The men ski the classic leg in the World Championships skiathlon. (Getty Images-Christof Stache)
LAHTI, Finland (Feb. 25, 2017) - Over 35,000 fans packed Lahti Stadium Saturday for one of the biggest events of the 2017 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships showcasing the men’s and women’s skiathlon events. Norway’s Marit Bjoergen took gold for the women over Finland’s Krista Parmakoski. Norway’s Martin Sundby fell in the final half-kilometer, handing gold over to Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov.
Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) led the USA in 17th, with Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) 20th.
The skiathlon event features a mass start with the first half of the race in classic technique, followed by an equipment change in the stadium pits and closing out with the final half freestyle technique, or skating.
In the women’s race, Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) went out as the top American, but dropped back quickly and was 19th after the first of two classic laps. Just after the midway mark of the second lap, both Randall and Rosie Brennan (Park City, UT) caught her with all four Americans skiing together, before Diggins moved out in front again coming into the ski exchange.
At the turn, Diggins stood 20th, Randall 23rd, Stephen 26th and Brennan 27th. Around the 2k mark of the first skating leg, Diggins, who had moved up to 18th, chose to withdraw.
Diggins, who had challenges maintaining contact during the classic leg, felt that she was too far back to gain an impactful result and opted to preserve her energy for the classic team sprint on Sunday.
"I was struggling quite a bit on the classic," said Diggins. "I didn’t ask for as much kick as I should have, which I accept responsibility for. But I was definitely struggling to maintain contact with the packs I needed to be with in order to individually have a good day. When I realized individually this wasn’t going to be my day, I made the call to prioritize the team events later in this week. I’ve been really putting a lot of focus towards these team events and that’s where my heart lies."
During the middle period of the skate leg, Stephen moved up to lead the USA with Randall close behind. Coming into the homestretch, Randall solidified her top American position just ahead of Stephen.
"You can only control so much, but I certainly went into it wanting to perform my best and assuming I was going to," said Stephen. "I think I did perform my best out there in classic. I had great skis—I kicked up everything. Something hasn’t clicked there yet—hopefully I can get it one of these years!"
In the medals chase, it was a four-woman race through most of the classic leg between Bjoergen, Parmakoski, Charlotte Kalla of Sweden and Heidi Weng of Norway. In the skate leg, Kalla and Weng dropped off while Bjoergen and Parmakoski battled for the lead before the Norwegian pulled away for gold.
The men’s race was an intense, high-pace battle from start to finish. with a huge pack most of the race, it evolved into a head-to-head battle between Sundby and Ustiugov. On the track above the stadium, Sundby made a move but got caught up in a maze of skis and poles and went down. While he recovered quickly, Ustiugov was gone.
Tad Elliot and Kyle Bratrud ski in the skiathlon. (U.S. Ski Team-Liz Arky)
Tad Elliott (Durango, CO) was 48th, Kyle Bratrud (Eden Prairie, MN) 49th to lead the USA.
Sunday will be the classic team sprint. The USA will pair up Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) and Erik Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA) for the men, with Diggins going with Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA). “We have a great sprint team,” said Diggins. “I have all the confidence in the world in Sadie.”
The team sprint qualifying is set for 11:30 a.m. local time (4:30 a.m. EST) with finals at 1:30 p.m. (6:30 a.m. EST). NBC Sports will stream the events live.
Coverage of the skiathlon will air Saturday evening at 9:00 p.m. EST on Universal HD.
Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) was 17th with Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) 19th to lead the USA in the women’s 15k skiathlon.
Russian Sergey Ustiugov and Norway’s Marit Bjoergen took gold.
Tad Elliott (Durango, CO) was 48th to lead the U.S. men.
The classic team sprint is set for Sunday with the USA sending Erik Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA) and Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) for the men, and Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA) and Diggins for women.
Kikkan Randall Women’s racing is always so crazy off the start. I try and go with the pace and no matter what happens just keep your head and ski one hill at a time. I had really fast skis in the classic, but I wasn’t kicking them so well, so I just abandoned trying to ski the hills and just ran up them.
Liz Stephen Today my skis were good. It was just me with classic skiing. I’m psyched to only be skating the rest of the championships and it should be good.
You can only control so much, but I certainly went into it wanting to perform my best and assuming I was going to. I think I did perform my best out there in classic. I had great skis—I kicked up everything. Something hasn’t clicked there yet—hopefully I can get it one of these years!
My goal there today was the first lap of skating to try and make a break. It’s too late for me if I wait for the first lap. I’m somebody—I’m maybe in a minority—when I switch to skating, I’m like thank god. I think a lot of people struggle with the first k or so to get their legs underneath them. I try to take advantage of that, especially with a huge hill coming right out of the stadium.
I don’t want to deal with people in the last k of the race—I will always lose. My goal is always to do what I can for the first part and make people hurt and want to try and stay with me. I’ve been working on skiing over the tops of hills—I tend to go into them really fast and die over the top and lose momentum. I tried to keep the hammer down the whole time. There’s really good rest out there, there’s just not that many flats. You just hammer the hills and rest the downhills and get up and hammer another one.
Jessie Diggins I went into it today ready to go—body feeling good. I was struggling quite a bit on the classic. I didn’t ask for as much kick as I should have, which I accept responsibility for. But I was definitely struggling to maintain contact with the packs I needed to be with in order to individually have a good day. When I realized individually this wasn’t going to be my day, I made the call to prioritize the team events later in this week. I’ve been really putting in a lot of focus towards these team events and that’s where my heart lies. I said, you know what, I could really dig in now and try and have an individual race that’s OK compared to where my hopes and dreams were, or I can pull out now, recover right away and have tons of energy for tomorrow and the team events coming up later in the week. That’s the decision that I made. I made the best call at the time and thinking of the team, that’s what I needed to do.
2017 FIS NORDIC WORLD SKI CHAMPIONSHIPS Live Streaming and Broadcast Schedule (times EST)