Despite two sensational weeks of racing in Europe, Ida Sargent still has to head back to Dartmouth College in December to take final exams. But thanks to her stellar results, she has added a couple of stops along the way: two weekends of World Cup racing in Scandinavia.
Along with Noah Hoffman, the U.S. Ski Team (USST) gave Sargent the nod to travel to Gallivare, Sweden, where the squad will contest the season’s first World Cups on Saturday and Sunday. Sargent will continue on with the team to the following weekend’s mini-tour in Kuusamo, Finland, while Hoffman will likely drop back down to the domestic European circuit.
Sargent is strongest in sprints, the first of which is not until Kuusamo, but USST Head Coach Chris Grover said that her presence in Gallivare should allow the U.S. to run a 4×5 k relay team on Sunday—which, according to data available from the International Ski Federation, would be the first time the country has contested the event on the World Cup in at least a full decade.
“We felt like her classic 5 k skiing was good enough that it would be a nice chance to get her this opportunity this weekend, really with the focus of looking toward Kuusamo,” Grover said in an interview.
The mini-tour in Kuusamo includes three events, the first of which is a 1.2 k classic sprint, Sargent’s specialty. After her performance in the sprint in Muonio, Finland last weekend, where she topped World Cup stalwarts like Magda Genuin and Riitta-Liisa Roponen in qualifying, Sargent should be a lock to at least make the top-30, if not advance into the later rounds.
After a rude welcome to international racing in which she was barked at by Polish superstar Justyna Kowalczyk, Sargent said that she’s just hoping to get a few more big events under her belt. “For this first part of the season, I’m focusing on getting solid international racing experience, and the competitive fields in Muonio were the perfect place to begin,” she wrote in an e-mail.
“I’m really excited for the chances to race World Cups, and just hoping to get more experience and keep the momentum going.”
While Sargent will be donning a World Cup bib for the first time this weekend, Hoffman has competed in two events, in Whistler and Canmore in 2009 and 2010. He will get his third shot in Gallivare after a strong 10 k skate race in Muonio, where he finished less than a minute behind Kris Freeman.
“I think he was able to demonstrate in the skate race…that he can come up and be at least competitive enough to have a good experience at the World Cup,” Grover said, noting that the skate race in Gallivare suits Hoffman better than two classic events in Rovaniemi, Finland, which were his other options for the weekend.
Like the women, the USST men should also compete in Sunday’s relay, barring illness or injury. In addition to Hoffman, 2010 SuperTour champion Chris Cook will also be in Gallivare, and Kris Freeman and Andy Newell complete the four-man team.
Sargent and Hoffman were the only athletes invited by the USST to travel to the first weekend of World Cup racing. While Leif Zimmerman skied just as fast as Hoffman on Sunday—the two finished less than a second apart—Grover said that the USST’s priority was to offer opportunities to less-experienced athletes.
“Noah is younger than Leif, hasn’t had the kind of opportunity Leif has had to ski in World Cups, to ski in World Championships, or Olympic Winter Games,” Grover said. “As a young athlete, who’s been in Europe a week less than Leif—we’re trying to give him some more opportunity.”
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.