The U.S. Ski Team women showed emerging depth Saturday placing three athletes inside the top 30 in the women’s 15k pursuit at the 2011 Nordic World Ski Championships at Holmenkollen in Oslo. Liz Stephen led the USA in 24th in the race which featured a 7.5k leg of classic technique and 7.5k of freestyle.
Against a continuing background of thick fog at the Holmenkollen stadium, the U.S. women skied strongly with Stephen 24th in 41:03.5. Immediately behind her in 41:25.5 was Holly Brooks (Anchorage) in 25th. Skiing in her first major event, Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) was 28th in 41:.33.8 continuing to log encouraging results with her second race in the top 30.
Stephen called the race super fun. “It’s probably the best mass start I’ve had all season,” she said. “I need to work on my sprinting abilities because I think four girls passed me in the home stretch! But other than that, I thought it was a really good day for me overall -specially starting off the championships like this.”
Though spectators could barely see the skiers pass thru the stadium, the ghostly images seemed only to add to the drama. Norwegian star Marit Bjoergen earned her second gold medal of the Championships pulling away in the final kilometer of a brutal race with a time of 38:08.6. Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk, the defending champion, was second 7.5 seconds back, while Norway’s Therese Johaug took the bronze medal.
The fog and light snow made the race interesting said Stephens. “You had to keep your head up,” she said. “Sometimes you couldn’t see the track and it would throw you off balance-wise but it wasn’t too bad. It was fun skiing through the fog.”
Head U.S. coach Chris Grover was pleased with the performances. “It’s definitely a plus to have three athletes in the top 30 in a distance race,” he said. “I was especially happy to see Liz have the 18th fastest skate time. In the 30k she has a good opportunity to finish even higher than today.”
It was another good race for Diggins, a 19-year old junior who is making her first major event start.
“We’ve told her there are no expectations here – just enjoy the experience and put together the best races you can, not worrying about places,” said Grover. “To her credit, she’s not only done that but she’s come to the start line each day ready to compete.”
Next up at the Oslo Worlds will be the men’s 30k pursuit Sunday. The U.S. will enter Kris Freeman , Noah Hoffman, Tad Elliott and Lars Flora.
Gold: Marit Bjoergen, Norway, 38:08.6
Silver: Justyna Kowalczyk, Poland, 38:16.1
Bronze: Therese Johaug, Norway, 38:17.4
24. Liz Stephen, E. Montpelier, VT, 41:03.5
25. Holly Brooks, Anchorage, 41:21.5
28. Jessie Diggins, Afton, MN, 41:33.8
43. Morgan Arritola, Sun Valley, ID, 43:09.5
For complete results: http://www.fis-ski.com/uk/604/610.html?sector=CC&raceid=17534