If there’s one takeaway from the Junior and U23 World Championships thus far, it’s that Russia is a well-oiled machine. Evgeniy Belov (RUS) won his country its sixth gold medal of the week on Thursday, ahead of Noah Hoffman (USA) in second and Hannes Dotzler (GER) in third.
Based on Belov’s delight on the podium, the run of success isn’t getting old.
“I cannot express how happy I am today when I defended the title from Otepää,” sad Belov, who won the 15 k skate race last year at U23s.
Belov has been competitive in both U23 races this week—hardly surprising, as he has more than one World Cup top-10 to his name this season. In the skate sprint on Tuesday, Belov was second.
“I am happy I can be fighting for medals both in sprints and in distance competitions.”
Skiing a well-paced individual race, Team HomeGrown’s Hoffman clocked in 24.5 seconds behind Belov. Hoffman was an earlier starter, and sat in first for a few minutes after finishing, before Belov came through.
“That was really fun,” said Hoffman. “Belov was fast, I’m impressed.”
Overall, Hoffman was pleased with the way he skied his race, which as Eric Pepper pointed out, isn’t always the case.
“Any race he’s in, he wants and expects to win—that’s just the way he is,” said Pepper, one of the U.S. team’s wax techs and a coach at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail.
“He’s certainly pleased, and it’s not often that he thinks he did really well. It’s a great result… From what Hoff said, everybody is here [from the World Cup] that he would expect to be, so it’s a really good field.”
A critical component of Hoffman’s race was Estonia’s Karel Tammjarv, who started 30 seconds ahead of him. Hoffman caught Tammjarv within the first four kilometers into the race, and the pair worked off each other for most of the remaining distance.
“Maybe I went out too hard, but I got in behind him and stayed as relaxed as possible,” said Hoffman.
With about two kilometers to go, Hoffman started fading. Tammjarv began to put a gap back on him, but Hoffman managed to hang on and finish 3.6 seconds ahead of bronze-medalist Dotzler.
“[Tammjarv] was really strong, and was a great ride for most of the race. I was lucky to have it and be able to stay behind him,” said Hoffman.
US Ski Team development coach Bryan Fish was most impressed with Hoffman’s ability to keep a cool head and maintain an even pace, even when he got splits that he had only a few-second margin ahead or behind his closest competitors.
“He caught the Estonian, who was skiing strong. Noah had the patience and the mindset to just let him do the work, and they were making up time,” said Fish.
Throughout the race, it was clear that a podium finish was Hoffman’s for the taking, with splits coming in over the radio time after time that he was staying consistently close to Dotzler.
“I was getting splits at the top of the course—a lot of second, third, down by five, down by ten,” said Hoffman. “I knew I was right in there and tried to focus on what I needed to do.”
Hoffman was behind the German from the first lap and much of the second, but when he came through the stadium to head out for a final time, he had finally surpassed him.
Dotzler was happy with third place.
“I wanted to go slow at the beginning but then I was in the lead after 5 k,” said Dotzler. “I was probably too fast in the early stages of the race but I came to the finish for bronze and I am happy for that.”
After Hoffman, Graeme Killick (CAN) posted a top-20, and came through the finish 2:04.6 behind Belov for 19th. David Greer (CAN) was 36th (3:04.7) just ahead of Erik Bjornsen (USA) in 37th (+3:09.0). Eric Packer (USA) was a close 39th (+3:10.6) Jesse Cockney (CAN) 47th (+3:57.2), Christopher Hamilton (CAN) 52nd (+4:21.6) and Ryan Scott (USA) 54th (+4:51.4).
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.