OBERHOF, Germany – If there’s anything positive about Kris Freeman’s struggles in the first half of the 2012 season, it’s that they haven’t been too much of a mystery to him.
Through nine competitions this season, Freeman’s head has been “everywhere but racing,” as a result of a big change in his personal life: Just before he departed for Europe, he and his girlfriend parted ways after 10 years together.
Following a week of rest and recovery with his teammates in Ramsau, Austria, Freeman said he’s finally beginning to feel rejuvenated. And a day before the gun fires to start the first stage of the 2012 Tour de Ski, he and his coach are cautiously optimistic that he could still be in line for some good results.
“Hopefully, it’s going to end now,” Freeman said. “I wasn’t having fun [in the early season], and I always have fun skiing. In Ramsau, I was having fun again.”
If Freeman’s head is back in good shape, the remaining question is the rest of his body—the arms, legs, and cardiovascular system that will power him through 110 kilometers of racing in two different countries.
For much of the off-season, Freeman trains alone in New Hampshire, making it difficult for him to gauge his fitness.
But he did beat world-class biathlete Tim Burke in the annual rollerski race up Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid in September. And at least for Freeman’s longtime coach, Zach Caldwell, there weren’t many reasons to worry in the summer and fall.
“Most of the signs before he left were pretty good,” said Caldwell, who is in Oberhof working on the American team’s service staff. “I didn’t see a lot of indications that he was way off the mark this year.”
It’s not more training or better fitness that Freeman needs to turn things around in Europe, Caldwell said—at 31 years old, Freeman has plenty of hours under his belt. Rather, it’s a question of matching good race preparation with a good “energy state,” Caldwell added.
Freeman’s best chances in individual stages will likely come in the races in second half of the Tour, if he can build some momentum early on, Caldwell said.
At the beginning of the year, Freeman’s goal was for a top 10 finish here, and he said Wednesday that he still thinks that’s a possibility—though he also acknowledged that it’s “hard to say” how things will end up. (Last season, in his first attempt racing the Tour, Freeman was 28th.)
If things don’t go well, Caldwell said that there is a chance Freeman could pull the plug on the season, and head home. But for now, nobody’s planning on that.
“We’re all very hopeful and optimistic he’s going to come out of this feeling like a real ski racer—and looking like one,” Caldwell said. “Kris Freeman is the same Kris Freeman who’s gotten the best distance results we’ve seen in a long time. We’re going to see him skiing really fast again sooner or later, and we all hope it’s sooner.”
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.