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Tour de Force for Bjørgen in Holmenkollen 30 k, Norway Sweeps Podium

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.

Results

Røthe Nabs Holmenkollen 50 k in Photo Finish

Sjur Røthe of Norway won a thrilling photo finish against Switzerland’s Dario Cologna in the 50 k skate race in Oslo, Norway, to cap of the men’s World Cup cross country ski season.

Many different skiers put in their time at the front as the field wound its way around and around the Holmenkollen venue’s 50 k course. Robin Duvillard of France and Anders Gløersen of Norway had the most successful breakaway, going to the front when the rest of the field swapped skis at 33 k and holding onto their break for almost six kilometers.

Closer to the finish, Cologna put in a big surge to try to break away. But four skiers followed him: Røthe and Norwegian teammates Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Hans Christer Holund, and Belarus’s 41-year-old Sergei Dolidovich.

Most of the field couldn’t keep up, but Sweden’s Marcus Hellner saw the break happening and fought his way through the chase pack before bridging the gap. In the final kilometer he skied into the middle of the lead pack, at times in second or third place.

But the race came down to what happened in the stadium, with the Norwegians and Cologna attacking up the final uphill and over the bridge above the biathlon range. As they dropped down to the finish, it looked like Hellner might snag a podium spot. Instead, either his legs or his skis were slower than the rest, and he slipped back through the pack of six.

Røthe led to the line, but Cologna put in a furious sprint and a well-timed lunge to get a photo finish. The two ended up with the same time but Røthe was enough in front that he has been crowned champion of the famous 50 k race. Sundby was third, Dolidovich fourth, Hellner fifth, and Holund sixth.

Canada’s Alex Harvey was in the lead pack until the last five kilometers, and when the pace surged he couldn’t keep up. He finished 13th, +52.6. The only other Canadian in the race, Ivan Babikov, finished 27th, +4:59.

Brian Gregg of Team Gregg led the United States, placing 35th +6:47. Noah Hoffman crossed the line in 44th, +8:55, and Erik Bjornsen dropped out.

Rarely figuring into the race was Petter Northug of Norway, the World Champion in the 50 k classic just two weeks ago in Falun, Sweden. Northug was in the lead pack early but was dropped with over ten kilometers still to go. He plummeted through the field and finished 39th, almost eight minutes back.

Results

Norway Sweeps Top 4 in Men’s, Women’s Drammen Sprints

Eirik Brandsdal and Maiken Caspersen Falla took wins for the home team at the Drammen sprints, the only city sprints to be held on the World Cup this season and the final sprint competitions of the year.

Norway’s Brandsdal edged teammates Finn Hågen Krogh and Ola Vigen Hattestad – who had won qualifying – in an exciting sprint finish in the 1.2 k classic final. Sondre Turvoll Fossli finished fourth, +5.31, and Sergey Ustyugov of Russia was fifth, the first non-Norwegian. His teammate Nikita Kruikov was relegated to last place in the final.

Andy Newell of the United States was the lone North American to reach the semifinals, but there finished sixth and did not make the final. Lenny Valjas of Canada qualified 19th and just missed the semis, finishing third in his quarterfinal heat.

The women’s final was also a show of Norwegian dominance, as Falla outsprinted teammate Heidi Weng for the win. Marit Bjørgen, who already has the overall World Cup title locked up, finished third, +1.51; Ingvild Flugstad Østberg made it four for Norway when she crossed the line +2.49. Stina Nilsson of Sweden and Katja Visnar of Slovenia finished fifth and sixth.

Sadie Bjornsen of the United States qualified in ninth, but was unable to advance to the semis out of a difficult quarterfinal which included both Falla and Østberg, as well as fifth-place qualifier Astrid Jacobsen of Norway.

Stay tuned for full reports of the day’s racing.

Results: men / women

Sadie Bjornsen Qualifies Ninth, Valjas and Newell in the Heats in Drammen

 

In the final sprint of the season, Sadie Bjornsen of the U.S. Ski Team qualified ninth on Wednesday in Drammen, Norway. Her time was 5.22 seconds back from Norway’s Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, the fastest woman on the 1.3-kilometer classic-sprint course in 3:01.25.

