17 nations were lined up at the starting line when the final gun shot went off to officially start the last and perhaps most exciting cross-country skiing event at the EYOF: The mixed relay.
Accompanied by heavy snowfalls and freezing temperatures, the boys were the first to go on the 2.5 km course at the Vuokatti cross-country stadium, which they had to ski twice before tagging off to their teammates.
After the majority of the seventeen skiers started off with a moderate pace and stayed close to each other during the first lap, Italy´s and Sweden´s fast first skiers Davide Ghio and Jens Junes started pulling away in the second lap, tagging-off to their female counterparts with a small gap to Switzerland and France in 3rd and 4th place, and an already fairly big gap to Germany in 5th place.
The girls continued the race with a fast pace, Italy´s bronze-medalist Iris Pinter and Sweden´s EYOF champion Tove Ericsson further increasing the lead to their contenders Marina Kaelin from Switzerland and France Pignot from France.
Pinter tagged off to Italy´s third skier, Hannes Oberhofer, in first place, closely followed by Ericsson, who sent off Sweden´s third skier Elias Daniellson. Exchanging in third and fourth positions were France and Finland. Oberhofer and Daniellson´s leg saw a lot of tactics and relatively moderate pace, which gave Finland´s double-gold medalist Niko Antola the chance to shorten the gap to the leading group from 40 secs at the exchange to only 20 secs after the first lap. France´s third skier couldn´t keep up with Antola´s quick pace and fell back to fourth place, leaving Italy, Sweden, and Finland as the remaining medal contenders.
The leading duo of Oberhofer and Daniellson picked up their pace in their second 2.5 k lap. Oberhofer tried to go for it at the longest uphill and pushed away at the top, ultimately gaining a small lead over Daniellson before tagging off to Italy´s last skier Nadine Laurent. Daniellson tried hard to keep the gap to Italy as short as possible for Sweden´s last skier Lisa Eriksson.
Eriksson, the gold-medalist from the 10km freestyle competition, showed her strength in the skating technique and catched up on Nadine Laurent already on her first lap. “Feeling strong on the uphill”, as she later told in the interview, she tried to go for it and pulled away from Laurent.
Increasing the gap on the ongoing leg, even a fall from Eriksson couldn’t stop Sweden from keeping the lead. Despite Italy pushing hard, the gaps remained the same throughout the second lap, enabling Eriksson to enjoy her last meters to the finish line before falling into the arms off her cheering teammates, who waited right at the finish line. Laurent crossed the finish line 14 secs after Eriksson, securing the silver medal for team Italy. No less stoked about their result was team Finland, who managed to come in third place.
“Taking it easy and trying to follow the lead,” is how Sweden´s first skier Jens Junes described his team´s tactic in today´s race. Even when Italy temporarily took the lead in the third leg, the Swedish team kept cool, “because I knew I could count on my teammate Lisa,” Sweden´s third skier Elias Daniellson said.
“It was very hard,” said Lisa Eriksson, describing her race. “I felt very strong on the uphill and wanted to go for it, but then I fell.” Nevertheless managing to stay calm, Eriksson was “beyond happy to share this first place with my teammates”.
How will the Swedish celebrate their great success at the EYOF? “With a Finnish Sauna,” Daniellson said, joining in with the laughter of his teammates.
Text: Heikki HonkaharjuPhoto: Veikko Peräkorpi