Lahti 2017 His­toric Medal Run

Canada's Harvey Leads His­toric Medal Run at Cham­pi­onships

SkiTrax - - Contents - by Noah Brautigam

The 2017 Nordic World Ski Cham­pi­onships took place in Lahti, Fin­land from Feb. 22-March 5. The races were ex­cit­ing and challenging, and cross-coun­try dom­i­nance was once again as­serted by a strong Nor­we­gian team. Many North Amer­i­cans had stel­lar and some­times break­through per­for­mances, high­lighted by Cana­dian Alex Harvey's gold medal in the men's 50km freestyle mass-start.

1.4km FR Sprint

Races got un­der­way with the women's 1.4km skate sprint. Amer­i­cans Jessie Dig­gins and Kikkan Ran­dall led Team USA'S charge with an em­phatic state­ment, tak­ing sil­ver and bronze re­spec­tively. Team­mate So­phie Cald­well joined them on the start line for the his­toric three-strong A-fi­nal, fin­ish­ing sixth.

Nor­way's Maiken Caspersen Falla was un­stop­pable in her quest for gold, mak­ing a high-tempo move on the fi­nal climb to drop the rest of the field. Dig­gins used a sling­shot tac­tic down the fi­nal down­hill to move around Swe­den's Ida Inge­mars­dot­ter and put on a fast fin­ish­ing sprint to com­fort­ably se­cure the sil­ver medal. Ran­dall skied in the back half of the fi­nal for the ma­jor­ity of the race, but made a very strong move in the fin­ish­ing sprint to pass both Swedes, Inge­mars­dot­ter and Hanna Falk, in the fi­nal 100 me­tres to take bronze at 3.8 sec­onds back.

In the men's 1.6km skate sprint, Cana­dian Harvey raced to a strong 12th place as the top North Amer­i­can. U.S. skier Andy Newell fin­ished 21st. Fed­erico Pel­le­grino of Italy was crowned the win­ner af­ter mak­ing an ex­plo­sive move in the fin­ish­ing lanes to take the gold over a dis­ap­pointed Sergey Ustiu­gov from Rus­sia. Third went to Jo­hannes Hoes­flot Klaebo of Nor­way.

“I felt great all day,” Harvey said af­ter the race. “The qual­i­fier, I may have gone out a bit too easy in the first half, but I had a lot of punch on the last climb.”

15km/30km Skiathlon

The next race was the women's 15km Skiathlon. The U.S.A.'S Ran­dall led the North Amer­i­cans in 17th as 35,000 fans cheered skiers on. Nor­way's Marit Bjo­er­gen claimed gold over Fin­land's Krista Par­makoski. The bronze went to Swe­den's Char­lotte Kalla. Fans were ex­cited to see Par­makoski test Bjo­er­gen's legs, but in the end, the Nor­we­gian star had too strong of an at­tack on the fi­nal climb.

Amer­i­can Liz Stephen fol­lowed Ran­dall in 20th, with team­mate Rosie Bren­nan in 28th, Canada's Cen­drine Browne in 35th, Emily Nishikawa in 38th and Kather­ine Ste­wart-jones in 40th. U.S. star Dig­gins opted to aban­don the race when she re­al­ized it was not her day.

In the men's 30km Skiathlon, Harvey again took top North Amer­i­can hon­ours with a phe­nom­e­nal fifth-place fin­ish. Rus­sia's Ustiu­gov took the win over Nor­way's Martin John­srud Sundby, who stum­bled on the fi­nal climb and set­tled for the sil­ver. Fel­low Nor­we­gian Finn Haa­gen Krogh grabbed the bronze in a bunch sprint to the line.

“It's dis­ap­point­ing to be so close to the goal in my favourite race,” said Harvey, who had the podium in his grasp. “I had re­ally, re­ally fast skis, and I was in good po­si­tion in the top-four near the end, but com­pletely blew up.”

Team Sprint

The ever-ex­cit­ing Team sprint com­pe­ti­tion was up next, and the women didn't dis­ap­point. The U.S.A.'S Dig­gins and Sadie Bjornsen de­liv­ered a gutsy bronze medal. Dig­gins went head to head with Swe­den's Stina Nils­son in all-out sprint to line for the fi­nal medal. The gold went to Nor-

10/15km CL In­di­vid­ual Start

The In­di­vid­ual-in­ter­val starts were up next, and Bjo­er­gen proved that she still has what it takes to dom­i­nate a world-class field, win­ning the 10km Clas­sic by 41 sec­onds over Swe­den's Kalla. Nor­way's Astrid Uhren­holdt Ja­cob­sen had a strong race as well, earn­ing the bronze.