Bjornsen was the lone American female to advance to heats, as Sophie Caldwell finished 1.18 seconds outside the top 30 in 35th, 11.59 seconds behind Østberg. After reaching the podium in last weekend’s freestyle sprint in Lahti, Finland, Kikkan Randall finished 45th in the classic-sprint qualifier, 18.03 seconds behind the winner. Caitlin Patterson (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) was 51st (+19.73).

No Canadian women competed.

In the men’s 1.3 k qualifier, Lenny Valjas was the lone Canadian to advance, clocking in 4.9 seconds behind Norway’s Ola Vigen Hattestad, the fastest male in 2:36.48. Teammate Alex Harvey missed qualifying in 33rd, 0.7 seconds out of the top 30 and 6.53 seconds behind Hattestad.

American Andy Newell qualified in 28th (+5.48). His teammates in Drammen, Erik Bjornsen was 38th (+7.16), Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess was 42nd (+7.75) and Simi Hamilton finished 65th after crashing (+13.56).

“I took a hard spill on the new tight downhill corner,” Hamilton explained in a text message. “My klister just stuck in my left ski as I was stepping the turn. It’s frustrating because I felt the best that I have all year, but such is racing I guess. Looking forward to training hard and skiing fast on the World Cup in the seasons to come.”

Heats start at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.

Results: Women | Men

 

Falk, Edin Lead Lahti World Cup Sprint Qualifier; Diggins Fifth

Johan Edin posted the best time in Satruday’s 1.5 k freestyle sprint qualifier in Lahti, Finland. Crossing the line at 2:41.14, the Swede topped the field of 79 skiers at the first World Cup since the end of the 2015 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Falun, Sweden. Norway’s Eirik Brandsdal placed second in the qualifier, just 0.19 seconds behind Edin. Third went to teammate Finn Hågen Krogh who was off pace by 1.44 seconds.

The U.S. Ski Team’s Andy Newell was the only North American to qualify of the heats, finishing 13th and 3.02 seconds behind Edin. Teammate Simi Hamilton narrowly missed qualification in 33rd. He was 0.32 seconds from the top 30.

Canada’s Len Valjas finished 48th while Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess and Erik Bjornsen finished 55th and 57th. Alex Harvey, Jesse Cockney, and Micheal Somppi placed 63rd, 68th, and 74th respectively.

Another Swede topped the qualification round in the women’s 1.5 k freestyle sprint, with Hanna Falk posting a time of 3:03.84. She was followed by Norwegians Ingvild Flugstad Østberg and Marit Bjørgen who finished 0.28 and 1.07 seconds back.

Two North Americans qualified for the heats with Jessie Diggins placing fifth, 2.60 seconds back from Falk. Kikkan Randall placed 28th to make the heats, trailing by 7.87 seconds. Sadie Bjornsen and Sophie Caldwell finished outside of qualification in 2nd and 34th place.

Canada’s Andrea Dupont and Ida Sargent finished 42nd and 43rd. Liz Stephen and Cendrine Browne finished 46th and 47th, while Caitlin Patterson, Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt, Heidi Widmer, and Dahria Beatty placed 51st, 56th, 58th, and 65th respectively.

The quarterfinals begin at 3:30 EET (8:30 EST).

Qualifier results: men | women

Injured Jönsson Will Not Compete in World Championships

Sweden’s Emil Jönsson will not compete at the 2015 World Championships in Falun, Sweden due to a strained groin muscle. The news comes after the sprinter fell in a quarterfinal of the Östersund World Cup classic sprint, which took place the weekend before the start of Worlds. Unable to stand, he did not finish the race and was forced to be carried off course.

After several days of extensive evaluation and therapy Jönsson was told that he would be unfit to compete at Worlds. According to the Swedish star, the news was especially difficult given that the year’s most anticipated races are taking place in his home country.

“It has fluctuated emotionally, from hearty pain on race day to positive emotions as rehabilitation happened so fast. I feel pretty good, but there is a difference between living a normal life trying to be the best in the world in Falun,” he said, roughly translated, to the press. 

Although Jönsson will not compete, he said he will be rooting for Sweden to take as many medals as possible throughout the two weeks of racing in Falun.

