Nordic

Bjornsen Strong in Lahti 15k

by
Tom Kelly
2017-03-01 11:08
 

LAHTI, Finland (Mar. 1, 2017) - Erik Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA) put in a powerhouse performance Wednesday to finish 18th in the 15k classic at the FIS Nordic Ski World Championships in Lahti to lead the USA. A week into the Championships, host Finland found gold with Iivo Niskanen who brought the crowd to its feet as he took a 17.9-second win over Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway. Niklas Dyrhaug of Norway took bronze.

Grey skies, high humidity and temperatures above freezing greeted racers in one of the pivotal events of the championships. The battle between Niskanen and Sundby was well-anticipated by the Finnish fans who had been craving a win. It lived up to its hype, with Niskanen skiing on the wings of his country’s fans to take a stunning margin of victory over Sundby, who felt he had skied the best 15k of his career and still lost by nearly 20 seconds.

Coming off a strong performance in the classic team sprint where he finished fifth with Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO), Bjornsen’s performance in the 15k classic was the best for an American at a World Championships or Olympics since Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) was fourth at 2009 Worlds in Liberec and the 2003 Worlds at Val di Fiemme.

“I went into the race with quite a bit of excitement from the team sprint—definitely a boost of confidence,” said Bjornsen. “I charged from the beginning and it was feeling really good—the first 5k I felt like I was on fire.”

Despite challenging conditions with temperatures, Bjornsen was comfortable. 

“I really enjoy these conditions and it was going really well and was exciting to get some splits,” he said. I hit a little bit of a wall at about 8-10k and struggled for a couple of kilometers, but I was able to pick up a little bit of steam through the finish.”

It was Bjornsen’s best individual World Championship finish and matched his top World Cup performance in the 15k classic at Toblach, Italy three years ago.


Kyle Bratrud skis in front of an enthusiastic crowd in Lahti. (Getty Images-Richard Heathcote)

Kyle Bratrud (Eden Prairie, MN) was 33rd - who helped his mother, who was in the stands, celebrate her birthday.

“I basically just went as hard as I could from the gun,” he said. “I’m a little more confident in skate skiing, so I figured I had nothing to lose in classic. I wanted to see if I could hang on.”

“On the downhills, I was getting some recovery and I’d feel good again, then I’d get to the next hill and be totally dead,” he said. “It was kind of a rollercoaster of energy, but I just tried to keep my legs moving as fast as they could.”

Bratrud, like most of the skiers, was in awe of the spectacle with fans packing the trails. “It’s unbelievable—to not be able to hear yourself breathing because it’s so loud,” he said. “I love when people are cheering, even if it’s not for me!”

Ben Lustgarten (Burlington, VT) was still feeling the effects of an illness that took him out of Saturday’s skiathlon, skiing to 55th in his first World Championships appearance. 

“I felt really empty—but I expected that, to be honest,” he said. “I haven’t eaten in like four days. I tried to ski really smooth and save my energy. I was just making sure I was breathing hard the whole time. On the steep stuff, I tried to ski really light and not heavy at all. I did feel like I was going to throw up there for a bit, so to be honest, I didn’t feel good. But I tried to ski with what I got today. I tried to give it all I could.”

Like all the athletes, Lustgarten is soaking in the experience at a big championship event. “It’s such a scene out here,” he said. “I’m proud to be here with all these athletes and the crowd going wild. It just feels like you’re really respected. It’s just exciting to be part of this crowd. Whenever there was a Finnish guy coming through, the crowd went wild and that was really exciting. I kind of tried to pretend it was me sometimes.”

Action now shifts to the relay events, with the women going out for the 4x5k on Thursday. The USA will go with Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) and Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA) for the classic legs, then Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) and Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) for skate legs.

The men’s 4x10k relay is set for Friday, with distance racing wrapping up the championships this weekend.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Erik Bjornsen was 18th to lead the USA in the men’s 15k classic.
  • It was the best U.S. men’s performance in the 15k classic since Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) was fourth in 2009 at Liberec, Czech Republic.
  • The finish was Bjornsen’s best in World Championships and matched his World Cup career best.
  • Kyle Bratrud was 33rd, Andy Newell (Starksboro, VT) 50th and Ben Lustgarten 55th.
  • Action now turns to relays with women Thursday and men Friday.

