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Four hours later than expected, the ladies lined up for the last race of the weekend and the highly anticipated battle between Norwegian Therese Johaug and Swedish Frida Karlsson. Due to freezing temperatures in Ruka, officials first delayed the race by one hour, then another three in the hopes that the thermometer would read above -20.Â°C (about -4Â° F), the cut-off temperature for the race. Hats, buffs, and face tape were a must-have given the reading of -18.5 Â° C, around 0 Â° F, when the race began.
The Norwegian men chose not to run in freezing conditions, raising questions about whether Johaug and the other Norwegian women would take part in the competition. But Johaug had a point to prove and questions to answer, so the battle was on.
With today’s chase format, Karlsson (SWE) was 14 seconds ahead of Johaug from the start after her victory on Saturday and she capitalized on that advantage with a strong start. Germany’s Katharina Hennig started just a second behind Johaug and order continued unlike Saturday’s arrivals. Rosie Brennan was the first American to leave the starting line in 6th position, +38.6 seconds behind Karlsson.
After the delays, the local departure time was 2:45 p.m., or 45 minutes after sunset in the far north. It was therefore by the light of the course lights that Karlsson passed the first lap at 1.1 km, or 15.5 seconds ahead of Johaug. Henning (GER) was quickly swallowed up by the chasing pack that formed, led by Swede Ebba Andersson.
The first time in the stadium, with the first lap completed, Johaug had gained just 0.5 seconds over Karlsson, with the gap essentially the same. The next time the two skiers went up the hill sprint in the stadium, Johaug had reduced that lead, reducing it to +9.7 seconds. As they made their way to the stadium for the penultimate time the gap was reduced to just one ski length and at the 5km mark Karlsson was caught.
Forty seconds earlier, the hunting pack had grown larger and steadily advancing. Although Yulia Stupak from Russia, who started in 9th place, +54.7 behind has withdrawn from the race.
After taking some rest while drafting behind Karlsson, Johaug lit the burners and made a clean break, brushing aside the Swede on the climb into the stadium. From there Karlsson held on but the race for first and second was settled. At 7.5km Karlsson was 4.7 seconds behind, at 8.6km she was 7.3 seconds behind and when Johaug crossed the finish line first in 25:56 Karlsson finished with +7.8 seconds delay.
âI had very good skis,â said Johaug in a post-race FIS interview. “Yesterday I was not sure about the form, but today I got the answer.”
With numbers one and two decided it became a race for third as the pace of the chasing pack picked up. Brennan (USA) was leading at 8.6k, with Andersson (SWE), Heidi Weng (NOR), Krista Parmakoski (FIN) and Henning (GER) on her heels. Leading the final hill that so often decides the race here in Ruka, Weng (NOR) created just enough space to clinch bronze, finishing +37.9 seconds behind Johaug. Weng, who started 10th +55.7 seconds, also recorded the fastest time of the day, completing all four laps in 25: 37.9.
When asked what it was like to share the podium with her teammate Weng, Johaug replied, “Yes, it’s so good for Heidi, I’m really happy.”
Behind Weng, Parmakoski (FIN) and Brennan (USA) rushed together in a photo finish, 4th place finally going to Parmakoski, Brennan finishing 5th as the best American. “I’m very happy to stay in the mix and know my body is there, âBrennan wrote after the race,â but [I] I have to gain mentally. It was a good first weekend for me and really gave me a good start. Regarding the temperatures and the delayed start, Brennan said: âWe had to be flexible as the race continued to be delayed and eventually rescheduled for the afternoon. It’s always difficult to warm up, to have to stop, go home and then start again and in the darkâ¦ I’m glad I managed to manage the blows and make the most of them. I felt really good or as good as you can run in so many layers but struggled with my tactics and my confidence today.
She added that she was working with a new wax technician this season, which adds a bit of chaos to the mix, but added, âbut I feel good about our departure! I know we will be dealing with poor snow conditions so this will be the next hurdle to overcome next week! I know where I am now and where I need to go to achieve my goals later in the season.
After Brennan, Jessie Diggins was the next American to cross the finish line, finishing 11th, +1: 25.7 behind Johaug. Diggins started the day 18th and recorded the 9th fastest time of the day.
Post-race interview with Jessie Diggins.
Katherine Stewart-Jones was the first Canadian in 21st place. Behind her, a multitude of stars and stripes with Hailey Swirbul winning her first World Cup points of the season in 26th, Katharine Ogden in 30th, Julia Kern in 31st, Sophia Laukli 32nd, Caitlin Patterson 35th and Novie McCabe finishing her first World Championship weekend Cup race in 37th place.
Frida Karlsson now wears the yellow leader’s bib as the riders leave Ruka. The World Cup heads to Lillehammer, Norway next weekend with another three-day lineup including a skate sprint, 10/15 kilometer freestyle and relay.
Women’s end results