Krogh Completes Östersund Sweep with First 15 k Skate Win

Norway’s Finn Hågen Krogh claimed his first World Cup distance win in a 15-kilometer freestyle and his second-straight win of the last weekend of World Cup racing before World Championships by 13.5 seconds on Sunday.

The Sprint World Cup leader, who won Saturday’s classic sprint, Krogh posted the winning time of 32:46 in Östersund, Sweden. France’s Maurice Manificat finished 13.5 seconds back in second, and Sweden’s Marcus Hellner took third (+18.9), ahead of Norway’s Hans Christer Holund, an early leader who ended up fourth (+19.7).

Sweden’s Johan Olsson took fifth (+26.1), and two more Norwegians, Diderik Tønseth and Niklas Dyrhaug placed sixth and seventh, respectively.

Finishing his first World Cup of the season, American Noah Hoffman placed 38th (+1:54.2). His teammate Erik Bjornsen was 60th (+2:43.4), Matt Gelso took 71st (+3:33.8), and Northern Michigan University senior Kyle Bratrud was 84th in his first World Cup.

Canada’s Ivan Babikov placed 49th (+2:11.3), and Michael Somppi was 69th (+3:18.4).

Results

Kalla Wins First World Cup in 5 Years; Bjørgen Secures Overall World Cup Title

Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla led from start to finish of Sunday’s 10-kilometer freestyle individual start, and for a change, not even Norwegian World Cup leader Marit Bjørgen could come close as Kalla won her first World Cup since March 2010 by 36.4 seconds in 23:26.1.

“It feels great to win a World Cup again,” Kalla told FIS afterward in Östersund, Sweden. “The crowd here in Ostersund was so encouraging.  I know the courses here very well and I felt strong.  The 15th of February is a special day for me.  I won Olympic Gold in Vancouver on this day and again last year in Sochi we won the relay on this day, and now a World Cup win today.”

The Swede started 50th and led at every checkpoint before claiming her spot in the leader’s chair over Norway’s Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen. Norway took four of the top five with Bjørgen in second, Therese Johaug in third (+53.6), Heidi Weng in fourth (+1:01.3), and Jacobsen in fifth (+1:08.3).

Also on Sunday, Bjørgen clinched her fourth Overall World Cup title as she is now 565 points ahead with four World Cup races left this season (all of which are after World Championships).

American Jessie Diggins landed in the top 20 in 17th (+1:47.7), teammate Liz Stephen was 26th (+2:08.6), Rosie Brennan placed 32nd (+2:26.6), and Kikkan Randall was another tenth of a second back in 33rd (+2:26.7).

Emily Nishikawa represented Canada, racing to 36th (+2:35.9).

Results

Bjørgen Wins Again, Krogh Outlasts Harvey in Östersund Sprint

Marit Bjørgen of Norway expanded her overall lead in the women’s World Cup standings by winning Saturday’s 1.2-kilometer classic sprint in Östersund, Sweden.

After qualifying in seventh, Bjørgen comfortably won the final in a time of 2:46.82, 1.80 seconds ahead of teammate Maiken Caspersen Falla. Sweden’s Stina Nilsson placed third (+2.03) in front of a roaring home crowd.

A trio of Norwegians took up the other spots in the final. Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes placed fourth (+4.28) after qualifying in first to earn her best World Cup result of the season, while World Cup sprint leader Ingvild Flugstad Østberg was fifth (+6.51) and Celine Brun-Lie finished in sixth (+12.35).

Americans Sadie Bjornsen and Sophie Caldwell raced in the same heat after qualifying in 27th and 24th, respectively. Up against Nilsson and Bjørgen – who won the heat in 2:50.88 – Bjornsen took fourth (+4.53) and ended up 20th overall, while Caldwell was fifth (+5.57) and placed 22nd overall.

In the men’s race, Norway’s Finn Hågen Krogh held off Canada’s Alex Harvey to win the final in a time of 2:25.28. Harvey was just 0.47 seconds behind, and earned his best World Cup sprint result of the season. Norway’s Timo André Bakken took the final spot on the podium (+1.41).

