Lahti 2017 Historic Medal Run
Canada's Harvey Leads Historic Medal Run at Championships
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.”
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.”
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.
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.