Huge crowds turned out at the new FIS World Cup venue of Ulricehamn, Sweden Saturday in a spectacular event that drew widespread acclaim from athletes. (FIS Cross Country World Cup Ulricehamn)
ULRICEHAMN, Sweden (Jan. 21, 2017) - Huge crowds turned out at the new FIS World Cup venue of Ulricehamn in south central Sweden Saturday in a spectacular event that drew widespread acclaim from athletes. Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) returned after a nearly two-week break following the Tour de Ski to lead the USA, finishing seventh in the women’s 10k freestyle.
It was a strong day for the U.S. women with four in the points including Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA) 12th, Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) 16th and Rosie Brennan (Park City, UT) 24th. Erik Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA) was in the points in the men’s 15k freestyle, finishing 28th.
Marit Bjoergen of Norway took the women’s win while Alex Harvey of Canada took the men’s victory.
“I didn’t have the snappy good feelings I was hoping to have in my body today, but it was a solid race,” said Diggins. “It’s always hard when you know that on your best days you are capable of more, but at the same time we had great skis, and it was really fun for me to be able to ski with my teammates today!”
Coach Matt Whitcomb was pleased with the results and the new Swedish venue.
“Our results were strong today with four women in the top-25, and Erik Bjornsen logging another skate race in the points,” said Whitcomb. “It's a unique course - difficult not in it’s climbing, but in the incessant work required of the terrain. There is very little opportunity for recovery with a lot of rolling and winding terrain, and one large climb. It's really a great, unique skate course.”
Given the challenging nature of the Ulricehamn course, Whitcomb was especially pleased with the ability of the Americans to charge the course.
“It's an inspiring time to be an American ski coach,” he said. “Our athletes attack courses. They are often known to place large bets on aggressive pacing plans. Seeing the Prefontaine approach in action gives a lot of life to the race.”
Most impressive of the day was the crowd in Ulricehamn, a tiny village with a passion for cross country skiing.
“Today was one of the great days in a racer's career, regardless of results,” said Whitcomb. “The forest was alive and the entire five kilometer loop was lined with loud fans. It felt like World Championships! This first-time organizing committee is pulling off a remarkable feat. I'd love to see this go down somewhere in the United States. Something like this could be a game-changer for our development and ski culture.”
Diggins echoed his sentiment. “I’ve been so impressed with the venue, the spectators and especially the enthusiasm and hard work from the organizers and volunteers here in Ulricehamn,” she said. “We haven’t had a course this packed with energized fans all year long, so it was a really special atmosphere out there.”
“This is one of the most passionate places I have ever raced,” said Brennan. “The entire town has been involved and has a lot of pride for the town and for skiing. The fans lined every part of the course and were very loud. The volunteers are extremely nice and helpful. It's been quite warm the part few days, but they still managed to get a 5k course and it cooled down nicely last night so the course was in great shape today. It is fairly flat for a World Cup course, but provided plenty of work, making for a challenging course, especially for those of us that prefer climbing.”
Diggins was looking forward to Sunday’s second relay of the season. She missed the first one in La Clusaz, France due to illness.
“I’m really looking forward to anchoring one of our relay teams tomorrow,” she said. “It’s really special for us to be able to field two teams and relays are my absolute favorite days. It’s time to break out the relay socks!”
“We're positioned well for a podium shot in the relays tomorrow,” added Whitcomb. “We'll run two teams for the women and one for the men.”
The women will be looking to improve on an uncharacteristic seventh in La Clusaz on a weekend when illness was sweeping the team.
USA1 will feature Brennan and Bjornsen on the opening classic legs, with Stephen and Diggins running freestyle. USA2 for the women will showcase Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) and Ida Sargent (Orleans, VT) on classic with skaters Sophie Caldwell (Peru, VT) and Elizabeth Guiney (Craftsbury, VT) finishing it out. The men will go with Andy Newell (Shaftesbury, VT) and Bjornsen on classic, then handing off to Noah Hoffman (Aspen, CO) and Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) for skate.
NBCsports.com will provide live streaming of the relays at 5:30 a.m. EST for women and 7:00 a.m. for men.
Jessie Diggins led four U.S. women into the points finishing seventh in a 10k freestyle World Cup in Ulricehamn, Sweden.
Thousands of spectators turned out for the first time World Cup in the south central Sweden venue.