Sondre Turvoll Fossli of Norway placed fourth (+4.27), Finland’s Matias Strandvall was fifth (+5.86), and Russia’s Alexander Panzhinskiy was sixth (+9.30).

World Cup sprint leader Federico Pellegrino of Italy failed to qualify for the final, taking fifth in his semifinal out of five skiers after crashing on the second lap while trying to move into a qualifying position.

American Simi Hamilton qualified in 12th and won his quarterfinal heat, but fell ascending a hill during the first lap of the second semifinal and took sixth, 6.33 seconds behind semifinal winner Fossli. He ended up placing 11th overall.

American Andy Newell finished 12th overall after qualifying in 17th and taking third in his quarterfinal heat, while Lenny Valjas of Canada qualified in 18th and also finished third in his semifinal, ending up 13th overall.

Results: Men | Women

Saxton Added to U.S. World Championships Team

 

The U.S. 2015 World Championships roster grew by one Tuesday, with the addition of Stratton Mountain School T2’s Ben Saxton. The 21-year-old will join the 16 other athletes named to the team, making it the largest U.S. team in recent history. Saxton’s selection follows a sixth-place finish in the classic sprint at the U23 World Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

While Saxton did not meet any objective qualifying criteria, the U.S. Ski Team coaches used digression to pick the Minnesota native. (Read more about the U.S. selection process here.) 

“Ben has had another breakout year in sprinting. His sprint result at the U23 World Championships indicates that he is ready to compete with the very best in the world,” USST Head Coach Chris Grover said in a U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) press release.

Grover told FasterSkier in January that any additional picks from the U23 World Championships would be the result of a skier demonstrating they could perform better than a current team member.

“Somebody needs to have a standout performance to demonstrate that they would ski faster than somebody who is already on the World Championship team,” he said.

“I am incredibly honored to be named to the World Championship team in Falun this year. Being a part of the U.S. Ski Team Family has undoubtedly played a significant role in my growth as a skier, and I am very excited to take represent that team, and our country in Sweden,” Saxton said to USSA.

This story is developing…

U.S. Cross Country Team Named for 2015 World Championships

The USST announced its much anticipated cross country selections for the 2015 FIS Nordic World Championships Monday Jan. 26th. Headlining the large team of 16 athletes are Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins, the defending 2013 World Champions in the team sprint. Eight skiers prequalified before Monday’s announcement with eight more added after further selection criteria were taken into account.

The 2015 team demonstrates a mix of 12 previous World Championships competitors and four newcomers, the youngest of which is Northern Michigan University senior Kyle Bratrud.

See the full team roster below. This story is developing…

2015 U.S. World Championship Cross Country Team
(Name, Hometown, Birthdate, USSA Club, Past Championships)

Men

  • Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess, Bend, OR, 3/18/86, Bend Endurance Academy
  • Kyle Bratrud, Eden Prairie, MN, 2/9/93, Northern Michigan University Ski Team
  • Erik Bjornsen, Winthrop, WA, 7/14/91, Alaska Pacific University Nordic (2013)
  • Matt Gelso, Truckee, CA, 7/18/88, Sun Valley Ski Education Founation Olympic Development Team
  • Simi Hamilton, Aspen, CO, 5/14/87, Stratton Mountain School/T2 (2011)
  • Noah Hoffman, Aspen, CO, 8/1/89, Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club (2011, 2013)
  • Kris Freeman, Andover, NH, 10/14/80, Freebird XC, (2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013)
  • Andy Newell, Shaftsbury, VT, 11/30/83, Stratton Mountain School/T2 (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013)

Women

  • Rosie Brennan, Park City, UT, 12/2/88, Alaska Pacific University Nordic
  • Sadie Bjornsen, Winthrop WA, 11/21/89, Alaska Pacific University Nordic (2011, 2013)
  • Sophie Caldwell, Peru, VT, 3/22/90, Stratton Mountain School/T2 (2013)
  • Jessie Diggins, Afton MN, 8/26/91, Stratton Mountain School/T2 (2011, 2013)
  • Caitlin Gregg, Minneapolis, 11/7/80, Team Gregg (2009)
  • Kikkan Randall, Anchorage, 12/31/82 Alaska Pacific University Nordic (2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013)
  • Ida Sargent, Orleans, VT, 1/25/88, Craftsbury Green Racing Project (2011, 2013)
  • Liz Stephen, East Montpelier, VT, 1/12/87, Burke Mountain Academy (2009, 2011, 2013)