QUOTES

Erik Bjornsen
I definitely went into the race with quite a bit of excitement from the team sprint—definitely a boost of confidence. I charged from the beginning and it was feeling really good—the first 5k I felt like I was on fire. I really enjoy these conditions and it was going really well and was exciting to get some splits. I was leading with the first 26 (racers) through. I hit a little bit of a wall there, 8-10k through (the course) and struggled for a couple of kilometers, but I was able to pick up a little bit of steam through the finish.

I enjoy these conditions—they tend to be a little bit faster so you can do some double pole. It’s not hard-packed, so you’re pushing through some slush, for sure. It was staying in pretty good condition.

I went for it in the beginning for sure, and I think I had a pace for the first lap that would have been pretty similar to the top 10. Hopefully I can just continue to improve and just keep the pace up the whole way and it’ll come together for me. 

Kyle Bratrud
I basically just went as hard as I could from the gun. I’m a little more confident in skate skiing, so I figured I had nothing to lose in classic. I wanted to see if I could hang on. The course is pretty rolly, so I was dying a lot on the uphills. On the downhills, I was getting some recovery and I’d feel good again, then I’d get to the next hill and be totally dead. It was kind of a rollercoaster of energy, but I just tried to keep my legs moving as fast as they could.

I got pretty lucky—there were some Finnish skiers around me and it was getting real loud when I was going by. It’s a great atmosphere here. My mom and dad are here and it’s my mom’s birthday today, so it’s a good experience. It’s unbelievable—to not be able to hear yourself breathing because it’s so loud. I love when people are cheering, even if it’s not for me!

Ben Lustgarten
I felt really empty—but I expected that, to be honest. I haven’t eaten in like four days. I tried to ski really smooth and save my energy. I was just making sure I was breathing hard the whole time. On the steep stuff, I tried to ski really light and not heavy at all. I did feel like I was going to throw up there for a bit, so to be honest, I didn’t feel good. But I tried to ski with what I got today. I tried to give it all I could.

Kyle passed me and I think he skied really well today. I tried to stick with him for a bit—his skis were good and he was skiing well. I think our guys did well.

It’s such a scene out here. I’m proud to be here with all these athletes and the crowd going wild. It just feels like you’re really respected. It’s just exciting to be part of this crowd. Whenever there was a Finnish guy coming through, the crowd went wild and that was really exciting. I kind of tried to pretend it was me sometimes.

LIVE STREAMING AND BROADCAST SCHEDULE (times EST) 

Wednesday, Mar. 1
7:00-10:00 p.m. - Daily broadcast coverage - TV: Universal HD

Thursday, Mar. 2
8:00-10:00 a.m. - Women's 4x5k relay - LIVE STREAM
11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. - Men's HS130m ski jumping - LIVE STREAM
1:00-3:00 p.m - Daily broadcast coverage - TV: NBCSN

Friday, Mar. 3
6:30-8:30 a.m. - Men's 4x10k relay - LIVE STREAM
9:00-10:00 a.m. - Nordic combined HS130m ski jump - LIVE STREAM
11:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. - Nordic combined 2x7.5k team sprint - LIVE STREAM
12:00-2:30 p.m. - Daily broadcast coverage - TV: NBCSN

Saturday, Mar. 4
7:30-9:30 a.m. - Women's 30k freestyle - LIVE STREAM
10:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. - Men's HS130m ski jumping team event - LIVE STREAM
7:30-10:30 p.m. - Daily broadcast coverage - TV: Universal HD

Sunday, Mar. 5
7:00-9:00 a.m. - Men's 50k freestyle - LIVE STREAM
1:30-3:30 p.m. - Men's 50k freestyle - TV: Universal HD

RESULTS
Men’s 15k Classic