Norway’s Eldar Rønning and Martin Johnsrud Sundby boosted their homeland’s medal count even higher on Tuesday when they won the silver and bronze medals in the men’s 15-kilometer classic race at Ski-VM 2011. The new world champion, though, comes from Finland.
Matti Heikkinen of Finland was unbeatable, challenging Rønning to a tough duel through much of the race. Heikkinen pulled ahead around the 10-kilometer mark and Rønning was too slow at the end. Heikkinen skied the 15-kilometer course in tough classic style (no skating allowed) in just 38 minutes, 14.7 seconds. That was 13 .3 seconds ahead of Rønning and 31.9 seconds ahead of Johnsrud Sundby.
Rønning was thrilled anyway. “I had thought about taking the gold, but it was too difficult,” he told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “I’m incredibly satisfied with silver.”
His coach was, too. “There was nothing we could do with Heikkinen today,” the Norwegian men’s cross-country ski coach Morten Aa Djupvik told NRK, giving full credit to their Finnish competition. “But this was a fantastic race for Eldar.”
It was fantastic for Johnsrud Sundby, too, who hails from Røa in Oslo, just down the hill from Holmenkollen where the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships were in their seventh day.
“I was really nervous, I’ve been working a long time for this,” Johnsrud Sundby said.
Norwegian skiers like Rønning and Johnsrud Sundby have been in the shadow of team star Petter Northug, who was pulled from Tuesday’s race after collapsing when he won the men’s 30-kilometer race on Sunday. Critics have claimed the other members of the team lie far behind Northug in talent. Johnsrud Sundby and Aa Djupvik were delighted to prove them wrong, with Johnsrud Sundby blasting the media at a press conference after the race for “trying to break us down for many months. That’s hard when you’ve been working so hard all day, all year, and then get slaughtered by the media every week.” Now he knew that he and Rønning had impressed everyone.
“It’s incredibly fun that we wound up with two men on the winners’ platform, even without Northug in the race,” Aa Djupvik told NRK.
Heikkinen, meanwhile, used few words to describe his victory, telling NRK it was simply “great.” It was the first gold medal for Finland since 1999 and teammate Sami Jauhojärvi said it would build confidence for Finland.
“It’s not just Norway, Sweden and Germany who are good,” said Jahujärvi, who placed an impressive fifth in the race himself.