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS SCHEDULE
FIS Nordic Ski World Championships Falun, Sweden

Feb. 18 – Opening Ceremony
Feb. 19 – Classic Sprint
Feb. 21 – Skiathlon
Feb. 22 – Freestyle Team Sprint
Feb. 24 – Women’s 10k Freestyle
Feb. 25 – Men’s 15k Freestyle
Feb. 27 – 4X10k Relay
Feb. 28 – 30k Women’s Classic Mass Start
Mar. 1 – 50k Men’s Classic Mass Start

Russians Finally Nab Two Wins at Home in Rybinsk, Diggins Fifth for USA

Prior to Sunday’s World Cup in Rybinsk, Russia the home team had yet to see any of its skiers on top the podium. That all changed with the 15/30 k skiathons in which both Maxim Vylegzhanin and Yulia Tchekaleva were victorious.

Vylegzhanin crossed the line in the men’s 30 k with a time of 1:21:54.8, besting Swiss skier Dario Cologna by 2.7 seconds. In third was Matti Heikkinen of Finland who trailed the Russian by 6.2 seconds. The Finn was followed by a wall of five Russian skiers, who cemented the country’s dominance in the 30 k by placing 6 in the top-10.

In 10th was Canada’s Alex Harvey who finished 16.0 seconds back from Vylagzhanin. Teammates Ivan Babikov, Devon Kershaw and Graeme Killick placed 19th, 34th, and 40th, respectively. Matt Gelso was the lone U.S. finisher and skied to 48th (of 49). Erik Bjornsen started the race but pulled out after the start of the freestyle portion.

In the women’s 15 k Tchekaleva earned a time of 44:16.0 to best a charging Martine Ek Hagen of Norway by 15.6 seconds. Finland’s Ritta-Liisa Roponen skied to third, trailing by 22.9 seconds. In fourth came German Stefanie Böhler (+23.0) who was able to outlast American Jessie Diggins (+25.8) in fifth.

Liz Stephen finished the race in seventh after racing in a large pack of skiers who were aiming for third. Other Americans in the top-20 included Sadie Bjornsen in 13th and Rosie Brennan in 20th. Ida Sargent and Sophie Caldwell finished 35th and 43rd.

Results: Men | women

Öberg, Pellegrino Win Rybinsk Sprints, Diggins in Fifth

After a strong qualification round, Sweden’s Jennie Öberg skied dominantly through the heats to take the victory in the 1.3 k freestyle sprint in Rybinsk, Russia. The win was Öberg’s first, in addition to being her first podium and first sprint final on the World Cup circuit. Racing to a time of 3:02.54 in the final, Öberg bested Natalia Matveeva of Russia by 0.48 seconds. In third was Laurien van der Graff of Switzerland who was 0.76 seconds off pace.

The USST’s Jessie Diggins was the top North American in fifth after a strong showing in the heats. The result is her best of the year. Teammates Sophie Caldwell and Sadie Bjornsen advanced to the semifinals and ultimately finished seventh and eleventh. Ida Sargent placed 13th after earning third in her quarterfinal.

Federico Pellegrino of Italy continued his World Cup sprinting dominance in Rybinsk with a 0.69 second win over Sergey Ustiugov of Russia. Fellow Russian Andrey Parfenov placed third, 0.77 behind Pellegrino.

Three Americans raced in the quarterfinals, but none advanced to the semifinals. Simi Hamilton was the top finisher in 17th, while Andy Newell and Erik Bjornsen finished 22nd and 24th. Canada’s Alex Harvey finished 28th.

