After posting the fastest qualifying times, Italian Frederico Pellegrino and Russian Elena Soboleva went on to win every heat right through the final on the first day of the FIS Nordic U23 World Ski Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic.
However, their victories were hardly blowouts. Pellegrino and Soboleva won their respective men’s and women’s 1.3 k classic finals by close margins over the second- and third-place finishers, both decided by photo finishes.
In the men’s race, Pellegrino edged Finland’s Juho Mikkonen and Evgeniy Belov of Russia in second and third, respectively. Soboleva topped two German women, Sandra Ringwald in second and Hanna Kolb in third.
Sophie Caldwell led the North American finishers in ninth. The Stratton Mountain School T2 Team (SMST2) skier qualified in fifth and went on to win her quarterfinal. From there, Caldwell placed fifth in her semifinal, 2.8 seconds behind Kolb, who won the heat.
No other North American women qualified. Liz Guiney (University of New Hampshire) was 36th, Caitlin Patterson (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) was 38th and Annie Hart finished (Dartmouth) 39th.
Of the Canadian women, Marlis Kromm of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) was 32nd, Heidi Widmer (AWCA) was 34th and Andrea Lee (Thunder Bay National Development Centre) was 47th.
Erik Bjornsen (Alaska Pacific University/US Ski Team) led the American men in 10th, just ahead of Norway’s Tomas Northug, Petter’s brother. Bjornsen qualified in 16th, won his quarterfinal and placed fifth in his semifinal, 2.8 seconds back from heat winner Alexander Wolz (GER), who ended up fifth overall.
Eric Packer (SMST2) narrowly missed qualifying in 34th, David Norris (Montana State University) was 36th and Skyler Davis (SMST2/USST) placed 53rd.
Canadian Patrick Stewart-Jones (AWCA) was 39th and Colin Abbott (Yukon Elite Squad) was 47th. Andy Shields (NDC Thunder Bay) did not start.