With the Olympics looming, Anchorage skier Sadie Bjornsen took care of business quickly Friday by capturing second place in the season-opening World Cup race — and with it, an all-but-guaranteed trip to February's Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Bjornsen delivered a career-best individual finish in the classic sprint race in Ruka, Finland. By doing so, she met the No. 1 qualifying criteria for earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team — a top-eight result in any of five World Cup races that will serve as Olympic selection races between now and Jan. 15.
"What an amazing and exciting way to start this new season," Bjornsen said by email. "… I am really looking forward to the rest of the season, and what is to come!"
Bjornsen and Sophie Caldwell of Vermont, who finished eighth Friday, both met the Olympic qualifying criteria.
A member of Alaska Pacific University's ski program and a 2014 Olympian, Bjornsen finished a scant .24 of a second behind winner Stina Nilsson of Sweden.
On the final hill during the finals, Bjornsen was right with Nilsson, the winner of eight World Cup sprint races in the last two seasons.
"I was in disbelief," she said in a news release from the U.S. .Ski Team. "I had dreamed of this kind of day and now it was happening."
It's the second time Bjornsen has made the World Cup podium in an individual race. She placed third in a 5-kilometer freestyle race last January in Toblach, Italy.
She also owns several podium finishes in the relay and team sprint, including a bronze medal in the classic-technique team sprint at last season's World Championships.
Bjornsen is coming off a solid summer of training with APU that included multiple trips to Eagle Glacier and recent on-snow skiing at Hatcher Pass.
"I have been feeling good for the past few weeks, but as always at the beginning of the season, you wonder where you are,' Bjornsen said by email. "I love this course, because it is so tough all the way to the finish line, and you don't have many places to recover throughout the course. I also love how steep the climb is, it is a grade that I have always enjoyed!
"… The combination of amazing skis, and great feelings made for one of my best days on skis."
Two other Anchorage women also raced Friday. Four-time Olympian Kikkan Randall didn't advance out of the qualifying round and Rosie Brennan scored World Cup points by placing 29th.
APU's Erik Bjornsen, Sadie's brother, was the top American in the men's race, placing 26th.
The Olympic team won't be named officially until late January, but Bjornsen and Caldwell have all but punched their tickets to PyeongChang.
There are four more World Cup races at which U.S. skiers can meet the No. 1 criteria by placing in the top eight — two classic sprints, one individual-start freestyle race (women's 10K and men's 15K) and one skiathlon. Those races are Olympic selection races because they are being contested in the same format as races on the Olympic program.
The No. 2 criteria is a top-50 ranking in the World Cup sprint or distance standings by mid-January. The No. 3 criteria is coaches' discretion.
If any spots remain after that, they will be determined by the results from two North American race series — the U.S. national championships, which are at Kincaid Park in early January, and the SuperTour, at various locations between now and the end of the calendar year....Read more