Results: Women | men

Cologna Thwarts Russian Sweep with Win in Rybinsk

Dario Colonga skied to a dominant win in Friday’s World Cup 15 k freestyle interval start in Rybinsk, Russia. Clocking the fastest splits throughout the race, the Swiss skier increased his lead over a strong squad of Russian skiers at each checkpoint. Cologna’s time of 36:53.4 was 16.3 seconds faster than Evegniy Belov of Russia who ultimately placed second. He was followed by a squad of three teammates, including Sergey Ustiugov (+28.8), Alexander Legkov (+35.8) and Stanislav Volzhentsev (+1:01.7).

Alex Harvey was the first North American in Friday’s race and placed 10th. The Canadian finished 1:15.7 behind Colonga’s time. Teammates Ivan Babikov and Devon Kershaw finished 22nd and 36th. Erik Bjornsen was the top American in 40th. He was followed by Canadian Graeme Killick and Sun Valley skier Matt Gelso in 43rd and 50th.

Results

After Double Hip Fracture, Steira Returns to World Cup

Kristin Størmer Steira (l) and fiancé Devon Kershaw during a day hike on one of their acclimatization days during a 22-day trek in April in Nepal’s Himalayas. (Photo: Devon Kershaw)

Kristin Størmer Steira (l) and fiancé Devon Kershaw during a day hike on one of their acclimatization days during a 22-day trek in April in Nepal’s Himalayas. (Photo: Devon Kershaw)

After suffering a double hip fracture in October, Norway’s Kristin Størmer Steira returned to the World Cup circuit on Friday, where she placed fifth in the 10-kilometer freestyle, 41.4 seconds behind her teammate Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen, who won the first of three races this weekend in Rybinsk, Russia.

Steira plans to race two of the three in Rybinsk after breaking her hip in two places when she fell during a workout on the glacier during a Norwegian national-team altitude camp. She continued training for several weeks after the injury before she went to the doctor and was diagnosed with two fractures to her pelvic bone. During the long recovery, Steira, 31, has worked systematically at returning to racing in time for the World Championships from Feb. 8 to March 1 in Falun, Sweden.

Last weekend, she competed in her first races of the season on the Scandinavian Cup in Falun and was pleasantly surprised.

Kristin Størmer Steira in 2012 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Kristin Størmer Steira in 2012 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

“It went far better than I feared, and I felt pretty OK. Now I’m just missing the top gears,” Steira told the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.

Steira has been diligent with her rehabilitation and tried to be patient, but explained that the alternative training had been tough mentally as well as physically.

“As an elite athlete, it’s always hard to sit still so much,” Steira said. “I’ve focused on finding alternative training methods and staying positive throughout the rehab period, and being patient enough to progress step by step. The hardest part is to understand and recognize how much and how hard you can train, but I think there almost always some way to stay active, even when you are injured. Of course, it’s always helpful to have a professional support staff, and I’ve had a lot of help from Olympiatoppen [the Norwegian Olympic Development Center].”

This weekend, Steira planned to race the 10 k skate event on Friday and the 15 k skiathlon on Sunday, and skip Saturday’s skate sprint. Additionally, she will race the Norwegian national championships in Røros the following week.

With strong performances at these events, along with her results from the Continental Cup in Falun last weekend, Steira might just find herself a part of the Norwegian squad to the 2015 FIS World Champioships.

“She has two opportunities prior to the World Championships: Rybinsk this weekend and the Norwegian national championships,” said Åge Skinstad, Norwegian national-team director. “And that we know what she is capable of in the past is never a disadvantage.”

Steira has competed in six World Championships and three Olympics, collecting two Olympic medals and eight World Championship medals, as well as 22 World Cup podium finishes.

Jacobsen Wins, Stephen Second in Rybinsk Opener

In her first World Cup competition since Lillehammer in December, Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen came out with a vengeance and won the interval-start 10 k freestyle race in Rybinsk, Russia. The Norwegian clocked a time of 28:12.5 over the difficult and hilly course.

That put her 14.4 seconds ahead of runner-up Liz Stephen of the United States. Stephen started one bib ahead of Jacobsen, who was able to track her along the course.

“For me today is amazing,” Stephen said in an International Ski Federation press release. “I didn’t realize right away but this is not only my first World Cup podium but also the best ever distance result for a US female. I really can’t believe it.  It’s great to be here.  I like racing in Rybinsk.  It is a hard course with long climbs, which suits me very well.”

