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Katharina Hennig achieves historic cross-country triumph

Only a few 100 meters to the finish of this 15 kilometer race, in front a quartet is fighting for the stage win in the Tour de Ski.

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Katharina Hennig achieves historic cross-country triumph

Only a few 100 meters to the finish of this 15 kilometer race, in front a quartet is fighting for the stage win in the Tour de Ski. The last little climb. "Gas on, straighten up, come on," yells national coach Peter Schlickenrieder. And Katharina Hennig does exactly that. In the easy descent, the 26-year-old cross-country skier rushes to the top, pushes herself further and further down the home straight from Val di Fiemme with powerful use of poles, gains a three-meter lead - and finally throws her arms up.

It is the first World Cup victory of her career. "I'm just blissful," she said shortly after the mass start race on ZDF. “It was very tough, but I felt really good and knew what was important in the end. Super cool that my whole family was at the track. It's really nice to experience that together." And then she adds, looking at the German team: "I think that's good for all of us. Big thanks to our technicians and trainers.”

Because the successful years of German cross-country skiing are ages ago. The fact that Hennig won gold in the team sprint together with Victoria Carl at the Olympic Games in Beijing last year was more than a sensation. A fairy tale no one dared to dream of. Yes, they had hoped for a medal, but that would have been a success too. Now Hennig is following suit with the first World Cup victory by a German cross-country skier in more than 13 years.

In the overall classification, she moved up to fourth place and surprisingly has the chance to make it onto the podium before the last stage. It's a bit of an upside-down world these winter sports days: while the German ski jumpers did as badly at the Four Hills Tournament as they did more than a decade ago and the mood is gloomy given the large gap to the world's best, the cross-country skiers are celebrating.

In recent years, Hennig has become more and more the most stable German runner, has always been able to get involved at the front and has fought her way into the extended world elite. But the last step to really count among the best was still missing. But, Schlickenrieder had long been certain: she has what it takes.

Now Hennig has duped the entire international competition in this 15-kilometer Tour de Ski stage. In the end she won ahead of Sweden's Frida Karlsson, Finland's Kerttu Niskanen and Rosie Brennan from the USA. After the Olympic gold in the team sprint and Olympic silver in the relay, it is the biggest success of her career. Behind the winner of the day, Laura Gimmler (14th place) and Pia Fink (15th) also showed decent performances.

“What Katharina showed today was unique. It's great that she stayed calm here and followed the tactics of the coaches. It's really great what she did there," said team boss Schlickenrieder. With a view to a podium finish at the end of the Tour de Ski, he added: “Of course I trust her. But she should enjoy it tomorrow. What comes next is an encore.”

The so-called final climb is scheduled for Sunday in Italy, and Hennig's starting position is promising. "Of course that gives motivation, tomorrow I'll scrape the last baskets together," she says. "Now I'll just cuddle the family and be happy with them."

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