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Dahl, Boner Tops in Birkebeiner; Ski Classics Titles All-But-Decided

Both the men’s and women’s editions of the 2016 Birkebeiner finished in dramatic style: the men’s in a four-way sprint for the line, and the women’s in a come-from-behind victory.

After 54 kilometers from Rena to Lillehammer, Norway, that belonged to Seraina Boner of Switzerland, who started the race well behind the leaders. The 2011-2013 champion of the race, Boner began to feel better as the race went on. When she passed Visma Ski Classics overall leader and Swede Britta Johansson Norgren going up the course’s big climb, she realized that things might be going better than she had thought.

With just 14 kilometers to go, Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland, one of the pre-race favorites, and Japan’s Masako Ishida were leading the race by 45 seconds. But both women were tiring, Kowalczyk partly from the Ski Tour Canada, a brutal set of races completed just a week before. Boner managed to catch them in the final kilometers.

While Ishida fell off the group, Kowalczyk shadowed Boner to the finish but wasn’t able to make the final sprint.

“It’s not over until you reach Lillehammer,” Boner – who won by ten seconds over Kowalczyk – told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

Boner’s time of 2:55:04 was slightly slower than her own times from the several previous years; Norway’s Therese Johaug won the 2015 edition in 2:41:46.

Ishida held onto third, +1:57, and Johansson Norgren to fourth, +2:53. Katerina Smutna of Austria was  fifth, +4:53.

In the men’s race, it came down to a field sprint between four tired men, and John Kristian Dahl of Norway – who had won Sweden’s 90 k  Vasaloppet the previous weekend – came out on top in 2:27:34.

“That was amazing, to somehow get the double,” he told NRK.

43-year-old Anders Aukland took second, Petter Eliassen third, and Sjur Røthe fourth, all finishing with the same time as Dahl. Just off the pace was Tord Asle Gjerdalen, 20 seconds back. That gave Norway a clean sweep of the top five places.

Despite finishing fourth, Johansson Norgren held onto the Visma Ski Classics overall lead; 200 points are awarded for each win, and she has a 180-point lead over Smutna going into the final competition, the Årefjällsloppet in Sweden. Eliassen has almost as big of a lead: 161 points over Gjerdalen.

In the team standings, Team Santander – the team of Smutna, Kowalczyk, Gjerdalen and Aukland – has a 686-point lead over Team United Bakeries.

University of Utah alum Snorri Einarsson finished in 2:32:14, good for 25th in the men’s elite field. Tyler DeAngelis of Lynx Nordic crossed in 3:05:03, the top American, followed by Jackson Bloch of Sonic Hedgehog in 3:10:29. Graham Longford of Canada brought it home in 4:44:43.

Emily Stitt of the Mansfield Nordic Club finished in 3:37:32, good for 59th in the elite field and the title of top American.

This year’s edition was also a royal competition, with Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon finishing in in 4:10:10 to best his Danish counterpart, Crown Prince Frederik, by 55 minutes.

He has never lived in a country where there is cross-country skiing on a daily basis, but that he still is here is super impressive,” Haakon said of Frederik in gracious royal-family style, according to a translation. “He is much fitter than me and beats me in everything. He bikes, swims and runs, so he’s a beast.”

Pippa Middleton, sister of Britain’s Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, finished in 5:58:34.

“I was nervous at the start,” Middleton told the UK’s Daily Mail. “It’s a tough race with plenty of uphill and a strong headwind but I enjoyed every minute of it and the fine weather lifted everyone’s spirits. The course was beautiful and the atmosphere amazing between competitors and supporters along the way.”

Results

Birkebeinnerrennet

Visma Ski Classics standings

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