February 26, 2011 (Oslo, Norway) – The Marit Bjoergen magic worked again in the women’s 15km Pursuit (7.5km CL + 7.5km FR) even on slow, new warm snow, along with yesterday’s fog, as all of Norway showed up to watch the Queen of Holmenkollen triumph once more.
In total she blazed the course in 38:08 and is the nemesis of Polish star, Justyna Kowalczyk, who was 3.5 seconds back at the ski transition, and 7.5 seconds back by the finish for the silver. Bjoergen commented that she could see from the first skate downhill that she had faster skis than her Polish shadow. Thus made this part of her tactic in the second half, initiating her attack with just under one kilometre to go on the climb before entering the stadium. Her teammate Therese Johaug had a stellar race taking the bronze at 8.8 seconds behind.
These three leaders broke away during one of Bjoergen’s attacks on the climb during the skate leg. Sweden’s top distance skier, Charlotte Kalla, chased but could not connect and finished on her own in 4th 53:9 seconds back. Italian Marianna Longa and Sweden’s Maria Rydqvist had a photo finish for 5th at 1:08:8 seconds behind the winner.
US skiers were the first North Americans with Elizabeth Stephen in at 2:54.9 minutes back for a solid 24th overall – her strong fast time in the skate of 18:23.2 put her 18th in that leg. Holly Brooks was next in 25th at 3:21.9 behind, while junior Jessie Diggins put in another a strong performance at her first major international event placing 28th at 3:25.2 back, followed by Morgan Arritola in 43rd at 5:00:9 behind.
The lone Canadian skier, Brooke Gosling was 51st and seven minutes behind. It was Brooks, Diggins and Gosling’s first World Championships – quite the baptism considering the competition at the front of the pack.
American xc head coach Chris Gover was more than pleased as the team coped with unexpected deep snow, and promising results for the future. “Conditions were different than anything we’d seen so far and from what was predicted but the wax team adjusted quickly and we had a great skis. Different teams found different kick wax solutions,” Grover told SkiTrax. “I was proud of the effort of our young skiers. A great race for Liz. Holly’s first Euro WC points. A second day in the top-30 result for Jessie.”
Veteran Stephen agreed. “It was a great day for our team for the most part, with Holly, Jessie and I all in the top 30. That’s real progress for us as a country. The race was really fun and the tracks were super fast – I had awesome skis today, both for the classic leg and the skate.
“My race had some really good parts to it, including the classic leg, which may well have been my best classic race all year. I was able to ski hard, but relaxed and hang on to the pack enough so I could be in the mix with the skate race and go out feeling strong with a goal to catch as many people as possible. I skied a pretty strong skate leg, and feel like today was a really good tune up for the rest of the week.”
Diggins continued to perform after being called up from the junior ranks following her seventh place result in the 5km skate at the Junior Worlds with as fast or faster times than many seniors. Not only was this her first senior worlds, but it was her first pursuit ever and she couldn’t overstate her enthusiasm for the race and the entire experience.
“Today was a really interesting day with all the fog…it was crazy racing because going down the hills you couldn’t see the corners until you came right up to them! But the fans were great and all the cheering really helped,” said Diggins in a post-race email to SkiTrax. “I had a great start, but did a poor job keeping hydrated and hit the wall pretty hard around 6km, and felt pretty sloppy in the skate portion of the race.
“I also tried to get a feed…twice…and every coach in the world now knows that I had the worst feed in the world! I dropped the bottle the first time around and gave myself a Gatorade face-wash the second. How embarrassing! But I’m super proud of the US girls and the coaches gave us super fast skis. It was a good day!”
For the USA’s Brooks it was a day for the record books. “Yes it was a great day for the US – three women in the top 28 – and my first WC points in Europe. The past weekend at the WCup in Drammen I had a rough start in my weakest disciplines after not having raced in over a month.
“We had great skis – thanks to our techs and my coach, Erik Flora. The first time up the big sprint hill before entering the stadium I looked up and saw bib 6 – Italy’s Arianna Follis was in front of me. That was extra motivation to ski fast! It was super fun to be skiing with the skier who took the silver medal only two days before in the sprint and I hope our momentum carries through to the guys on Sunday! Despite the fog, the crowd was fantastic.”
Arritola felt the stress of competition. “I had a rough day in the pursuit but I’m happy for my teammates who skied well. I just have to figure some things out and get ready for the 30km.”
Team leader Kikkan Randall was impressed with the US women in the 15km pursuit emailing SkiTrax her observations, “I’m super psyched and impressed to see three of our women in the top 30 today. It looked like a tough race and it’s great to see the shift in performance on our team. We used to dream of one result in the top 30 and now we got three in. I know Morgan didn’t have her best day so she could have possibly been in there too. Jessie skied an impressive race, not afraid to go up and ski with some fast girls. I am really excited for the future of this group.
“I think my fall in the sprint the other day, while it was definitely disheartening, has made us all appreciate the hard work we’ve done together as a team to prepare for these championships and we know that the most important thing is to put ourselves out there and go for it. The door has been opened on what is possible and we want more of it!”
We caught up Canadian Head Coach Justin Wadsworth for his take on the pursuit. “For sure it was a tough one out there for Brooke with the new (hard) courses here at Holmenkollen, and the huge crowds. This is a tough place to cut your teeth for your first high level racing in Europe. Brooke showed some guts out there on the skating leg today, so I look for better things to come from her as the championships continue.”
But not everyone was happy about that situation. Kowalczyk noted that on four different occasions Johaug blocked her from chasing Bjoergen. When asked whether she thought it was fair play, Kowalczyk replied, “It’s cross-country skiing.”
Johaug denied trying to block Kowalczyk and Bjoergen said she had no knowledge of it – as all had taken place behind her, but she was sure Johaug would not do that.
Instead, she said, her tactic to “…not do too much work in the classic part, but I was first in. Then I knew I had very good skis [in the skate leg] and Therese was in front; I wanted to be behind, because I knew I had better skis than Kowalczyk. I attacked and got a gap, and I knew I could go. I wanted Kowalczyk in front but Kowalczyk wanted Therese in front.”
Kowalczyk had little to say. It is difficult to ski against strong teams like the Norwegians, Swedes, Germans, Italians and Finns when the other members of the Polish team while good, were not there to work for her.
Bjoergen admitted Johaug played a part in her victory. “A big thank you to Therese who wore out Kowalczyk.”
Johaug, meanwhile, said the biggest “thank you” went to the “boys in the cabin” meaning the wax crew who waxed skis to perfection. “My goal was to reach an individual medal at these Games,” she said, “and now I have reached my goal. It was a big thing for me. The people in the track were great. At the last world championships I was 6th, so it is my best place at the world championships and the Olympics.
“I knew they [Bjoergen and Kowalczyk] would be strong in the end. I would fight to the last lap – all the way. When I was skating, I thought I could go hard all the time – I thought there was a chance. I did the best I could and it was a bronze today.”
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of Norway commented, in a slight nudge to the competition and the rivalry between Norway and Sweden, “It is very typical Norwegian to perform as well as Marit Bjoergen did today.”
Full results HERE.