Stephen’s previous bests in top-level competition were 5th place in this season’s Tour de Ski 10 k classic and also 5th place in the 10 k skate at 2013 World Championships.

The result is a new best for U.S. women in distance skiing, topping Kikkan Randall’s third-place finish in Gällivare, Sweden, in 2012.

Stefanie Boehler of Germany finished third, +36.4, narrowly edging Yulia Tchekaleva of Russia in fourth, +37.6. Kristin Stoermer Steira of Norway, also returning to the World Cup after an injury-induced break, placed fifth +41.4.

The two other U.S. entrants, Jessie Diggins and Rosie Brennan, finished 12th (+1:34.5) and 13th (+1:37.5) respectively. No Canadian women competed.

Results

Østberg Stays Ahead of Nilsson for 2nd World Cup Win in Otepää Classic Sprint

For Ingvild Flugstad Østberg on Saturday, there was mostly one woman threatening her quest for the win in the 1.2-kilometer classic sprint in Otepää, Estonia: Sweden’s Stina Nilsson.

Østberg topped the women’s qualifier by 0.24 seconds over Nilsson in 2:52.93. Then she won her quarterfinal ahead of Sweden’s Ida Ingemarsdotter and fellow Norwegian Kathrine Rolstead Harsem, respectively, both of which advanced to the semifinals with a fast-enough time.

Nilsson placed second in her quarterfinal to Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla, and was again second to Falla in their semifinal, after strategically letting up at the finish when she nearly caught Falla on the last descent.

Nilsson’s skis were fast enough, and she knew it. Østberg knew it, too, as she tried to keep her behind her in the finishing straight of the final.

Østberg did so, keeping seven or so meters ahead of the Swede to clinch her second-sprint victory of the season and fourth World Cup podium by 0.6 seconds in 3:20.18.

Two other Norwegians were in the final, with Celine Brun-Lie placing third (+2.29) and Falla finishing fourth (+3.67). Evgenia Shapovalova of Russia was fifth (+4.78), and Sweden’s Magdalena Pajala placed sixth (+5.99).

Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk qualified 12th but ended up 16th after placing fourth in her quarterfinal behind Falla, Nilsson and Shapovalova.

Sadie Bjornsen was the lone American woman to qualify for the heats, and was a victim of the slowest quarterfinal. While she came up from behind late to challenge for second, she lost the photo finish to Pajala, who was second to Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes in the fifth quarterfinal. Third in her heat, Bjornsen ended up 15th overall.

Also for the U.S., Sophie Caldwell missed qualifying by one place and 0.9 seconds in 31st, as did Rosie Brennan, who placed 38th, 2.8 seconds out of the top 30, in her first World Cup of the season (fresh off three wins at U.S. nationals). Ida Sargent crashed out of contention in the qualifier and finished 43rd.

For Canada, Alysson Marshall placed 44th in her first World Cup of the season.

Norway’s Marit Bjørgen, Therese Johaug and Heidi Weng, coming off the Tour de Ski, did not compete. American Kikkan Randall is also skipping this World Cup weekend (and the next) during a 16-day break at home in Anchorage, Alaska.

Results

Thomas Northug Breaks Away for 1st World Cup Win in Otepää

Without his older brother Petter Northug toeing the line and competing for attention on Saturday, Norway’s Thomas Northug made a name for himself with his first-career World Cup win in the men’s 1.5-kilometer classic sprint in Otepää, Estonia.

The 24-year-old Northug qualified seventh (4.4 seconds behind teammate Pål Golberg, the fastest qualifier in 3:17.61), and went on to place second in his quarterfinal and fourth in his semifinal, narrowly advancing to the final as a lucky loser with Golberg (who placed third).

Northug avoided a dramatic late crash in the semifinal from Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov, who poled between his own legs in the finishing straight and spun completely around, clipping Northug’s ski — who  was behind him — but Northug scooted around and outlunged Sweden’s Emil Jönsson for fourth.

In the men’s final, two of five Norwegians opted for skate skis on a slowing and chewed-up course. Northug wasn’t one of them and broke away on the first climb, putting nearly 40 meters into his competitors.

