Hoffman Guts Out Top Thirty in Oslo 50km

Nathaniel HerzMarch 6, 201110
Noah Hoffman got right in the thick of things today finishing 30th place.

With a handful of gel packets stapled to his bib, American Noah Hoffman would have blended in better at the American Birkebeiner than into Sunday’s 50 k freestyle at the 2011 World Ski Championships. But make no mistake: the way he was skiing was still world-class.

Hoffman made it more than 30 kilometers rubbing shoulders with the World Cup podium’s usual suspects—Petter Northug (NOR), Lukas Bauer (CZE), and Maxim Vylegzhanin (RUS)—before finally succumbing to the pace after a broken pole.

Hoffman in the lead pack at the top of the course on his second lap.

Battling cramps, Hoffman still managed to hold on for 30th, leading an American contingent that also included Lars Flora in 39th, Tad Elliott in 40th, and Billy Demong in 51st.

“I feel like there’s a lot more there, for some time in the future,” Hoffman said. “Those guys aren’t that much faster.”

After a decent start, Hoffman actually made a couple of appearances at the very front of the race in the early laps. He said he was just skiing through, and found himself up there.

He may have absorbed a few gusts of wind, but he never actually pulled the group himself, and he said that he “certainly wasn’t going to lead.” And, in a mass start race, according to U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover, the front is the best place to be, thanks to an accordion effect that leaves those at the tail end of the group chasing hard over the top of every climb.

“It is so much easier in a group of 50 men,” Grover said, “to ski at the front of a pack like that, than to be at the back.”

As for those gels?

“He just knew he needed to get a lot of energy in the race, and there weren’t so many feed stations that were available for these guys. He did a good job of feeding,” Grover said. “He has a hard time during a race getting enough food on board and holding it down—I think it was a smart strategy.”

Hoffman gets a new pole from US Ski Team coach Matt Whitcomb.

After surviving four trips around the tough 8.3-kilometer loop used by the men, Hoffman finally came off on his fifth trip up the grinding Styggedalen climb. On the previous lap, he’d broken a pole and had to ski another big hill with just one, which he said was “the start of me getting dropped.”

In the closing stages of the race, Hoffman was battling cramps. (They hobbled him so much after the finish that he was limping badly, and had removed a boot to massage one of his legs.) But he held on, passing Aivar Rehemaa (EST), Tim Tscharnke (GER), and a blown-up Curdin Perl (SUI) over the last 10 kilometers, while just one man passed him.

“He hung in there for a long time, and even when he finally started hitting the wall, he didn’t die—he fell back for a while, and then he regrouped,” Grover said.

The result was Hoffman’s second top-30 of the championships—he was 29th in the 15 k classic on Tuesday.

Elliott, meanwhile, fell off the pace early, before moving up to a group that included Flora. The two battled for the rest of the race, with the veteran Flora ultimately getting the edge, by three seconds.

Both those men were far off the lead, but each mentioned the Oslo crowds, which were again pegged at around 100,000. Flora said that it was so loud, “you can’t even hear yourself breathe—and that’s a good thing.”

Lars Flora leads teammate Tad Elliot on their way to 39th and 40th places respectively.

Elliott, meanwhile, recounted a moment when he was trying to get a split from Matt Whitcomb, one of the U.S. coaches.

“I just see his mouth moving, and I can’t hear anything,” he said.

Like the Canadians, the U.S. team will now travel on to Lahti, Finland, for World Cup races next weekend. Its men’s squad will be Andy Newell, Kris Freeman, and Flora—the current Continental Cup leader from the U.S.—with Morgan Arritola, Liz Stephen, Kikkan Randall, and Holly Brooks make up the women’s contingent. (Brooks is Flora’s counterpart, as the Continental Cup leader.)

Hoffman will travel to domestic-level European races, while Elliott is returning home to Colorado to train in advance of SuperTour Finals in Idaho.

As for the championships in Oslo, Grover said that he felt the team “missed some opportunities, with our veterans, in particular.”

Randall crashed out of her best event, the freestyle sprint—a race in which she was one of two gold-medal favorites—while Freeman hadn’t quite rounded back into shape after an illness set him back.

On the other hand, Grover said, a number of the developing skiers on the U.S. squad had strong races: 10 of 14 team members cracked the top 30.

“Among those were some of those younger athletes who we debated…as far as, ‘should we name them to a World Championships team? Are they ready for that level of stress, that level of competition?’” he said. “Skiers like Noah, and Sadie [Bjornsen] and Jessie [Diggins]…As a nation, we’ve been hoping to get going. We know we can’t rely on Kris Freeman, Kikkan, and Andy Newell forever.”

Grover acknowledged that a top 30 at World Championships doesn’t mean quite the same as it does in a normal World Cup, where stronger athletes like Norway and Sweden get more start slots. But on the other hand, he said, places were harder to come by in Oslo, since most athletes were peaking there.

“Yes, if you go to a classic World Cup in Norway, then a top 30 can really mean something,” Grover said. “But…I think given the fitness of the group, these results are legit.”

A fitting backdrop for Billy Demong on his way to 51st place.

Nathaniel Herz

Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.

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  • nyctvt

    March 6, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    “…rely on Kris Freeman…” what a joke!

  • John Forrest Tomlinson

    March 6, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    Nice to see Hoffman being solid in his first senior world championships.

  • freeheels

    March 6, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    NY boy. You should watch yer mouth. Freeman’s scored more world cup points than you have or will even in your wet dreams. He hasn’t nailed it at the championships the last two years. That’s how racing goes. But he’s been the most successful US skier in 30 years. I can only assume your still a J2 and just started following World Cup.

  • donpollari

    March 6, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    +1 freeheels.

    Easy to spout off and face no consequences on the internet. Anonymity often brings out the worse in people, or maybe just their true colors.

  • Lars

    March 6, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    I was watching the race on Swedish tv and they noticed Hoffmans performance they didn`t know who he was but they sounded really impressed with his skiing.

    nyctvt Freeman is awesome! He`s got 2 4th places in previous championships, just a bit unlucky with his form this year.

  • SickterScale

    March 7, 2011 at 12:41 am

    Kris Freeman the most successful US skier in 30 years?

    you misspelled “Kikkan Randall.”

  • freeheels

    March 7, 2011 at 1:02 am

    Sickter Scale. Freeman’s been doing it for ten years….on the world cup. Plus, Kikkan’s a sprinter. I’ve been in too long to give sprint specialist full credit. Look who won the medals in Oslo. Once the US gets over this specialist mentality, we’ll be better off. Since they’re sprinting 1700 meters, the specialists aren’t in play.

  • fontana92

    March 7, 2011 at 4:39 am

    Freeman has been one of the best. And so close so many times. But Kikkan has how many podiums? She’s even won a few times, I hear. And from what I gather, they both started WC in ’01. But as an Alaskan, maybe I’m just biased.

  • davord

    March 7, 2011 at 8:05 am

    I think Hoffman will be one of the men for the US in terms of distance racing, that is now obvious. One thing that I think he needs to work on, and I am not saying this in a condescending way, is his technique. In comparison to the rest of the group, he was working way too hard and wasting a lot of unnecessary energy, especially on V1 and V2. I am sure the coaches have worked with him, and if he improves that aspect of his racing, along with pacing, he’s gonna be right up there fighting for top 10’s at the world cups. Great racing!

  • DOC

    March 7, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    Pretty cool to see a young guy kick some a$$ in a World Championship 50k!

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