Marit Bjørgen shadowed Norwegian teammate Therese Johaug for almost the entire 30-kilometer race at Holmenkollen on Sunday, before sprinting away from her up the last major climb and winning the famed mass start by 10 seconds in Oslo, Norway.
Around 17 k into the race, Johaug pushed hard to win sprint bonus seconds. Bjørgen went with her, but Charlotte Kalla of Sweden, who had been skiing with the pair, was popped off the back. For the next 12 kilometers, Johaug and Bjørgen traded the lead back and forth. A move or increase in the pace by one of the women was always countered by the other.
With 800 meters to go, the pair hit the Hellnerbacken hill, a punishingly steep climb which brings the race course back into the Holmenkollen stadium. Both women upped their tempo and their pace, sprinting as fast as they could up the climb — but Bjørgen’s skiing was faster and she opened a huge and insurmountable gap on Johaug, even though her more diminutive teammate is widely acknowledged to be the best skier in the world at skating up steep climbs.
With a sizable time cushion, Bjørgen enjoyed her ski down the finishing straightaway in front of a grandstand of ecstatic Norwegian fans.
After being dropped by the two leaders, Kalla slipped back, a second here and a second there. Eventually she landed in the sights of Norway’s Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen, who had been dropped by the lead trio early and skied almost the entire race alone in fourth place. Jacobsen worked furiously to close the gap, and caught Kalla with just a few kilometers to go. Similarly to her winning teammate, she dropped the Swede in the final few hundred meters and skied into third place all alone, rewarded for the kilometers of punishing climbs she had endured all by herself.
Norway’s Heidi Weng beat teammate Ragnhild Haga in a photo finish for fifth place, followed by another Norwegian, Martine Ek Hagen. Germany’s Nicole Fessel placed eighth at the back of that pack, and Liz Stephen of the U.S. was ninth, 16 seconds behind Fessel after skiing in and often leading the chase pack until the very last kilometers.
Also for the U.S., Jessie Diggins placed 14th (+2:44) and Caitlin Gregg 19th (+3:07). Sadie Bjornsen crossed the line in 44th, Caitlin Patterson in 53rd, and Rosie Brennan in 55th.
The lone Canadian, Emily Nishikawa, placed 50th (+8:04).
Stay tuned for full race reports.