Bjoergen finished the tough classic course with a time of 27:39:3 ahead of Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk, a bridesmaid yet again by 4.1 seconds. Kowalczyk led right to the 9km mark as the steep hills favoured her tenacious climbing abilities but Bjoergen poured it on in the final stretch in front of a wild crowd in the Holmenkollen stadium.
Fourth place went to Norway’s Therese Johaug, the bronze medalist in the pursuit, at 23.7 seconds back. Krista Lahteenmaki of Finland took 5th at 23.9s, while 6th went to teammate Piro Muranen. Italy’s Marianna Longa squeezed in for 7th as she skied much of the last half of the course with Bjoergen who caught her – Longa was 28.9 seconds back.
Top North American was Holly Brooks in 27th spot at 2:14:9 minutes back. She was followed by teammate Sadie Bjornsen in 29th 2:27:5 minutes back, while veteran Kikkan Randall was just squeezed out of a top 30 finish with 32nd at 2:41:9 minutes back.
The skiing gods just haven’t yet been on Randall’s side, with a collision in the sprint and not getting into the groove in this race. “I didn’t feel very good during the 1st half of the race and struggled again near the end. It was a greasy track and I wasn’t able to find the right position to get good kick. I think the skis were fine, but I was slipping a lot and skiing pretty tense.
“I haven’t done a distance race in over a month and I think my body needed a race to get back going again, since unfortunately Thursday’s sprint race didn’t provide the full load that we anticipated.”
But she’s not letting any of this get to her. “I’m looking forward to the team sprint and relay though. Great to see our team skiing so well. Holly and Sadie both turned in more solid performances today. Another seven seconds and I could have made it another three in the top 30 day for us, darn! Pretty sweet atmosphere on the course. Several groups were even singing my name out there, very cool!”
“Today I was the closest I have been to the leader in a very long time (just under 3min). My goal was to ski smooth and with a quick yet relaxed tempo. I wanted to pace myself well and have a strong showing in the last 3km.
“I succeeded in accomplishing my race goals today so I am happy. With today’s race I also solidified a spot in the sprint relay and that was my biggest (result-oriented) goal of the day.”
Perianne Jones skied to a 39th place at 3:05:6 minutes back. Chandra Crawford followed in 52nd while Brook Gosling placed 56th.
Coach Justin Wadsworth admitted the women’s team has not yet reached its 2011 goals. “Overall these results were not what we hoped for, but there were some positives and teh ladies all skied hard and had good skis. As a team we’ll keep working hard with the right kind of training to produce distance results, but it takes time.”
“I never worked so hard in this race. I knew Kowalczyk was there and Saarinen was back too,” Bjoergen commented, referring to the fact that Saarinen had had a bad crash earlier in the season and hurt her shoulder, but had obviously recovered.
“I knew she [Kowalczyk] was going to open fast, so I was working very hard. I also had Longa with me. At 6 kilometres I was working hard to take her and for three and a half kilometer she was following me – she pushed me. I was very happy she was by my side, but I didn’t want her to beat me [to the line],” added the winner. Bjoergen caught Longa and passed her as she took the gold.
The Norwegian queen also said that she’s not surprised Saarinen had recovered so well. “She has been getting better and better in the season. I knew she was one of the toughest athletes. It’s great to have her back again. She is great in classic style.”
Kowalczyk said she wanted to go as fast as possible at the start because the terrain favoured her. “Everyone knows that it is on big uphills that I am going fast,” she said, referring to the early climb. “I was fighting to be first at the first kilometer, and by the fourth I was still leading, but the last two kilometers I was tired. Bjoergen was working together with Longa – it made it much easier [for them],” she added, a bit of a dig at her Norwegian competitor which both athletes have been prone to do since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
But if the Italian skier worked with Bjoergen – no doubt to both their advantage – the Eastern European teams (Russia, Czech Republic, and Kazahstan) were giving Kowalcyzk’s splits.
She was asked when during the race that it started to hurt and to which she replied, “Cross-country skiing is one big pain. I don’t feel pain for the first kilometre and then I fight pain – just pain.” One thing Kowalcyzk and Bjoergen did agree on was how wonderful it was to have Saarinen back. “This is a very big success for Aino-Kaisa. I think this is good that there is a medal at the World Championships for Finns.”
“I also had a good day and good skis. The first kilometre I was a little bit nervous, but I increased my speed, and my technique was working very well. In the end I almost feel like I can fly here.”
Full results HERE.