RUKA, Finland – Sadie Bjornsen of Winthrop constructed her best opening weekend of World Cup cross country skiing in both classic and freestyle last weekend.
UPDATED NOV. 28: Sadie Bjornsen, on the strength of the second-place finish in a World Cup sprint race, is headed to her second Olympics, says alaskapublic.org.
A 2014 Olympian, she took second in a classic sprint Nov. 24 (a mere 0.24 second behind first) and landed in 10th overall in the standings after three days competing in the Ruka Nordic Opener in northeastern Finland.
In a 10K freestyle pursuit Sunday, Sadie Bjornsen was 10th with the U.S.’s Jessie Diggins (Afton, Minn.) in 12th.
The pursuit combines Saturday’s 15K classic for men and 10K for women in similar freestyle distances Sunday with the start seeding based on the classic results.
Kikkan Randall, Anchorage, had the eighth fastest time of the day. Randall, who is the most decorated U.S. cross country skier, is attempting to qualify for her fifth and final Olympic Games. She plans to retire after the 2018 season.
In the first skate race of season, Bjornsen and Diggins were both strong. Diggins had the 10th fastest time of the day with Bjornsen 11th fastest.
Sadie Bjornsen. 28 – her birthday was Nov. 21, battled the top sprinters in the world Nov. 24 to gain her best individual World Cup or world championship finish.
She has six World Cup podium appearances, but this was just her second individual. She finished third in a 5K freestyle in January in Toblach, Italy.
At Ruka, she was second in 3:17.86, just behind Stina Nilsson of Sweden (3:17.62) and in front of Russia’s Yulia Belorukova (3:18.53).
Her brother, Erik Bjornsen, was the top U.S. men’s finisher, taking 24th overall.
Sadie Bjornsen qualified fifth (3:13.67) before winning her quarterfinal head (3:18.14) and her semifinal heat (3:20.00).
Another best finish came when she teamed with Diggins to finish third in a team sprint at the 2017 world championships in February.
“Today was another fun and tough day of racing here to complete the tour,” said Bjornsen on Sunday. “It was nice to have skate skis under my feet after two really challenging classic days. Ruka is what I consider one of the toughest race courses on the circuit. It is just wall after wall (steep climb after steep climb), and you never seem to get a break.”
Randall ended up 25th in the pursuit with Rosie Brennan, Park City, Utah, also in the points at 28th.
In men’s racing, Erik Bjornsen of Winthrop finished 26th.
U.S. Head Coach Chris Grover was also pleased with the performance of the men.
“This was a great opening World Cup Tour for Erik,” Grover said. “We got to see his versatility, skiing equally strong in both skate and classic, sprint and distance, as well as his improved fitness. Erik has been in outstanding shape all prep season and it is showing already on the World Cup.”
Scott Patterson, Anchorage, Paddy Caldwell, Lyme, N.H., and Noah Hoffman, Aspen, Colo., all moved up in the freestyle half of the pursuit. Simi Hamilton, Aspen, Colo., did not start because of illness.
Competition continues this weekend at Lillehammer, Norway, with another classic sprint.
Skiers are also preparing for the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, in February.
The U.S. women have never won an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing.
Caldwell finished sixth in a freestyle spring at the 2014 Sochi Games, which is as close as a U.S. woman has come.
Randall and Caitlin (Compton) Gregg, who has relatives in the Methow Valley, finished sixth in a team sprint at the 2010 Olympics.
Every woman on the A team has stood on the World Cup podium, three having won four medals at the 2017 world championship.
The U.S. team finished fourth in the world championship relay.
“We medaled in one third of all the events (at 2017 world championships),” said Diggins. “We definitely have a shot (at an Olympic medal in PyeongChang). It’s not this crazy pipe dream anymore. It’s real. It’s attainable.”
Randall hopes to cap her storied career — 33 World Cup podium finishes and 14 wins, three world cup sprint titles, and three world championship medals over 17 seasons — with an Olympic medal. Then, after the 2018 season, she and husband Jeff Ellis, along with son Breck, now 18 months old, plan to move to Penticton, B.C.
Jeff Ellis has a job with Swagman, a bike rack company in Penticton.