Andersen leads Norwegian podium sweep in Lillehammer
Espen Andersen, Jan Schmid and Jørgen Graabak have swept the podium at their Norwegian home World Cup in Lillehammer. Andersen celebrated a dominant start to finish victory, cruising over the finish line 3.4 seconds ahead of Schmid in the end. Graabak beat Germany’s Johannes Rydzek in a sprint for rank three by 0.1 seconds.
Very difficult thermic conditions made the jumping round into a long affair that had lucky and unlucky athletes in the end. The qualification round early in the morning had had prominent victims already, like USA’s Bryan Fletcher, Vinzenz Geiger, Leevi Mutru and to the dismay of the audience also local hero Mikko Kokslien.
Despite the conditions, Espen Andersen had a great jumping performance in the competition round and captured the pole position for the race with 138 metres and 147.7 points. Next to him, the athletes from the Norwegian national group shone with Espen Bjørnstad taking the second place, +0.18 seconds behind Andersen, Harald Johnas Riiber was third and started into the race 27 seconds after Andersen. Teammate Sindre Ure Søtvik held the seventh position, +0.48 seconds behind Andersen.
While jumping sensation Jarl Riiber did not get the result he was hoping for with the intermediate 10th position (131.5 m; 132.9 p.), teammate Jørgen Graabak set himself up for another gala performance after his impressive finish in the Team Event yesterday. The Olympic Champion jumped 134 metres, received 134 points and started with a delay of 54 seconds. He was accompanied by yellow bib bearer Akito Watabe who ranked eighth and started six seconds before Graabak. Wilhelm Denifl, Go Yamamoto and Maxime Laheurte completed the Top Ten on ranks four, five and six. World Champion Johannes Rydzek had one minute and three seconds to make up, Eric Frenzel started 30 seconds after his teammate at +1:33.
Andersen’s performance in the race cannot be described in other terms than “impressive”. The 24-year-old skied a lonely race at the front of the field and kept the speed high throughout the entire race. At the 5 km halfway point, his advantage was still at 45 seconds and also on the third of four laps, Andersen still had 39.3 seconds on Espen Bjørnstad, who held himself in a pursuing group that had grown to 13 athletes at this point.
While Andersen skied ahead, Watabe tried to keep the speed up throughout the race but the Norwegian’s teammates Jan Schmid and Jørgen Graabak did nothing to aid another athlete attack Andersen’s bid for victory. On the last lap, the group started to push hard still and a surprise attack by Schmid set him about 5 to 10 metres apart from the rest of the group. While many of the 13 athletes had to let go at this point, the remaining podium positions were battled out between Schmid, Graabak, Rydzek, Alessandro Pittin and Akito Watabe in the end. It turned out that Schmid’s small advantage was enough to catapult him to the second place. Graabak and Rydzek sprinted for position three and again, Graabak proved to be the strongest finisher.
Rydzek had to be satisfied with rank four, Pittin returned to the Top Ten for the first time since Oslo 2015, Watabe was sixth. His young teammate Go Yamamoto achieved a career-best seventh place, Francois Braud, Ilkka Herola and Willi Denifl completed the Top Ten.