It’s a big weekend for ski racing. The men race a 50-kilometer race, a mass start skate race this year, at Holmenkollen, on the slopes above Oslo, on Saturday. The women cover the same course on Sunday. Each race is historic in its own way.
The men’s race at Holmenkollen dates to the turn of the century. The twentieth century. The women’s race dates to, well, never, here or anywhere else, if you are considering 50km women’s races on the World Cup. Women are of course capable of covering such distances — here is a public-domain photo of one Margit Nordin of Grängesberg, Sweden, on her way to completing the 1923 Vasaloppet in slightly over ten hours for 90 kilometers, 100 years ago this month — but were not permitted to, at the World Cup level, prior to this season.
Jessie Diggins has thoughts on this: “I’m so psyched” for this weekend’s 50km, she said in a pre-season press conference.
“I’ve been waiting my whole life to race the actual 50km at Holmenkollen. To be totally frank, I think it’s total crap that the women never got to race this iconic distance. It made me feel really sad. And mad. And so now I’m finally getting a chance to race it.
“I know I can, I’ve raced 50km multiple times in time trials in the summer at the end of training blocks, and I was fine. I didn’t need an ambulance at the finish line like they used to think they needed for women at the end of ski races. So it turns out, we’re okay.
“I just think it’s really cool that we finally get the chance to do this. So I’m very, very grateful to FIS and everyone for making that change. I think it sends a really important message, more than the fact that, as a racer, I’m excited to do it. It’s the message that it sends to young women: you are totally capable of doing anything that you want to. If you train hard and you work hard, you can do it. And I think that’s the right message that we want to send.”
Rosie Brennan has thoughts on this: “It wasn’t the data presented or any one convincing presentation that made me become a supporter,” she wrote on her blog early in this World Cup season when discussing the shift to equal-distance racing. “It was hearing the other women in the meeting, often older women, who did not support the move and who I could really feel in their tone, were questioning whether or not a female could and should race the same distance as a male.
“Knowing and respecting many of these women, it made me realize the subconscious effect that the different distances had on females over the years. I’m definitely no physiologist, but given what I know men and women are doing for training (essentially the same), I don’t see why it would cause harm for a female to race the same distance as a male.
“While no one was admitting it straight out, there was genuine fear of having to race a longer race. This was the same response I got from many female athletes upon introduction of the idea, simply fear. I noticed it in myself, it’s intimidating, but so is anything that is new and something you care about.
“I also couldn’t help but think about all the many ways we subconsciously discriminate because of cultural norms and just how hard that can be to fight. Some combination of human’s struggle with change and a subconscious message that all these females had had over the years, I felt had left them questioning whether they should be racing that far or not. Shoulding on yourself is no way to find success. This left me a strong desire to see what happens when we tell girls from a young age that they are strong enough to race the same distance as a boy.”
Here is when the races will be:
Literally Holmenkollen, Oslo, Norway (local time at venue: GMT +1, six hours ahead of East Coast Time)
|date||race||time (AK)||time (EST)||results|
|Saturday, March 11||M 50km skate||12:30 a.m.||4:30 a.m.||article|
|Sunday, March 12||W 50km skate||12:15 a.m.||5:15 a.m.||here|
Need help viewing the races from the U.S.? Here’s our full article on how to watch.
Alaskan American starters for Saturday will be: Scott Patterson (bib 14), Hunter Wonders (bib 18), Gus Schumacher (bib 20), and David Norris (bib 37). In the men’s field overall, 12 starters out of 39, or nearly a full one-third of the field, are Norwegian.
American starters for Sunday will be: Jessie Diggins, Rosie Brennan, Hailey Swirbul, and Alayna Sonnesyn.
Coverage on this site will be: sporadic at best, due to weekend commitments. I’ll largely be cheering for the Americans, and for gender equality, from afar.
— Gavin Kentch