Liberec, Czech Republic – Kris Freeman skied his best race in 6 years, finishing 4th in the World Championship 15km individual start, just 1.4 seconds out of the bronze medal.
Freeman had a very similar result in 2003 in Val di Fiemme, Italy, also finishing 4th, 2.1 seconds out of third.
“Fourth place is just not the place you want to be at World Championships. This has happened to me twice now. I don’t know whether I should have a party or go cry somewhere,” Freeman joked after the race.
Freeman was recently diagnosed with compartment syndrome and will undergo surgery in a few weeks. He had to cut back his training and has only been classic skiing since the diagnosis. But despite the challenges, Freeman turned in a performance the nearly put him in the record books. The US has won only one World Championship medal in cross-country skiing.
Freeman appeared to be in good form last weekend in the final World Cup prior to the Championships. He finished 16th after being in the top 3 for the first two thirds of the race. But it is a significant jump up to the podium, and every skier in the race had trained and peaked for this week of competition. On this day Freeman was the fourth best skier on the planet.
The waxing was extremely challenging and many racers chose hairies.
“Ten minutes before the start we were all huddled around the benches trying to figure out what skis to go with,” Freeman said. “Those kind of conditions are always very stressful.”
The skis worked well and he started conservatively. Last week he was in the lead at 3km, this week he sat way back in 43rd place, nearly 30 seconds off the leaders. At every checkpoint from then on, he moved up.
“You definitely want to be moving forward, I knew based on last week that my fitness was there, so I was confident in going out a bit slower and building through the race,” he said.
By 5k he was in 21st and at the 10km mark he had climbed all the way to 6th. But he was still 20 seconds off the podium. With each passing kilometer he closed on eventual third place finisher Matti Heikkinen (FIN). With 1km to go Freeman was just under 9 seconds out of the bronze, but he ran out of race, and Heikkinen was able to barely hold on.
“He’s only a second and a half from the podium, which is a little short of our goals, but he skied so well,” Cross Country Head Coach Pete Vordenberg said. “It was as good as he could ski, he skied to the max.”
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.