Written by Teemu Virtanen & Picture by Aku Mattila
The city of Lahti in Finland is known as one of the most renowned Nordic skiing meccas in the world. The city has hosted the FIS World Championships the record seven times, and it is currently hosting the FIS Junior World Championships as well. At these games, there are two age groups; U20 and U23. As the numbers indicate, the participants are either 20 years old or under or 23 years old or under. Some of the skiers within the latter age group are already competing, or at least trying to, in the ”grown-up” circuit such as the FIS World Cup and the upcoming Championships Games in Seefeld, Austria.
So far, there have been sprint competitions and some individual skating races for both age groups. The classic mass start races will take place tomorrow and on Friday, and on Saturday these young athletes will fight against each other in the relay events (only U20). But even now, it’s safe to say that the future of our beloved sport is in the hands of these rising stars.
Erik Valnes from Norway dominated the sprint competition on Monday, and he has seriously put his focus on being in Seefeld next month. He doesn’t usually race much in distance skiing, at least at this stage of his career. But are we going to we see him in Visma Ski Classics in the years to come? Perhaps not, but we have to remember that many current stars of our sport started their career as sprinters. So, it wouldn’t be a big suprise to see Erik facing the long distance warriors in the next decade.
Tiril Udnes Weng, a member of the famous Norwegian skiing family, has performed very well here in Lahti (U23), but she certainly expected even better results than her second place in the sprint and her third place in the individual 10 km skating race. If Weng has been strong in Lahti, the same applies to Frida Karlsson from Sweden who has already taken two gold medals and one silver (as of Thursday 24th). Her dominance on the tracks has been overwhelming.
The Finnish skier Anita Korva (U20) took home two bronze medals, in the sprint and 10 km skating races, and she is one of the future hopes in her home country. Let’s see if we can get her to do Ylläs-Levi in April. She may be too young to take part this year, but Eveliina Piippo might be the one coming over to Lapland, and she could be a great skier to have there as she finished 2nd in the invidual 10 km race today only 2 seconds behind the winner Mariya Istomina from Russia. The aforementioned Weng was almost 30 seconds behind Mariya (3rd).
One skier we should certainly pay more attention to is today’s 15 km skating race winner Jules Lapierre from France (U23). His performace was flawless throughout the race, and he beat the second best skier, Mikhal Novak from the Czech Republic, almost by 30 seconds. It would be great to see him in Engadin Skimarathon as it seems that skating is really close to his heart.
Another great athlete from France is Jules Chappas who won the 10 km skating race (U20) yesterday. He may be too young to do any Visma Ski Classics races yet, but he certainly has the spirit.
“My start position was last,” the happy winner Chappas said at the press conference after the race. “My plan was not to go so fast in the end, but the coach’s support gave me confidence. I started really fast and I was the last to leave, so I was able to follow the times. It was an advantage for sure. I rested yesterday and prepared for today well. I will also do the 30 km mass start race on Thursday, and the relay on Saturday.”
The action will continue in Lahti until the end of this week. Visma Ski Classics athlete Justyna Kowalczyk is here as well overseeing the Polish National team as the assistant coach. She will leave Lahti on Saturday and fly directly to Italy and be ready for Marcialonga on Sunday.
The organizers here in Lahti have done a great job in putting this event together, and the experience they possess guarantees a smooth ride for the entire week. It was only two years ago when Lahti hosted the World Championships, and most of the crew here is the same as back then.
One of the people involved in these Junior Games is the Race Director of Ylläs-Levi Juha Vanhanen who says that Lahti has the best possible team and facilities for international events like this one.
”It is always good to be involved in anything that happens in Lahti,” Juha continues. ”At least if it’s about cross-country skiing. But after this week, I will put my focus on the upcoming season finale in Visma Ski Classics, Ylläs-Levi. We have everything in place there, and I expect the event to be the best we have had so far. We have taken all the baby steps, and we now know what needs to be done and what to improve. My only concern is the weather. We have had Mother Nature on our side on both occasions as the race days were perfect, but we can’t expect that to happen every time. Who knows, it may snow or rain come mid-April. But even so, we are ready for any kind of conditions.”