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Bjornsen Second In World Cup Opener

By Tom Kelly
November, 24 2017

RUKA, Finland (Nov. 24, 2017) – Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, Wash.) battled head-to-head against the best sprinters in the world to finish second – a career-best individual result – in the opening World Cup classic sprint of the season at Ruka. It was a breakthrough performance and another showcase for the depth of the U.S. Ski Team women.

Bjornsen qualified fifth then took a semi-final victory to advance to the finals where Sweden’s Stina Nilsson picked up the win. Sophie Caldwell (Peru, Vt.), who qualified third, was eighth.

"What an amazing and exciting way to start this new season," said a jubilant Bjornsen.

In the first Olympic selection event of the season (the Olympic sprint will be classic technique), both Bjornsen and Caldwell ticked off the top-level criteria box for team selection. While the squad won't be confirmed until late January, it puts both of them into the driver's seat in classic sprint selection.

"Sadie was in control all day," said Head Coach Chris Grover. "She really challenged Nilsson for the win in the finish straight. She knows now that she can do it."

The American qualified four women and one man into the heats. Jessie Diggins (Afton, Minn.) was just outside in 34th. Also, qualifying was Ida Sargent (Orleans, Vt.), Rosie Brennan (Park City, Utah) and Erik Bjornsen (Winthrop, Wash.).

It was the first time Bjornsen had advanced out of a heat since March, 2016 in Quebec City. But she came in with renewed sense of optimism - "I said to myself, 'time to fight, Sadie, it's a new year.'" In the quarter-final she had some 'intimidating names' (her words) to contend with. But she just kept believing and won over Russian Yulia Belorukova by nearly four-tenths and Sweden's Hanna Falk. In the semi-finals, she found her place on the final hill where she was the strongest - loving the steepness of the climb. She held off Belorukova for her second straight heat win.

Bjornsen took a renewed sense of confidence into the final heat - this time finding herself was on that final climb going toe-to-toe with Nilsson - one of the greatest sprinters of all time.

"I was in disbelief," she said. "I had dreamed of this kind of day and now it was happening."

On a tricky waxing day, the U.S. Ski Team technician team came through. While Norway struggled early on finding the wax, Bjornsen and Caldwell had rockets. With temps at that tricky point right around freezing, Jean-Pascal 'JP' Laurin found a special sweet spot to give Bjornsen an edge. Bjornsen attacked Nilsson on the climb and was setting up for a sprint finish when a small bobble dampened her momentum, putting her second by two-tenths.

Both Diggins and Randall both just missed qualifying in tricky weather conditions where new snowfall played a factor.

“Today was such a great day for the team and I’m especially pumped up for Sadie. What awesome skiing out there!,” said Diggins. “Personally, this course and this event have never been an amazing race for me and I always work into the season. So I’m staying confident in the hundreds of hours of training I’ve put in and staying patient knowing that my peak will come later in the season!”

Racing continues at Ruka with a men's 15k and women's 10k mass start classic on Saturday, wrap up Sunday with same distances in a freestyle pursuit. Neither is an Olympic discipline this year, so Olympic selection is not at stake. Expect a strong matchup next weekend in the second classic sprint in Lillehammer, Norway.

Friday's sprint will air on the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA TV channel at 4:30 p.m. Friday. A technical program impacted planned live coverage earlier in the day.

Women's Classic Sprint