He looked back once, 200 meters before the finish, to make sure he was still in control and won the final by 1.57 seconds over teammate Ola Vigen Hattestad, who also stuck with classic skis on the herringbone course and locked up second. Hattestad outlunged Finland’s Toni Ketelae, who led the chase after Northug, in a photo finish. Ketelae placed third for his first World Cup top 10.

Golberg finished fourth (+6.28) and the two Norwegians at the back of the pack — Finn Hågen Krogh and Sondre Turvoll Fossli — placed fifth (+9.23) and sixth (+10.26) because of their skate-ski gamble.

Two American men qualified for the heats: Andy Newell in 21st and Simi Hamilton in 30th. Hamilton and Newell went on to place third and fourth in the first quarterfinal, respectively, 3.26 and 3.68 seconds behind Golberg as the winner and Hattestad, who was 0.3 seconds back in second.

Erik Bjornsen missed the top-30 qualifying cutoff in 57th, and for the Canadians, Lenny Valjas was 45th, Jess Cockney 61st and Patrick-Stewart Jones (Alberta World Cup Academy) 62nd in his first European World Cup.

Results

Bjørgen Captures First Tour de Ski Title; Stephen Finishes in Top Five

Norway’s Marit Bjørgen locked up her first women’s Tour de Ski title on Sunday in the 2015 Tour’s final stage, a 9 k freestyle pursuit in Val di Fiemme, Italy.

Bjørgen crossed the line in a time of 33:27.5.

Defending champion and stage-six winner Therese Johaug of Norway was second, 1:39.2 behind Bjørgen, and also had the day’s fastest time on the notoriously difficult course (32:16.4). Norway’s Heidi Weng started the day in second but took third (+1:59.5), unable to maintain Johaug’s furious pace despite posting the second-fastest time of the day (33:15.8).

American Liz Stephen – the only North American skier left in the field – started the day in sixth but managed to climb into the fourth position in front of the Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk, who did not finish, and Norway’s Ragnhild Haga.

However, Haga would reclaim the lead over Stephen in the final kilometer. Stephen stayed just behind Haga until the last 100 m, but did not have the strength to keep up in the final stretch and finished in fifth (+7:41.8). Haga crossed the line 7:32.2 behind Bjørgen to complete a Norwegian sweep of the top four.

Stephen posted the fourth-fastest time of the day in 33:29.9, which was just 2.4 seconds slower than Bjørgen’s time. She is now 11th overall in the World Cup standings.

Kowalczyk, four-time Tour champion, fainted about 900 m before the finish and was taken away in an ambulance, according to Eurosport.com. She was already having a difficult race, having falling to ninth after 8.1 k.

Eva Vrabcova-Nyvltova of the Czech Republic finished in sixth (+8:29.4), while Germans Nicole Fessel and Diane Herrmann captured seventh (+8:55.8) and eighth (+9:35.1), respectively.

Results

Sundby Clinches Repeat Tour de Ski Win With Gutsy Uphill Performance

Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway started the final pursuit of the Tour de Ski, a 9 k stage finishing with more than two kilometers of brutal uphill on the Alpe Cermins, 3 seconds behind teammate Petter Northug.

The pair worked together on the first few kilometers in Val di Fiemme, Italy, stretching their lead over Calle Halfvarsson of Sweden and Evgeniy Belov of Russia. But once they hit the climb, Sundby left his teammate in the dust and skied to a 34-second win for the overall Tour de Ski title.

It’s his second consecutive such title, but Sundby said that this one meant more.

“This one was way sweeter… the competition is much better this year,” he told FIS in an on-air interview.

Northug managed to hold onto second place. Belov ditched Halfvarsson, a tall Swede who struggled on the 28% grade, and raced into third place in the Tour, 51 seconds behind Sundby.

Switzerland’s Dario Cologna, a previous two-time winner of the Tour de Ski, locked up fifth place. A group of skiers fought for sixth, with Roland Clara of Italy coming out on top thanks to the fastest pursuit time of the day.

The second fastest time of the day went to Maurice Manificat of France, who raced from 25th up to 16th.

Canada’s Ivan Babikov and Devon Kershaw finished the Tour in 31st and 35th, respectively.

Results