It was billed as Sweden verses the rest in the first medal event of the Planica 2023 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships and it was Sweden who came out on top – and how.
Led by reigning world and Olympic champion Jonna Sundling, Sweden’s women claimed the top four spots in the Individual Sprint Classic, Emma Ribom and Maja Dahlqvist earning silver and bronze respectively.
It was far from easy for Sundling and her compatriots, though. After glorious weather on Thursday, mild, overcast conditions greeted the sprinters on Thursday, causing the previously hard track to turn soft and slushy on the surface.
But the slow, heavy conditions made for seriously exciting racing – on what is already a tricky course featuring sharp turns – with more skiers falling during Friday’s sprints than the rest of the World Cup season put together.
Unlike in the World Cup events, there are no points awarded during the three qualifying rounds for the sprint, giving the top skiers the option of just doing enough to get through to preserve energy for the final.
And so it proved. Kristine Stavaas Skistad – the tall Norwegian who won the last World Cup Classic sprint in Les Rousses, France in January – paid the price for going out fast in the first semifinal. She again hit the front in the final, but with pace much slower, was soon reeled in by the Swedish quartet and quickly fell back. Skistad finished fifth ahead of compatriot and overall World Cup leader Tiril Udnes Weng.
Sundling, on the other hand, timed her run to perfection. Having won the last World Cup sprint race, a Freestyle in Toblach, Italy, three weeks ago, the 28-year-old has hit form just at the right time. In the final, she soon overtook Skistad and never looked back, with the other three Swedes nearly tripping over each other in the uphill section as they tried to keep up.
In the end, it came down to a shootout with Ribom. The 25-year-old has two sprint victories to her name this season, but couldn’t make it a third, leaving herself with too much to do to finish nearly a second back. Dahlqvist, the overall sprint World Cup leader who admitted at the start of the day to feeling extremely nervous, was a distant third. Another Swede, Linn Svahn, a sprint specialist with enormous promise who has fought her way back from a shoulder injury to impress in the day’s earlier rounds, was an agonising fourth.
“Oh, I’m so satisfied and happy,” Sundling, who punched the air in delight as she successfully defended her world title, said. “It was a really tough final but I’m so glad that I can keep up the speed all the way to the finish line. My performances were up and down during the day but I felt better and better. It’s fantastic [for Sweden to claim the top four places]. I’m so happy for them as well.”
The women's events in the world championships continue on Saturday with the 15km skiathlon.
Click here for the full results from the women’s sprint classic.