Nordic

USA Just An Eyelash Off The Podium

by
Tom Kelly
2017-01-22 05:14
 

ULRICEHAMN, Sweden (Jan. 22, 2017) - A valiant effort by all four USA1 women came up an eyelash short of the podium Sunday, as the U.S. Ski Team finished fourth in the women’s 4x5k mixed technique relay. Marit Bjoergen anchored an impressive performance by Norway for the win, with Germany second and Sweden third.

Despite the disappointment of missing the podium, the USA took solace in its closest ever finish to the lead in the women’s relay - just 9.2 seconds behind Norway. Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) anchored and battled head to head with Germany and Sweden over the entire course of the final 5k freestyle leg.

The finish was also a big step towards the team's ultimate goal this season in the World Championships next month in Lahti, Finland.

“Today was an incredible race for our women's team,” said Coach Matt Whitcomb. “While we wanted the podium, every skier executed their plan and I feel we've inched closer to the podium next month at World Championships in Lahti.”  

Relay Finish

Jessie Diggins (bottom) stretches for the line in Sunday’s team relay finish.

Rosie Brennan (Park City, UT) opened for the USA, staying with the chase pack and coming into the exchange fifth. Brennan's role was to keep the USA in strong contact on the first leg. After a gap opened through the middle of the race, Brennan fought back aggressively - especially on the final hill - to keep the margin at just 10 seconds before handing off.

"I didn't have the best start, but found my groove about half way through and was able to pull back some time in the second half," said Brennan. "With limited snow, the classic skiers had a very narrow course to navigate which proved difficult when trying to pass."

On the second classic leg, Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA) maintained contact with the chase group as Norway's Heidi Weng opened a huge lead over the field. Bjornsen moved USA1 up from fifth to second with very aggressive classic skiing, handing off in second place - a best ever U.S. performance in the classic legs.

“I felt good about my classic leg and was really happy with the first four kilometers,” said Bjornsen. “At 4k, Steffi and I caught the chase group, but we were unable to get around them with the narrow v-boarded course and only two tracks. I was a bit disappointed about that, because I knew how important it would have been to make a little gap before the skate legs - but that happens sometimes.”

In the first freestyle leg, Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) had to especially watch Charlotte Kalla of Sweden. She kept pace in the chase group - even attacking Kalla on the climb - and kept the USA within 15 seconds of the lead, mixing it up with Germany, Sweden and Norway 2 before handing off to Diggins.

In the final skate leg, Diggins set a nice pace at the start of the leg with Norway 2 was dropping from the chase group leaving her to play a cat and mouse game, exchanging off the lead and setting up a finish sprint. But about 1.5k from the finish, Sweden's Hanna Falk made a surprise break that caught Diggins and Germany's Sandra Ringwald off guard. Ringwald and Diggins quickly caught up with Falk, but Diggins was on the back end of the group coming into the finish. She had a gap to cover and took the inside corner but just didn’t have enough real estate left to get into third.

"For my leg, it felt like a chess match," said Diggins. "If I could do it again I would have gone out hard right from the gun to try and get some space. I did the best I could with how it played out, but I feel like my fitness wasn't reflected well in this particular race. It was a huge drafting course and it was exceedingly hard to drop people in the skate leg. It made it a very tight and exciting race though! I'm very excited for the sharper hills of Lahti next time!"

"While today was not the result we are capable of, it was very close and I'm not disappointed," said Whitcomb. "Our team grew a lot and will be ready for the Lahti relay." 

"I was so impressed with my teammates and our staff and how they performed today," added Diggins. "They all skied so well and gave it their all. Although it's disappointing to be less than half a second from the podium, we know that we are in the mix and excited to do it again on the Lahti courses at World Championships." 

“We have a group of four girls that excel with really tough skiing, so we are really looking forward to the courses in Lahti that are a little tougher, as well as easier to make some breaks,” said Bjornsen.

"I think we all had moments of frustration out there or wish we did something different," added Brennan. "But every time we get to race a relay, we learn something and that will makes us more successful in the races to come." 

In the men's 7.5k mixed technique relay, team Norway1 took a photo-finish victory over Sweden1 and Canada, in second and third respectively and seperated by just 0.5 seconds. Team USA, consisting of Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT), Erik Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA), Noah Hoffman (Aspen, CO) and Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) finished 10th.

