The men of the U.S. Ski Team (USST) got off to a rocky start Saturday morning in Sjusjøen, Norway; Kris Freeman led the way in 55th in the 15 k freestyle, +1:55.0 back from Johan Olsson (SWE), who handily bested the men’s field by 31 seconds.
“It went really bad, but that’s the way it goes sometimes,” said Freeman on Saturday afternoon. “Overall the energy levels weren’t where they should have been. I’m not trying to make excuses,” he continued, explaining that he actually felt like he was hardly working the first few laps, and steadily moved up in the field.
Freeman, the 55th skier out on the course out of 92, was in 34th after two laps, and even felt good at the midway point. But after that, he said, “the wheels came off, and I suffered through the finish.”
USST head coach Chris Grover said he wasn’t surprised with the way the men struggled. Many of them had arrived in Europe just a week earlier, and had only put in a handful of sessions on snow in Torsby, Sweden, before heading to Norway.
“The crew looked a little flat,” said Grover, who had watched the race online from Park City. But, he added, “I guarantee we’ll have better places every weekend [from now on].”
The rest of the USST men’s squad finished not far behind Freeman. Tad Elliott was the second American in 60th (+2:07.4), followed by Andy Newell in 63rd (+2:10.3), Lars Flora in 65th (+2:11.2) and Noah Hoffman in 79th (+2:52.2).
Elliott, in his first season racing in Europe as early as November, felt his race went well. “I’m pretty stoked, actually, on the first race of the year. I felt pretty good to go,” he said on Saturday evening.
“I had no idea how I was doing [without splits], then Tobias Angerer (GER), who started right behind me, went by so fast,” said Elliott. Angerer ended up in 14th. Elliott prefers the head-to-head competition of mass start racing, which he will get a dose of as the third leg in Sunday’s relay.
Newell, who is no distance specialist, was nevertheless expecting bigger things from his effort. Skiing a World Cup as his first race of the year was definitely a challenge, he said. “It’s kind of hard to tell how hard to go…I wasn’t exploding with the same energy I thought I had last year.”
Hoffman, who was looking to hit the ground running in the first distance race of the year, said he came up short despite going all-out. “This is not quite what I was looking for today,” he said. “I’ve been resting well and had no issues with energy. Basically, I struggle on courses without big hills or periods of recovery, and I didn’t do any better today.”
In next weekend’s Kuusamo, Finland mini-tour, which begins Friday, he expects to improve.
Sunday’s relay will start off with Newell, Freeman and Elliott, with a fully-rested Simi Hamilton in the anchor leg. Hoffman said he’s looking forward to watching and helping the coaches man the course. “I’m really psyched for the girls; Kikkan and Liz did great today and I think they could do really well [tomorrow]. And I know all the guys are ready to go.”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.