It was a double Swedish victory when the elite settled for the world’s longest ski race in Jokkmokk. Klas Nilsson from Skellefteå won the men’s class while Åsarna’s Frida Hallquist in her first attempt superbly took home the women’s victory in the 220 km long Red Bull Nordenskiöldsloppet.
”It was terribly tiring. I did the race four years ago but couldn’t remember it this hard”, said a happy but completely pumped out Klas Nilsson.
The extreme race dating back to 1884 has in modern times only seen Norwegian winners in the men’s class. With three straight titles, Andreas Nygaard has in recent years proved to be unbeatable in handling the distance as well as resisting both wind and weather.
In the fifth edition since the competition’s return from the history books in 2016, it would now finally be local at the top of the podium after Klas sprinted down Czech Jiří Pliska on the very last meters of the race:
”On the last seven kilometers I was constantly in the front and kept on telling myself that I’m going to take the win”, said Nilsson who also came first into the ski stadium.
He continues: ”I want to be first there to be able to answer when he comes from the back. He tried to go around but I could immediately give back.”
Klas Nilsson has since many years belonged to the long distance elite in Sweden. However, it is only in recent years that the 35-year-old from Skellefteå really has taken his skiing to the next level:
”I sold parts of my company and got a new coach in Wolfgang Pichler. That’s when things finally came together”, he explains. Pichler is the former Swedish national team coach in biathlon and not exactly known for his soft training approach: ”You have to get yourself through terribly tough sessions under his regime”, Klas states.
Klas Nilsson was high on the list of beforehand favorites. Positioned a bit behind the very top in the first part of the race, it wasn’t until after the turning point at 110 km that he came loose together with six other skiers:
“After 120 km I decided that I would try to push even harder. However, we did not get any gap so after 130 km I was completely exhausted but somehow managed to put myself together again.”
Four of the leaders soon let go and after 160 km Klas and Jiří Pliska were in the lead four minutes before third Daniel Strand, Norway.
“I had a victory in my mindset even before the race. This feels so good”, said Klas Nilsson when he received the victory trophy and a prize check of SEK 50,000.
Frida Hallqvist, Åsarna IK, made sure that there was also a Swedish victory in the women’s class:
“It’s great to win here. This is something completely different from traditional ski competitions. It’s so cool to go this far and keep on going for such a long time”, Frida Hallquist said immediately after the finish.
Frida joined a minor men’s group early into the race and managed to pull away from the other ladies in the field. Already after just half the race, the gap to runner-up Nina Lintzen from Luleå was so big that most expected the 30-year-old to win. “I surely aimed high but it really only was on the last 10 km that I started to think that this could probably hold all the way to victory. I’ve had a lot of respect for the distance and felt that I can’t take anything out in advance even if I had a gap.”
This was Frida’s premiere in an ultra race. So how was it?
“It’s been great fun, but tiring. It went fast in the beginning, but with 70 km to go, the tracks started to soften up. And when there were 50 km left, it started to get really wet and heavy. I’m therefore so happy that I could ski alongside this group of guys for almost the whole race.”
But how do you even get the idea to ski a race over 220 kilometers?
“I do not know. My sister calls it a 30-year crisis, but I like challenges and things like this attract me.”
Olivia Hansson placed third in the women’s competition. A total of 135 elite skiers started, out of which 131 completed the race.