap once more in the lead, France and Italy close behind. Sweden and Canada, which by this point was clearly for real, were also in this lead group. The race was down to a definitive lead pack of five by this point, with a meaningful gap back to sixth et al.

Golberg pushed hard over the top of the large hill, causing Sweden and Canada to fall back by a few seconds. Calle Halfvarsson, who skied this leg, would later state that the Swedes’ skis were not competitive. The tech team said that the wax job “wasn’t good, so they also know about it,” he told Expressen. Anger did not disagree.

Following the fifth and final exchange, which Norway again executed to perfection, Klæbo headed out onto lap six with a healthy lead, roughly 1.5 seconds over Jouve of France and 2 seconds over Pellegrino of Italy. Given Klæbo’s strengths (and his track record, and his ski speed, and his tactics, and his line choices, and the fact that he never loses, &c.), a viewer could be forgiven for assuming that the race for gold was over by this point.

Maybe not what Klæbo was expecting to see at this point: Pellegrino threatens Klæbo over the top of the final climb. (photo: screenshot from broadcast)

But Pellegrino had enough in the tank to make things interesting. The Italian put on an all-time surge to close a gap of close to 10 meters over the course’s largest climb, jumpskating like a madman to draw even with Klæbo over the top and heading back to the stadium directly in the slipstream of his longtime friendly rival.

“When I was in the middle of the climb, I thought, ‘I can try,’ and it was good to see the surprise on Klæbo’s face when I pulled level,” Pellegrino told FIS after the race. “He had to find a new way to win.”

Reader, Klæbo has multiple ways to win. On the livestream, announcers Chad Salmela and Kikkan Randall were enjoying friendly banter about whether this move represented an actual threat to the Norwegian’s dominance, or whether Klæbo was just toying with Pellegrino. Then the two men came to the final climb back to the stadium, Klæbo sped up once more, Pellegrino fell back, and the race was over.

Norway and Italy share a #wholesome fist bump as their anchor legs approach the line. (photo: screenshot from broadcast)

Klæbo skied to the line unchallenged to take the Norwegian men’s third gold, and this Norwegian man’s second, of these championships. Pellegrino crossed the line 2.48 seconds later for silver, celebrating hugely with de Fabiani. Jouve came in precisely 14 seconds later for bronze. Everyone was happy.

Canada was a noteworthy fourth. The U.S. was tenth, roughly 45 seconds back, far below its announced pre-race goals of top-five. Sometimes it’s important to set big goals, and sometimes you don’t meet those big goals. That’s ski racing.

“Yesterday was one of hardest races I’ve ever done,” Schoonmaker wrote on Monday in his post-race comments. “The qualifier felt really solid and being able to start on the front line of the final put Ben and I in a great position. We started out strong but I faded pretty quickly on the second lap with the ripping pace that some of those guys were setting up front. The level that they are skiing at is pretty insane right now so it’s pretty cool to get to experience that even if it’s through the lens of getting my butt kicked. Ben did a great job on damage control getting us back into good position but I struggled to hold it. It wasn’t the result we hoped for but it was so fun to get to team up with Ben for that format and I really believe that we can be up there in the front someday.”


— Gavin Kentch

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