(March 22, 2018) The Viessmann FIS Cross-Country World Cup season 2017-18 came to a close last weekend in Falun, Sweden. It's time now to take a look back at the season that was.
Over the first 4 World Cup weekends the story was all about Norway's rising superstar Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo winning 7 out of the 9 competitions. A new record for World Cup victories before the new year. Quietly off to a strong start was also Russia's Alexander Bolshunov who in his first 8 starts of the season recorded 4 third place podiums.
On the ladies side it was Charlotte Kalla of Sweden who took the Ruka triple to start the season and then skied away from the field during the ladies' 15 km Skiathlon in Lillehammer, Norway that put everyone on notice.
With both Klaebo and Kalla as the current World Cup overall leaders choosing to sit out the 2018 Tour de Ski it was a wide open competition with many of the big names at the start line. Atop the podium on Alpe Cermis on the final stage of the Tour stood two previous winners with Switzerland's Dario Cologna taking his 4th title - a record for men - and Norway's Heidi Weng winning for the second year in a row. North American's burst on to the final Tour podium for the first time with Canada's Alex Harvey and the USA's Jessie Diggins both taking third respectively.
Post Tour de Ski, Klaebo continued his dominance despite experiencing his first head to head sprint loss of the the season to Federico Pellegrino in Dresden, Germany. That didn't deter the young Norwegian as he went on to win his second consecutive sprint crystal globe and his first ever overall classification globe. At the age of 21 he became the youngest ever winner of the 'big' globe surpassing the mark set by Sweden's Gunde Svan at the age of 22 in the 1983/84 season. Pellegrino left a mark on the season when he won his 10th career sprint in free technique in Lahti, Finland. He became the winningest sprinter in free technique of all-time.
The end of the season saw Bolshunov final step onto the top step of the podium with a victory on day two of the World Cup finals and then the overall mini-tour win the following day. At the same age as Klaebo these two seem set to battle for seasons to come. Switzerland's Cologna with his Tour victory and strong second half of the season won his 4th career distance World Cup globe.
Tour de Ski champ Weng started to show fatigue as the second half of the season progressed and challengers began to emerge for her overall world cup leaders bib. Her teammate Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg, runner up in the Tour gave her a chase right up until the final day where the Tour's third place finisher Diggins lept into second in the overall standings with 5 podiums in her final 7 World Cup starts. Weng held on to win her second consecutive overall title by just 40 points ahead of Diggins. She also secured her second consecutive distance overall title. Norway's Maiken Casperson Falla made it a three-peat winning the sprint crystal globe for a third time.
We also saw Finland's Krista Parmakoski finally get her time on the top step of the podium not just once but 3 times. Perhaps never more dramatic was her win on the second day of World Cup finals where she overtook Norwegian legend Marit Bjoergen on the homestretch in a head to head double pole battle.
With the closing of the season it also brought the retirement of several big names in the sport. Current World Cup starts record holder (354) and with 35 World Cup podiums to her name Aino-Kaisa Saarinen of Finland decided to call it a career along with the USA's Kikkan Randall who set the bar for US ladies' skiing during her 18 year career winning their first ever FIS World Cup in December 2007 and following up with 12 including 3 overall sprint globes. The dynamic duo of Anna & Emil (Anna Haag, Emil Joensson) fittingly announced their retirement together during the second to last day of the season on home soil in Sweden. Joensson leaves the sport with 16 World Cup sprint victories the most ever for men and Haag 4-times a World Championships medalist will get married in June this summer.
The 2018-19 season will kick off again in late November in Ruka, Finland.