Amer­i­can Sadie Bjornsen was the top North Amer­i­can in 23rd. With a Team-sprint bronze medal al­ready in the bag, she went into the 10km Clas­sic with op­ti­mism. “Be­ing on the podium Sun­day def­i­nitely gave me a lot of con­fi­dence,” she said. “I went in today a bit ner­vous be­cause I had some more ex­pec­ta­tions. I was giv­ing it all out there, but it was a re­ally tough day con­di­tion-wise and mak­ing your skis work.” way's Heidi Weng and an­chor Falla, who pre­vailed over Rus­sia's Yu­lia Belorukova and Natalia Matveeva, as the two teams bat­tled out front for most of the race. Nor­way be­came the first na­tion to claim three Team sprint vic­to­ries in a row, hav­ing won pre­vi­ously at the Sochi Olympic Games 2014 and Falun World Ski Cham­pi­onships 2015.

For Team USA, it was a his­toric day as this was their first Clas­sic-tech­nique FIS Nordic Worlds medal since the two dis­ci­plines were es­tab­lished. The bronze is the third Worlds medal for the U.S.A. – a new high – and also marked the fourth ca­reer medal for Dig­gins from Afton, Minn., an­other U.S. record. In ad­di­tion, it was the de­but World Cham­pi­onship medal for Sadie Bjornsen, who hails from Winthrop, Wash.

In the men's Team sprint, Team USA'S Erik Bjornsen and Simi Hamil­ton fin­ished a record fifth, with Canada's Len Val­jas and Harvey in sixth. A fate­ful late crash in­volv­ing Nor­way and Fin­land de­ter­mined the fi­nal podium in the men's 1.3km Team sprint, with Rus­sia claim­ing the gold over Italy.

“We had great syn­ergy out there today. Team sprints are al­ways hec­tic and ridicu­lously tough, but our tran­si­tions were smooth and we did a great job of keep­ing our com­po­sure through­out our semi and the fi­nal, and I thought we both skied re­ally well,” said Hamil­ton.

In the men's 15km In­di­vid­ual-start Clas­sic, U.S.A.'S Erik Bjornsen fin­ished strong in 18th, post­ing the best World Cup dis­tance re­sult of the U.S. cross-coun­try ski men's team this sea­son. Erik Bjornsen was also the top North Amer­i­can, match­ing his sis­ter's per­for­mance in the women's 10km Clas­sic race, but man­ag­ing to move the nee­dle even higher with a top-20 fin­ish.

The win went to Fin­nish home­town favourite Livo Niska­nen, who spe­cial­izes in Clas­sic events. The par­ti­san crowd was stoked to see him prove his strength with a gold-medal per­for­mance by a de­ci­sive 17.9-sec­ond mar­gin over race favourite John­srud Sundby of Nor­way. Fel­low Nor­we­gian skier Nik­las Dyrhaug took the bronze medal, fin­ish­ing 31.3 sec­onds be­hind Niska­nen.

Team Re­lays

The Cham­pi­onship's key­stone event, the women's 4x5km re­lay, was next on tap. The Nor­we­gian women were golden once again, tak­ing a de­ci­sive vic­tory and mark­ing the na­tion's 100th gold medal at a Cham­pi­onship (in­clud­ing the Olympics). Swe­den claimed the sil­ver, as Fin­land set­tled for the bronze in hard-fought battle.

Team USA came into the day's re­lay with high ex­pec­ta­tions af­ter re­cent medal per­for­mances in this event, but could not close the gap on the lead­ers, set­tling for a solid fourth. The Cana­dian squad of Kather­ine Stew- art-jones, Emily Nishikawa, Cen­drine Browne and Dahria Beatty de­liv­ered a strong 10th-place fin­ish for their sec­ond-best women's re­lay re­sult.

In the men's 4x10km re­lay, again it was the Nor­we­gians on top. They claimed their ninth con­sec­u­tive World Cham­pi­onship, win­ning a see­saw battle with Rus­sia, as Swe­den took home the bronze. Rus­sian pow­er­house Ustiu­gov came close to hunt­ing down a dis­tant Krogh on the fi­nal lap, but ul­ti­mately fell short, cross­ing the line at only 4.6 sec­onds be­hind his Nor­we­gian ri­val.

Team USA com­prised of Kyle Bra­trud, Erik Bjornsen, Tad El­liott and Hamil­ton skied a strong race to fin­ish 10th. Twenty-four-year-old Bra­trud is com­pet­ing in his sec­ond World Cham­pi­onships, but this was his first scram­ble leg in the re­lay, hav­ing skied the third leg two years ago in Falun, Swe­den. “I was def­i­nitely more ner­vous for this one be­cause I was start­ing,” Bra­trud said af­ter the race.

