It was quite the day to wrap up the final sprint of the 2022-23 season in Lahti, Finland. The U.S. Cross Country Ski Team sent five athletes to the top-30, with Julia Kern and Ben Ogden leading the team in 15th and 13th, respectively.
The conditions were anything but easy, with many athletes struggling to find the best line with the snow getting worse through the afternoon. Lahti is known for its sprint course - the steep uphill to the infamous right hand 180 degree turn into the long, working downhill. It's not easy and even the best in the world struggled, with many falls and broken poles as the day went on.
With the overall sprint crystal globes on the line, the tensions were high across the board with highly contested races between athletes of several nations.
For the men, Norway's Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo ended the season right where he started it, in first. Crossing the sprint line for the last time this season ahead of the entire field, Klaebo clinched another sprint globe. For the women, Sweden's Maja Dahlqvist secured the overall sprint globe in dramatic fashion. In the quarterfinal heat, she needed to get first or second to secure a spot in the semifinals and this was made possible by a move from her teammate Moa Ilar. In the finishing stretch, Dahlqvist broke a pole and her sites of the crystal globe were diminishing right before her eyes, that was until her teammate completely stopped her momentum and let Dahlqvist pass so she could move onto the semis by crossing the line in second. "Teammate of the year" was heard throughout the stadium. With that move, Dahlqvist moved on to the semis, then advanced to the finals and finished the sprint in fourth, enough to clinch the 2023 FIS Overall Sprint crystal globe.
Kern, Diggins and Brennan all advanced easily to the heats, with Diggins qualifying in 10th, Kern in 21st and Brennan in 23rd. In the heats, no U.S. women advanced to the semifinals, with Kern missing the lucky loser spot by less than a second. Diggins was fourth and Brennan was sixth in their heats.
"For me personally, I knew I had a lot in me," said Kern. "In the quarterfinal, I gave it what I had and was getting stuck in places and not quite finding the gears or windows I needed to find. But, I was proud with how I finished. I gave it what I had out there today and I am looking forward to tomorrow, the last race of the season!"
In the end, Diggins was 15th, Kern 16th and Brennan 29th. The winner of the day was Kristine Skistad of Norway who again shocked the cross country world again and won the classic sprint.
"It was an exciting day! I was really happy with my qualifier," said Diggins. "It's fun to feel that I have decent energy at the end of the year because when it comes down to the end of the season, what you have is what you have! I went for it today and proud of how I skied on this course with tricky conditions. Huge thanks for the techs for working so hard and for everyone working on this course, the staff and the support team. I am really grateful for all the work they put in and am super excited to finish this season with one last race and give it my all."
On the men's side, Ogden and Ketterson advanced to the heats with their fast qualifying times, Ogden was 7th and Ketterson was 27th. Ogden once again dawned the U23 green bib, an indicator that he is currently the fastest U23 athlete on the World Cup circuit; Ogden has been wearing the bib the majority of the season. Through the heats, Ketterson did not advance after an unfortunate broken pole and Ogden was in a similar situation. He narrowly avoided a massive crash, catapulting him to the front of the heat, yet he finished fourth in his heat, not moving on to the semifinals. Ogden finished the day in 13th, Ketterson was 28th.
For the season overall, Kern finished within the top-10 in the overall sprint rankings, marking herself as one of the fastest and most consistent sprinters in the world, in seventh. Along with Kern, Ogden showed his consistency by finishing the sprinting season in tenth - a jump from last season where he finished 30th.
Tomorrow the team will compete in the last World Cup race of the season, the 20k classic.