Never fail, on Monday afternoon during a flight from Frankfurt to Denver, Noah Hoffman blogged. And not just any quick update, almost a whopping 2,000 words.
The U.S. Ski Team’s top male distance skier emerged from a one-day online hiatus to explain exactly what happened Sunday in Kuusamo, Finland, where he fell hard with slightly less than 2 kilometers left and did not finish a World Cup race for the first time in his career.
Hoffman explained he aimed to start the 15 k classic — the first distance race of the season — conservatively, and he settled after the first kilometer. Waiting patiently to get a ride, he saw his opportunity with Norway’s Pål Golberg, who went on to place ninth, after the first lap around 5 k. As Hoffman accelerated to catch him up the big climb and did so about halfway up, he found shortly after that the effort was too much, too soon.
“For several kilometers I had to focus on being smooth and recovering. I lost a ton of time,” Hoffman wrote on his blog on Monday.
At the end of the second lap, Finland’s eventual third-place finisher Sami Jauhojärvi caught Hoffman. He saw that as another opportunity and stayed with Jauhojärvi around the stadium and up the big climb, but “just like the lap before, the effort was too much for me. He dropped me and I was blown,” Hoffman wrote. “I was suffering for the rest of the race. I was not skiing fast. At the 13.1 kilometer split station, which was right before I crashed, I was in 52nd place, not where I want to be.”
Hoffman went down on a sharp-righthand corner at the bottom of a fast downhill. He expected it to be icy and wasn’t intimidated by it and didn’t think it would be a problem. When he crashed on his third lap, no one was near him and he explained he wasn’t trying to be aggressive. If anything, he wondered if he should have tried to carry more speed through the turn.
“I’m not sure exactly what happened. I slid on the ice, went into the snowy berm, lost control and slammed into the fence,” he wrote.
What he thought was his right ski snapped in half as it hit the solid paper or plastic lining the bottom half of the fence. The top part was made of alpine netting. His other leg punched through the solid material and was tweaked with his left ski still in the fence. He kept sliding and injured his knee and ankle.
“I knew almost immediately that I was hurt,” Hoffman recalled. “I got up and glided about a hundred meters down the trail. I needed to get out of the way of other racers and I needed to get to some people who could help me.
“I couldn’t put any weight on my left leg,” he continued. “I knew I couldn’t finish the race, which is significant because I’ve never previously dropped out of a race. I’m bummed that I had to end that streak yesterday.”
Hoffman’s blog post was titled, “Broken Fibula,” and he included an X-ray taken at a medical center near Ruka venue, which showed a fracture in his fibula behind the tibia (shin bone), “at least that’s what I’m told,” he wrote.
“The plan then immediately became for me to get back to the U.S. as fast as possible,” he continued. “There wasn’t really any discussion about it, and I didn’t have any say in the matter. They put me in a hard cast for the travel.”
Hoffman and the U.S. team’s physical therapist, Peter Dickinson, who accompanied him to the clinic, took a taxi 300 meters to their condo “because Pete wouldn’t let me crutch down the icy stairs and hill,” he explained.
“Things happened really fast once I got back to the condo. I got on the phone with the U.S. Ski Team travel agent to try to re-book my ticket,” he wrote.
His previously scheduled return was after the Tour de Ski in early January, departing from Munich and arriving in Hartford, Conn. Last night, he wanted to leave northern Finland for Denver on the earliest flight. Unable to re-book, he found the cheapest option was buying a new ticket for $1,000 dollars. But there weren’t any seats available in most of the airports near Kuusamo.
“When we kept striking out I started doing some research on my own and amazingly found an award ticket option through United but on partner airlines out of Lulea, Sweden,” Hoffman wrote. “The only ticket available was in business class for 70,000 miles. Luckily I had that many miles available and it sounded better to me to spend them than paying $1,000, so I purchased it at 6 O’clock last night. The flight was at 6:20 this morning. Lulea is 5 hours from Kuusamo.”
From there, two of the team’s wax techs JP Laurin and Oleg Ragilo drove him to Luleå. They were headed there anyway with a cargo van full of skis en route to Lillehammer before next weekend’s World Cup. Hoffman squeezed up front with them in the three-person bench seat.
“Oleg and Jp were ready to depart before I even booked the flight and I hadn’t packed, eaten dinner or showered. Also, my leg was quite painful,” he wrote. “Luckily I have incredible teammates. They did everything for me. I took a washcloth bath while Simi and Ida packed my duffel bag and Liz made me four peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner. I got out of the condo in less than 15 minutes.
“As we took off on the long drive I had to make a ton of phone calls, organizing things at home. I talked to my coaches and parents, started the process of setting up doctor’s appointments and organized transport with [my girlfriend] Emilia for when I land in Denver,” he added. “The drive was long and monotonous on snow covered roads.”
But they got to Luleå at midnight, 1 a.m. Kuusamo time. Hoffman wrote he slept fairly well despite keeping his leg elevated.
“I made it to the airport without issue, although crutching while rolling a duffel is a challenge,” he wrote.
At the airport, Scandinavian Airlines couldn’t find his ticket number. Hoffman spent a half hour on the phone with United sorting it out and almost missed his flight.
“Since then the travel has gone very smoothly,” he added. “I’m ashamed to say I’ve been getting pushed around airports in a wheelchair.”
Once airborne, he enjoyed business class and his first time with internet access in a trans-Atlantic flight.
Hoffman is currently on blood thinners and Aspirin to reduce the risk of a blood clot. After flying into Denver, he was headed to Breckenridge, Colo., Monday evening and hoped to see a specialist at The Steadman Clinic in Vail on Tuesday.
“Then I can start making plans for my recovery and my return to racing,” he wrote.
“Because I haven’t posted anything, I didn’t know anybody knew about my crash yesterday,” Hoffman noted. “Apparently I was wrong. I just turned on my computer for the first time, and I’m overwhelmed by the number of get well messages. I feel incredibly lucky to have so much support! Thank you all.”