Liz Stephen of East Montpelier skis to a fifth-place finish during Tuesday’s 10-kilometer freestyle event at the Nordic World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy.VAL DI FIEMME, Italy — If Liz Stephen had not officially burst onto the world stage, she has now.
The 26-year-old East Montpelier skier powered to a fifth-place finishat Tuesday’s Nordic world championships, posting a time of 26 minutes, 4.6 seconds in the10-kilometer individual freestyle. The feat marked her best individual result, earning the top finish for the U.S. Ski Team and providing an historic best for the women’s squad in the event.
Stephen’s teammates all placed in the top 30, including the duo of Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall that gave the U.S. its first gold medal at Worlds with a victory in Sunday’s team sprint.
While Americans have traditionally taken a back seat to Europeans in Nordic events, Stephen admitted that she entered the week ambitiously hoping for a top-5 result.
“I would have been really psyched with a top 10 and to actually have met the top-5 goal — which was definitely the far-reached one — I’m pretty ecstatic,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without the team behind me. The first person that gave me a hug was Holly (Brooks) in the finish zone. The entire team was there afterwards. I’m so lucky to be a part of something so big right now.”
Stephen was energized by her teammates’ performance on Sunday and also had a lot of personal confidence after a 15th-place World Cup finish two weeks ago in Davos, Switzerland. She was also fresh off a 15th-place showing in last month’s Tour de Ski, a seven-stage race covering a total of 50K. On the final day she posted the second-fastest time on a 9K hill climb that gained over 1,350 feet of elevation.
“I’d never skied (the course) as a skate course before,” Stephen said of Tuesday’s Italian venue. “We always do it as a classic on the Tour de Ski, so I was psyched to be able to skate up those hills and just kept channeling the Tour de Ski energy and vibes. Heck, it’s World Championships, there’s pretty good vibes here with Kikkan and Jessie getting the win the other day. The mood of the team is outstanding right now — lots of energy kicking around.”
Stephen maintained competitive positioning at all splits of the interval-start event, and her endurance showed during the last few kilometers.The 52nd out of 111 starters, she had the second-fastest time when she came through the finish — eight seconds behind early leader Mirriam Goessner of Germany.
“I felt the body kind of coming this week and new feelings that I haven’t really felt all season,” Stephen said. “I woke up today thinking it was going to be a good day and I’m glad it was.”
Goessner ended up missing out on the podium by 0.5 seconds, as Therese Johaug claimed top honors. Johaug beat teammate Marit Bjoergen to prevent the Norwegian great from winning a third gold medal at the Nordic world championships. Johaug won in 25:23.4, beating Bjoergen by 10.2. Yulia Tchekaleva of Russia was third in 25:56.1.
Bjoergen led at the halfway mark, but was only 0.7 seconds ahead as Johaug steadily increased her pace and built a 4.5 second lead after 6.8K. Bjoergen, who won the individual sprint and the 15K pursuit skiathlon, was looking for her 11th world title. The silver is her 17th world championship medal.
Thursday will feature a 4x10k team relay, which Stephen is already eyeing.
“I’m so fired up right now, I can’t wait for the relay,” she said.
Stephen was a standout runner at U-32 before transferring to Burke Mountain Academy, where she made the switch from Alpine to Nordic racing. She captured her first U.S. title at the age of 19 and has won six more since then. In 2010 she skied her first Olympics.MORE IN Wire Sports
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