LAHTI, Finland (March 7, 2015) - Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) returned to the World Cup podium with a third place finish in the Lahti Freestyle Sprint. Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) finished just behind Kikkan in fourth, impressive in a sharply competitive day that saw relatively few Americans move through to the sprint heats.
In a year that’s been marked by tricky snow and variable European conditions, Lahti was no exception. Conditions were extremely fast after a late race committee decision to salt the entire course resulted in a track that was icy in places. Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) led the U.S. men with an eighth place result. Marit Bjorgen of Norway continued her dominant season by winning the women's race. Eirik Bransdal of Norway won the men's event.
Marit Bjoergen leads out a sprint to the finish as Kikkan Randall (left) gets on the podium for the first time since winning in Lahti a year ago. (Getty Images/AFP-Martti Kainulainen)
The positive results come at the tail end of a strong year for the U.S. team but a troubled season for Randall, who despite winning the last three World Cup sprint titles has failed to reach the podium in any events until today. Diggins, the silver medalist in the World Championships 10k freestyle event has been on a steadily improving trajectory gaining speed with every event.
Only Randall, Diggins and Newell were able to qualify in the extremely tight opening of the event. The men’s field saw qualifiers as closely packed as ten athletes per second. Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) missed making the rounds by .32 seconds.
The result today is Randall’s 27th podium finish, far and away the most from any American racer and an important result ahead of next week's closing World Cups in Drammen and Oslo, Norway.
It felt really good to be back in the mix today. My skating has been feeling stronger than my classic recently and it's been a long wait since my last skate sprint at the Tour de Ski.
Lahti has been a good venue for me the last few years so I was looking forward to racing here this week, especially after a personally disappointing World Championships.
Conditions were a lot like what we see on Eagle Glacier out there. So I was thankful for that experience. My skis were rockets today and that really came in handy on some tactical downhills.
My qualification was a bit of a nail bitter but luckily I made it into the heats. Then I felt stronger through the rounds.
We tested out a new format today where the top 30 skiers got to pick which quarterfinal to ski in instead of getting assigned by finish number. It was a new twist.
I had one of the last choices as bib 28, so I could only choose between heat 2 or 4. I chose 2 with the two top qualifiers already in there because I felt being in a fast heat would give me the best chance to move on. The strategy worked as I advanced to the semis as the first lucky loser.
It was really fun to have Jessie in the final with me. We got close to repeating our double podium from last year. She skied great and we both had fast skis.
Making the podium today felt really good after such a frustrating season. I've always believed I could get back to fighting for the medals but this year has been a lesson in patience.
m looking forward now to one more sprint in Drammen to close out this World Cup season. Andy Newell
I'm finally feel like myself again sprinting so I'm excited for that. I really felt like I belonged in the final today and it's a good feeling to be back at that level.
This course is one of the tightest qualifications and that's nothing new- it's like that every year. I think it's that way because it's a high speed course and also because this time of year since all the nations have their COC leaders and tons of nation's group spots. The spring world cups tend to be the most competitive of the year.
It was a closed course scenario again to preserve the track so we couldn't preview the course, but in the qualification I felt great and it was fun skiing and the track set up pretty firmly in most places so times were fast.
As we started skiing the heats the wind started to pick up in the stadium which made for a more tactical sprint than it typically is. We saw a lot of skiers sitting back and trying to attack the last half of the race. That became my strategy and it worked out perfectly in the quarters and I was able to come in to the lead in the stadium and win the heat. I tried to do the same thing in the semis but the pack was just a little too tight and wasn't able to slighshot into the top two in the stadium. The finish lanes were super fast and icy which was really fun to ski but also made it hard to pass people in the final 100. At the end of the day I'm left really wanting more now that I know I belong in the finals.
I'm loking forward to skiing Drammen in a few days for the last sprint of the season.
Men's Freestyle Sprints
Women's Freestyle Sprints