Seven hundred kilometers away from Dusseldorf, Germany, where the U.S. women tore up this weekend’s sprint competition, the team’s female distance skier, Liz Stephen, made waves in Austria.
Stephen won the FIS women’s 5 k freestyle race in Seefeld on Sunday, just hours before teammates Kikkan Randall and Sadie Bjornsen skated to second place in the World Cup team sprint.
While Randall and Bjornsen made U.S. Ski Team history with the first team-sprint podium appearance, Stephen matched a personal best, winning an FIS-sanctioned 5 k for the second time in her career. The last time she did so was in Hanover, N.H., in 2008.
Stephen cruised the victory in Seefeld in 12:58:9, finishing 18 seconds ahead of runner-up Olga Mikhailova of Russia. Michiko Kashiwabara of Japan was third (+19.2).
Stephen was the lone North American in the women’s race. Her teammate on the men’s side, Noah Hoffman, placed third in the 10 k freestyle and described the course as “fairly flat with some short, steep hills” on the 2.5 k loop.
Aliaksei Ivanou (BLR) won the men’s race in 24:17.5, and Thomas Grader (AUT) was second (+8.1). Hoffman followed, 10.7 seconds out of first, and Austria’s Manuel Hirner was fourth (+15.9).
“Every race I’ve done this year has been a little better than the last,” Hoffman wrote in an email. “Today I had a little trouble producing speed on my own. I got a little lucky when Masaya Kimura from Japan (who finished seventh) started as I came through my first lap. He was skiing really well and I was able to follow him all the way to the finish.”
Fifth after the first loop, Hoffman moved into third by 5 k and was second at the 7.5-k mark. He credited the work of U.S. coach Bryan Fish, who was the American’s only wax tech for the day.
“Mostly I was looking to execute well and continue improving on my previous result,” Hoffman wrote. “I didn’t know who was racing, except for my teammates, but European FIS races are always competitive.”
Americans Kris Freeman placed fifth (+19.5), Tad Elliott was 11th (+30.2), and Anthony Ryerson finished 88th (+4:42.6) of 126 in his second FIS race after debuting in Seefeld’s 10 k classic on Saturday (where he was 65th).
In an email, Elliott wrote that he hoped to make the top three with teammates Hoffman and Freeman, but was satisfied regardless. He finished about 11 seconds behind Freeman.
“My goal was to get the workout in and have a good hard race,” Elliott wrote. “Kris is a great guy to see how you are doing off of. He is the best distance skier in the last 20 years. He had (an) off day but I am still happy.”
At the end of the day, all the Americans except Ryerson, who was training in Austria, drove 2 ½ hours back to their hotel in Davos, Switzerland. According to Hoffman, they would be there with the rest of the U.S. team for the next nine days.
“It would have been fun to be in Dusseldorf this weekend, but it was great to travel with the smaller group,” he wrote. “It was fun to watch the World Cup and cheer those guys on from afar!”
Elliott wrote that watching the Dusseldorf sprints on T.V. was better than being on the course in some ways.
“We have phones so it was just nice to talk to them and hear how happy the girls were,” he wrote. “Just amazing. Smiling as I am writing this.”
Topher Sabot contributed reporting.
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.