The tour now heads north to Falun for a freestyle sprint and a classic mass start.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The USA came up just short of the podium, finishing fourth in a closely-contested women’s 4x5k relay in Ulricehamn, Sweden.
  • The USA had strong performances across all four legs, including Rosie Brennan (Park City, UT) and Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA) handing off after two classic legs in second.
  • Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) anchored, battling Germany and Sweden for the podium with Norway taking the win.

 

QUOTES
Jessie Diggins

For my leg, it felt like a chess match. If I could do it again I would have gone out hard right from the gun to try and get some space. I did the best I could with how it played out, but I feel like my fitness wasn't reflected well in this particular race. It was a huge drafting course and it was exceedingly hard to drop people in the skate leg. It made it a very tight and exciting race though! I'm very excited for the sharper hills of Lahti next time! .

I was so impressed with my teammates and our staff and how they performed today!! They all skied so well and gave it their all. Although it's disappointing to be less than half a second from the podium, we know that we are in the mix and excited to do it again on the Lahti courses at World Championships. 

All week the crowds and organizing committee have been extremely impressive and it's been such a fun place to race.
 
Rosie Brennan
It was a good weekend indeed! We always set our sights on the podium, but you can't be too disappointed when we all skied as best we could today. I think we all had moments of frustration out there or wish we did something different. But every time we get to race a relay, we learn something and that will makes us more successful in the races to come. 

With limited snow, the classic skiers had a very narrow course to navigate which proved difficult when trying to pass. I didn't have the best start, but found my groove about half way through and was able to pull back some time in the second half. I will always want more when it's a relay because I want to be the best for my teammates, but I am satisfied with today and now know exactly where I need to put in some work to be better next time. 

Sadie Bjornsen
I felt good about my classic leg and was really happy with the first 4 kilometers. At 4k, Steffi and I caught the chase group, but we were unable to get around them with the narrow v-boarded course and only two tracks. I was a bit disappointed about that, because I knew how important it would have been to make a little gap before the skate legs - but that happens sometimes. I think had Rosie and I had a little more moving room on those classic legs, we could have been able to try to stay with Norway. So we are really looking forward to another opportunity at World Champs!

It was another day of amazing ski racing here in Sweden. The crowds were incredible and the atmosphere was just amazing for a relay day. I felt really good about how the team skied. While we always know we should and could be on the podium, I think we all agreed there was no confidence lost by just missing it today. We have a group of four girls that excel with really tough skiing, so we are really looking forward to the courses in Lahti that are a little tougher, as well as easier to make some breaks. 

We owe a lot of thanks to the waxing team for amazing skis,and the crowds for incredible vibes! I am so impressed with Ulricehamn and its incredible organizing committee. I have never seen anyone so organized and welcoming!

Matt Whitcomb, Head Women's Coach
Today was an incredible race for our women's team. While we wanted the podium, every skier executed their plan and I feel we've inched closer to the podium next month at World Championships in Lahti.

Rosie felt the stretch from the front in the middle of her opening leg, but was able to attack after the big climb to close the gap down to only 10 seconds. She was put to the test today and passed.
 
While Sadie's leg included a hard attack by Weng, Sadie put our team back into contact, moving from fifth to second with very aggressive skiing. She tagged Liz who knew the one real danger handing off with her on her flatter leg was Kalla. She fought like this was her last race, even attacking Kalla on the short climb. Our skis were ridiculous, and Liz tagged off with the second to fifth group and sent Jessie on course in a comfortable position. 
 
Jessie skied smart, dumping minimal gas on the engine in the first part, which shed Norway 2. With 1.5 kilometers to go, Hanna Falk of Sweden attacked suddenly and surprised Jessie and Sandr Ringwald of Germany. They responded quickly and eventually made contact again.  
 
In the sprint finish, we fell short by a quarter of a second. Jessie felt like she made a tactical mistake with her positioning, but she also did a lot right out there. She skied great.  We'll take a look at the footage to learn from the race for each athlete. I know she'd like to do it again, and the good news is that she will.  
 
While today is not the result we are capable of, it was very close and I'm not disappointed. Our team grew a lot and will be ready for the Lahti relay. 

RESULTS
Women’s 4x5k relay
Men's 7.5k relay