2016 Tour de Ski: Americans excel amid Norsk dominance
Norwegian American Weekly
For the world’s top cross-country skiers, celebrating the New Year has nothing to do with rest; it’s time for Tour de Ski! The eight-stage tour—ranging from 1.2 kilometer sprints to a 30 kilometer mass start race—began in Switzerland on Jan. 1, moved on to Germany for two stages, and concluded in Italy on Jan. 10.
The pressure was high for Norway this year as Martin Johnsrud Sundby sought to defend his back-to-back 2014 and 2015 golds and the Norwegian women hoped to sweep the podium for the third consecutive year.
As expected, the Norwegians—especially the women—topped the competition from the first stage. It wasn’t until stage four that a non-Norwegian woman earned the gold, when American Sophie Caldwell won the 1.2-kilometer sprint in Oberstdorf, Germany, for the first World Cup victory of her career.
The 25-year-old from Vermont completed the Jan. 5 sprint in 2:46.38 to beat Norway’s Heidi Weng and Ingvild Flugstad Østberg by 0.10 and 0.80 seconds, respectively.
“It was a perfect day. My one goal for the final was to go behind Ingvild and try to follow as far as I could. I was focused on the downhill where I knew my strength was,” said Caldwell.
Just three days later, another U.S. woman topped the podium when Jessie Diggins won the five-kilometer individual start in Toblach, Italy, earning her first individual World Cup gold. Diggins had a strong finish in the final kilometers and crossed the finish line in 13:15.5, just 0.9 ahead of Weng.
“It’s really fun to have such a strong team. Sophie wins and it gets everyone pumped up—it helped me go fast today. We feed on each other and use our teammates as role models. This win was a big surprise for everyone, especially me. I couldn’t believe it,” said the skier from Minnesota.
The achievements of Caldwell and Diggins are especially significant as this year is the first time that the U.S. team has won two stages in the Tour de Ski.
“It’s unprecedented. It’s a huge achievement for our team. It’s clearly the strongest performance we’ve ever had,” said Luke Bodensteiner, Executive Vice President of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. “We’ve been building toward something like this incrementally. To have the performance we did across the whole women’s team was pretty extraordinary.”
Despite the unexpected but encouraging success of the U.S. women, Norway was the clear champion of the tour.
Going into the final stage in Val di Fiemme, Østberg was leading by 38.7 seconds. Johaug outpaced her teammate in the nine-kilometer freestyle pursuit, however, finishing with a lead of 2:20.9 over Østberg. This was her second time winning the Tour de Ski—she won first in 2014—and sixth consecutive year as the fastest in the final stage. Trailing Johaug by 3:13.9, Weng followed for the bronze.
“I hoped I could take some seconds on Ingvild before the climb. It worked better than I had hoped,” said Johaug. “It was my dream and big goal to win the Tour de Ski. Ingvild has pushed me at every stage of the Tour this year. I think this was my best Tour de Ski ever.”
With five stage wins, Sundby was able to defend his gold and took his third consecutive Tour de Ski victory. He finished ahead of fellow Norwegian Finn Hågen Krogh by 3:15.7 and Sergey Ustiogov of Russia by 3:48.8. Petter Northug, who is the only skier to have completed all ten years of the Tour de Ski, finished fourth, and it was the first time since 2007 that he has not won a single stage.
“It has been a perfect Tour for me,” said Sundby. “The team has been great. I am happy for myself and the whole team.”
Less than a month into 2016, it’s already looking to be a good year for the sport of cross-country skiing in Norway and the U.S.
This article originally appeared in the Jan. 22, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.