The rough translation of the Korean word “기회” or “gihoe” into English is “opportunity”. And it’s the best way to describe what was on offer Saturday afternoon in PyeongChang, South Korea during the men’s World Cup 30-kilometer skiathlon.
No seeded men on the World Cup contested the race. No Sundby. No Ustiugov. No Harvey. No Hellner. Lot’s of 기회.
For the three skiers finishing in positions 1, 2, and 3, it was a career-first World Cup podium. Russia’s Petr Sedov placed first in 1:18:49.6. Norwegian Daniel Stock finished second 22.5 seconds back with his teammate Mathias Rundgreen third (+42.1).
“I felt very strong today,” Sedov told the International Ski Federation (FIS) after the race. “I have to thank to my coach, service staff and to my family. I am very glad that my first ever World Cup podium is a win.”
To be clear, It was Sedov’s first individual non-relay and non-tour stage World Cup podium. He’s placed second twice in 2010 and first once in 2011 as part of Russian relay teams. Sedov also won a 2012 World Cup stage 15 k skate pursuit in Falun, Sweden.
And to discount the World Cup strength of some others would have been foolish. This was Stock’s sixth World Cup start. Yet he, too, like Sedov, came with realistic podium-hunting background: as recently as Jan. 21, he skied to fifth in the World Cup 15 k skate in Ulricehamn, Sweden. Canada’s Alex Harvey, Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby, Sweden’s Marcus Hellner, and Switzerland’s Dario Cologna were the only athletes ahead of Stock that day.
For Rundgreen, it’s the same: not a World Cup brand name, but bringing with him plenty of real-deal horsepower to shatter the race. He boasts three top-10 World Cup performances, including a first and second as part of Norwegian relay teams.
Rundgreen held off three others for third place, including Sweden’s Gustav Eriksson in fifth (+46.8), Japan’s Keishin Yoshida in sixth (+47.1), and Russia’s Alexander Utkin in seventh (+49.0).
The U.S. had two top 10’s, with the U.S. Ski Team’s Noah Hoffman in eighth (+1:06.2) and Scott Patterson (Alaska Pacific University) a spot behind in ninth (+1:28.4). Matt Gelso (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation), the only other American starter, placed 19th (+5:00.8).
Canada’s Brian McKeever (Canadian Para-Nordic Ski Team) finished 29th (+8:48.9) for his first regular-season World Cup top 30. (McKeever placed 21st in the 15 k skate at 2007 Sapporo World Championships.)
The Classic Leg
“At the beginning of the race the pace was a little bit subdued,” U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover said on the phone. “Early on, no one was really charging too much.”
Rundgreen controlled the tempo, leading the pack through the 5 k split at 14:16.
“They were going so slow at one point that Noah just took off to the front and made a little surge,” Grover noted.
That came at 6.15 k, and Hoffman won the first of two preems, or bonuses, in the race. Patterson came through in ninth, six seconds later.
At 7.5 k, a line of 21 skiers lapped through the stadium — Hoffman in third, Patterson ninth, four seconds out. Gelso trailed at the tail of that group, nine seconds off.
At 9.9 k, it was a repeat; Hoffman took the second bonus, controlling the pace up front surging and slowing. (Both bonuses amounted to 30 extra World Cup points for Hoffman.) Gelso and Patterson came through about eight seconds later in 14th and 18th, respectively.
“I was feeling pretty good on the classic,” Hoffman explained on the phone.
It was also an opportune time for U.S. Ski Team sponsors as Hoffman captured the majority of camera time. There was nothing about his skiing that didn’t appear confident. Solid striding, focused effort, and a will to position himself in the lead, or one or two spots back.
But that was his bluff.
“If I had been confident in my ability to win the race I probably would have really chilled on the classic — which I didn’t do,” Hoffman said of his front-of-the-pack classic leg effort. “I was skiing up near the front a lot. I was snagging some of the preems. … I was kind of playing games a little bit, having fun with the pack a little bit which was really fun to do. And maybe you could mistake that for confidence, but I think it was probably the opposite.”
Part of sport is gamesmanship. And part of opportunity is taking bold chances to seize it. The best athletes are not afraid of failure.
“I got stretched a little bit on the last classic lap to the tune of maybe five seconds plus or minus,” Hoffman added.
“My classic leg went pretty well for 2.5 loops,” Patterson wrote in an email. (Each loop was 3.75 k.) “I was hovering around 10th until we hit the longest down hill on the course. There were some surges for bonus points right before and I had a slight gap in front of me in my lane … I also ended up in a lane that had not glazed nearly as much as the primary center track. I probably went from 10th to around 25th. After that the rest of the classic I was spending too much energy to get back up close to the front and I ended coming through a bit off the lead group.”
15 k of Skating
Eleven skiers entered the classic to skate exchange with approximately 10 seconds separating the first from last. Hoffman had a seamless changeover, the second fastest, and left on his skate skis in fourth. Behind him, Patterson left the exchange 16th (+24.0).
Initially Rundgreen led the line of 11 skaters that increasingly spread out. One by one, another dropped, losing a meter or two, then they’d up the tempo to catch back on. Then Sedov would pull with the same effect.
But right there glued on at 17 k was Hoffman. He was in third at 19 k, but had bled nine seconds to Sedov and Stock now in the lead.
At that mark, Patterson had ceded 39 seconds to the Sedov-Stock combo. Gelso had fallen a bit over two minutes behind.
For the remaining distance, Sedov was the skier to beat as he slowly put a gap on Stock.
Hoffman’s group, five skiers deep, could sniff the third podium spot and it became an every-skier-for-themselves effort.
Rundgreen outlunged Russia’s Konstantin Glavatskikh for the final podium spot in a photo finish — they were given the same finishing time of 1:19:31.7.
“It was fun, it was nice to ski back up front,” Hoffman said. “I was doing that a lot in 2012, 2013, 2014 … I was just being involved in the race. So I wanted to do a little bit of that. From that perspective, I think it was good, I was definitely involved in the race throughout.”
Hoffman’s eighth place (+1:06.2) was his best result in a non-stage World Cup since placing eighth in a 2012 skiathlon in Canmore, Alberta. (Hoffman won the time of day in the 15 k pursuit four years ago in Kuusamo, Finland.)
For Patterson, the skate leg competition analysis reveals his strong skiing — most of his skate leg sector times rank in the top 10, with several top-five splits.
“My skate leg was quite good,” Patterson wrote after finishing ninth, one spot behind Hoffman. “Unfortunately I had a bit to move up from the classic. I spent most of the skate chasing the pack that Noah was in. They would accelerate going into some of the bonus points and then I would gain back on the rest of the course. I think I could have been quite good if I was able to latch onto the pack but I never quite made it. Instead I just cruised past everyone who fell off.”
Saturday marked the first career World Cup points for Patterson. Gelso, who scored his first points during Friday’s sprints, fell back on the skate leg to finish 19th — still his first World Cup top 20.
McKeever, a visually impaired skier who races without a guide in FIS World Cups, finished 29th to lead Canada, which started three men.
“The strategy was simply to follow,” McKeever emailed. “No point in deluding myself that I’m at the same level as the top guys. They dictate how the race is run. I just try to react. I just try to find decent wheels to follow and a rhythm that suits my style. … It was a tough day given recent shape. I was very sick after US nationals and spent a pretty uncomfortable week in bed. Given that, I’m quite happy with the effort being that it was really all I had.”
Also for Canada, Bob Thompson (NTDC Thunder Bay) placed 32nd (lapped), and Simon Lapointe (CNEPH) did not finish.
— Harald Zimmer contributed