With World Cup podium, Alaska skier Sadie Bjornsen qualifies for Olympics

APU Skier Sadie Bjornsen (left) placed second at the classic sprint race in Ruka, Finland. (Photo courtesy of Sadie Bjornsen)

It’s official– Sadie Bjornsen is headed to her second Olympic games. The Alaskan cross-country skier qualified over the weekend with a second place finish at a World Cup sprint race in Ruka, Finland.

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Under the bright, white lights, Sadie Bjornsen toes the line alongside five other women in the finals for the Classic Sprint race.

In her blue race suit speckled with stars, Bjornsen looks focused.

The buzzer sounds and they’re off. Snow flies through the air as the skiers sprint up hills and around tight corners.

At one point Bjornsen is balancing on one ski, but eventually stabilizes.

Bjornsen has her head down and leans forward on a massive hill near the end. She’s on her toes climbing the hill alongside Swedish skier Stina Nilsson.

“Sadie Bjornsen– that is the effort of her life,” the Eurosport commentator explained. “[She’s] so strong through her arms [and] she needs to keep that strength now in the double poling.”]

Bjornsen poles furiously down the final stretch and lunges across the finish line, three-tenths of a second behind Nilsson.

It wasn’t quite enough for a win, but enough to get Bjornsen on her first World Cup sprint podium and a spot on the Olympic team heading to Pyeongchang in February.

“It’s definitely pretty crazy that that happened so fast right away in the first couple of races,” Bjornsen said.

Bjornsen has actually never made the finals in a World Cup sprint race, so she said this was a pretty big deal for her. She and her teammates celebrated her second place finish.

Bjornsen said her wax technicians deserve a lot of credit for her race.

“It was a tricky day– it was snowing– and sometimes it’s hard to find the perfect wax and they did an incredible job,” Bjornsen explained, “So it was more of a celebration for everyone.”

Another U.S skier with reason to celebrate is Sophie Caldwell. The Vermont-based skier placed 8th in the sprint. Any top 8 finish in World Cup races featured at the Olympics are automatic qualifiers for the games.

There are seven Alaska Pacific University skiers racing the World Cup circuit in Europe right now. Bjornsen said they’re prepping for the races this weekend in Lillehammer, Norway and she said, she’s not nervous for what’s ahead.

“Anything can happen any weekend, and now I know what the limit is up there– the sky– which is really cool,” Bjornsen said.

The classic sprint race is one of the events at the 2018 Winter Olympics, so Bjornsen knows she could be toeing the line in those finals come February.