The Cana­dian team of Graeme Kil­lick, Devon Kershaw, Val­jas and Harvey fin­ished 12th af­ter be­ing lapped and pulled from the race on the fi­nal leg. Af­ter the race, Val­jas said, “It just wasn't our day. We're all in shape, it's just none of us were on our A-game today, and that's what it takes to be fight­ing in this.” In Jan­uary, the Cana­dian men's team placed third in the World Cup re­lay in Ul­rice­hamn, Swe­den.

Women's 30km FR

The crown­ing event of the Cham­pi­onships was the women's 30km and the men's 50km skate mass-starts. In the women's race, the Nor­we­gian put on a clinic, as Bjo­er­gen claimed her fourth gold medal of the Cham­pi­onships, lead­ing a Nor­we­gian sweep of the top­four.

Amer­i­can Dig­gins fin­ished a ca­reer-best fifth in this event, fol­lowed by a phe­nom­e­nal 13th-place per­for­mance by World Cham­pi­onships rookie Chelsea Holmes. Dig­gins' fifth place is the top Amer­i­can fin­ish in the women's 30km, top­ping Stephen's 11th place in the 2015 Falun World Cham­pi­onships. In this 30km, Stephen fin­ished 25th (+3:09.4) and team­mate Caitlin Gregg was 36th (+5:03.7).

“This was by far my best-ever 30km, and I had so much fun, I was ac­tu­ally smil­ing dur­ing the race! It was an icy fast course with big climbs, and my skis were ab­so­lute rock­ets, thanks to our ser­vice team,” said Dig­gins, who was ec­static about her fifth-place fin­ish – the first non-nor­we­gian.

Twenty-three-year-old Cana­dian Browne proved again that she be­longs with the elite of the sport, fin­ish­ing 26th at 3:16.0 be­hind Bjo­er­gen. Af­ter the race, she com­mented, “I re­ally sur­prised my­self today. I had the legs, the power and the shape, so it was an awe­some race.”

Men's 50km FR

The fi­nal event of the Cham­pi­onships – the men's 50km – fi­nally saw a North Amer­i­can tri­umphant, as Harvey brought home the gold medal in an epic battle.

Near the front the en­tire race, Harvey timed the fin­ish per­fectly, tak­ing the inside line on the fi­nal de­scent for the lead into the last cor­ner and the fin­ish­ing straights and never look­ing back.

Pump­ing his fist across the fin­ish line was fol­lowed by play­ing air gui­tar Nordic-style, which is tra­di­tion for the Cana­dian team each time they ski to the podium, Harvey topped Rus­sia's Ustiu­gov, who fin­ished in sec­ond spot at 1:46:29.5. Fin­land's Matti Heikki­nen took home the bronze medal with a time of 1:46:30.3.

“This is amaz­ing. When I won the 15km Clas­sic race in Ul­rice­ham, Swe­den, I said it was the `man's race,' but this is the real man's race, win­ning the 50km. It is the great­est race of my life,” said Harvey.

The top Amer­i­can was Du­rango, Colo.'s El­liott in 27th at 1:49:45.7, fol­lowed by Kershaw of Sud­bury, Ont. in 38th at 1:52:14.4; Kil­lick of Fort Mc­mur­ray, Alta. was 43rd (1:53:32.9); Noah Hoff­man from As­pen, Colo. was 50th (1:55:22.0); Knute Johns­gaard of White­horse, Yukon placed 55th (1:58:32.2); and Bra­trud from Eden Prairie, Minn. did not fin­ish.

(fac­ing) Canada's Alex Harvey savours gold in the men's 50km freestyle mass-start race at Lahti 2017, the big­gest win of his ca­reer. (above) Amer­i­cans Jessie Dig­gins and Kikkan Ran­dall cel­e­brate sil­ver and bronze re­spec­tively in the women's freestyle spr

(left) USA'S Sadie Bjornsen (l) and Jessie Dig­gins are all smiles win­ning bronze in the women's Team sprint.

(above right) Canada's Len Val­jas lead­ing the U.S.A.'S Erik Bjorn­son in the men's Team sprint.

(far left) Amer­i­can Simi Hamil­ton earned a record 5th with Erik Bjornsen in men's Team sprint.

(left) Marit Bjo­er­gen (NOR) won four golds at the Lahti 2017 Cham­pi­onships.

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