Sophie Caldwell was one of four Americans in the points at the Ruka opener, finishing 20th. (Getty Images/AFP-Martti Kainulainen)
RUKA, Finland (Nov. 26, 2016) - Sadie Bjornsen (Anchorage) led four U.S. women into the classic sprint finals in Ruka, qualifying seventh and finishing 17th. It was the opening race of the 2016-17 FIS Cross Country World Cup season. Paul Golberg of Norway and Stina Nilsson of Sweden took the wins.
Bjornsen was impressive in qualifying with seventh, but bowed out in a toughly fought first heat. Sophie Caldwell (Putney, VT) was 20th, Ida Sargent (Orleans, VT) 23rd and Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) 26th.
“Ruka is one of our favorite places to come to race – for both distance and sprint,” said Coach Matt Whitcomb. “The climbs are steep and relentless, and the descents are fast and call for courage. You need skill and fitness in Ruka, and having just one of those things won’t cut it.
The atmosphere in the Lapland region resort includes reindeer walking around on leashes and ski jumpers flying over the cross country stadium during the race.
“Today we found ourselves with old-school, mid-winter conditions, so there was a lot to be excited about,” said Whitcomb. “Today, we just didn’t ski as fast as we are fast. We can search for reasons and scratch our heads, but it wasn’t the skis or wax and it isn’t the training preparation. It’s just that it is ski racing, where anything happens, and for us, it’s also very early. Today we’ll settle with four in the points, and are excited that Sadie qualified seventh. The athletes feel hungry for success. Tomorrow will be better.”
The men, with a few athletes plagued with illness, failed to qualify for finals.
The Sunday lineup includes a 15k classic for men and 10k for women. The event will be streamed live on nbcsports.com.