Estonian edges US college teammate to win women’s XC mass start

Mariel Merlii Pulles of Estonia, right, crosses the line after a sprint finish with Kendall Kramer of the USA in the women’s 15 km mass start at th World University Games in Lake Placid. (Provided photo — Logan Swney, FISU)

LAKE PLACID — Mariel Merlii Pulles saved her best for last.

The Estonian cross-country skier — who is a senior at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks — skied in a small chase pack for most of the women’s 15-kilometer mass start free race, chasing her UAF teammate Kendall Kramer. In the final sprint, the Estonian got to the finish line 0.4 of a second faster than the American, winning her fourth medal of the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games.

“Not really!” gushed Pulles when asked if she was confident that she could catch Kramer. “I saw her all the time and thought, ‘Well, I’m gonna try.’ Then going downhill, the last 500 meters, I knew that I am better than her on the downhills, because she’s my teammate. But I can’t believe I won, actually — it’s insane.”

Kramer, 20, made the first move in the long women’s mass start race. On lap two (of four laps on a 3.75-kilometer loop), the American — who likes to ski away from the pack if she can — surged off the front and quickly gained an 8.5-second gap. She held the gap until the final hill, when Pulles began charging behind her. But the Estonian did not catch her collegiate teammate until the finishing stretch.

Pulles clocked 39 minutes, 38.4 seconds, Kramer crossed the line in 39 minutes, 38.8 seconds.

Kazakhstan’s Xeniya Shalygina led for the first lap, then held on to take her second bronze medal of the Games. Her time of 39 minutes, 50.1 seconds was 11.7 seconds out of first place.

“I’m very cold,” said Shalygina after the race, “but very happy.”

A 2022 Olympian, Pulles has twice finished fifth at the NCAA ski championships. The 2023 NCAAs are coming to Lake Placid in March this year, giving Pulles a chance to win FISU World University Games medals and get a preview of the NCAA courses.

Kramer is a bronze medalist from the 2020 Youth Olympic Games. She also helped the U.S. win a silver medal in the relay at the 2020 world junior championships. She had hoped to win gold here at the FISU Games.

“I’m not even mad because Mariel goes to UAF with me, so it’s basically the same,” Kramer said.

Cross-country competition at the World University Games has now concluded. Norway won the most medals with seven (but no golds) while Finland won the most gold medals with five.


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