Naeslund and Fiva cap perfect day with wins in Idre Fjall
Idre Fjall, SWE - The first of two Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup competitions slated to take to the truly epic ski cross track of Sweden’s Idre Fjall resort went off on Saturday morning under picturesque blue skies and some thankfully warmer temperatures, as Sweden’s own Sandra Naeslund and Swiss star Alex Fiva won the respective ladies’ and men’s competitions.
The course in Idre Fjall is truly unique, boasting a feature-heavy finishing straightaway that makes up nearly 2/3s of the track’s total length that makes it simultaneously one of the biggest and most technical venues on the World Cup circuit. With so many variables and places to both lose and gain time fans were treated to an unpredictable and thrilling event.
Many of the top competitors on the circuit found themselves on the outside looking in come time for the finals, including World Cup leader Marielle Thompson (CAN) and third-overall Heidi Zacher (GER) on the ladies side, as well as third and fourth-overall men Brady Leman (SUI) and Armin Neiderer (SUI).
However, some athletes’ struggles were other’s opportunities, and in the ladies’ big final this meant that Naeslund would face off against Sami Kennedy-Sim (AUS), Katrin Ofner (AUT), and Marte Hoeie Gjefsen (NOR), three ladies who had yet to podium in 2016/17 (or ever, in the case of Kennedy-Sim.
While Naeslund was slowest out of the gate, she was quickly able to pull into the lead by nailing the technical start section, while the other three ladies were left to jockey for position behind her. While the battle remained tight throughout the final drag strip, Kennedy-Sim would be able to hold off Ofner and Hoeie Gjefsen to claim her first career World Cup podium. Ofner, racing in the 100th World Cup of her decade-long career, would claim third, while the Norwegian Hoeie Gjefsen would have to settle for fourth.
“To be the winner here in Sweden here is really great,” said the Naeslund from the finish area, “I’ve got a lot of family here and to have the crowd cheering for me is so nice. I knew I could be fast on this course and I felt good all day. It’s just a nice feeling to be able to win.”
The biggest smile on the day went to Kennedy-Sim, who finally reached the podium after several heartbreaking fourth-place finishes in recent years.
“I’m thrilled to stand on my first World Cup podium,” she said, second-place trophy in hand, “Especially on a course like this that’s so big and so fast and so technical. I can’t wait to get back racing on it tomorrow!”
Fiva holds fast to take third win of 2016/17
In the men’s final Fiva would find himself stacked up against his teammate Marc Bischofberger, World Cup leader Jean Frederic Chapuis, and Russian upstart Igor Omelin.
Fiva - who qualified second overall for Saturday’s race but will be forced to watch from the sidelines on Sunday after failing to advance to finals for that one - was one of the fastest skiers out of the gate all day, moving smoothly through the tricky start and into the lead in most heats.
However, unlike many who found their lead disappear through straightaway, Fiva was consistently able to hold on, including in the big final when he was able to fend off a last-minute charge by his teammate Bischofberger.
“I new I needed a little space for the finish straight because I’m not the best glider,” said Fiva about his final heat, “But I I knew I could handle it if I was out front a bit. I knew they were coming and coming but I held it to the finish.”
“This is probably my nicest win of the season,” he continued, “I didn’t think I really liked this track. Last year I was lousy here. So to come out today and get the victory and to be on the podium with my buddy Marc is just awesome.”
Just behind Fiva and Bischofberger was Omelin, the 21-year-old veteran of just 20 World Cup starts whose previous best result was 20th place. The benefactor of some lucky breaks as well as some excellent, aggressive skiing, Omelin’s result was a big one for a Russian team that has struggled to find the podium in 2016/17.
Competition in Idre Fjall resumes on Sunday with finals beginning at 10:30CET.
GEPA Pictures photos (for editorial use)