- With so much happening in Gällivare, Sweden, this weekend, we didn’t have the chance to put quite everything into our main feature stories. Here are some leftovers from the races, as well as some small pieces about the U.S. men’s and Canadian women’s relays.
When asked about the U.S. women’s relay podium, Development Coach Bryan Fish initially didn’t get too specific… he was just impressed. “That was exciting to watch,” he told FasterSkier in a classic understatement. “One of the things, Jessie just really dug deep to get that third place. That was awesome. It was certainly a team effort. It’s really exciting.”
A little-known fact from that relay is that Holly Brooks fell down during her opening-leg effort for the U.S. Her teammates didn’t even realize it until she was telling FasterSkier about the incident at the finish line: “On that first hard corner you come up a short hill with a lot of speed and you have to go into a herringbone, and I don’t know what happened, but I went down. I got up pretty fast, but I had been in fourth or third. Luckily it was an uphill. But then it was hard to get that position because that was right when they accelerated.”
Nevertheless, Brooks was happy with her performance and said that being the scramble skier was a lot of fun.
“It was a great start position, and that scramble leg, it is scrappy,” she said. “You have to be a total bulldog. You’re out there with [Ida] Ingemarsdotter and Vibeke [Skofterud], so it’s scrappy and they make their presence known. I had a blast. Of course I would have liked to have come in a little faster, but I felt like I kept us in there and then these girls really poured it on.”
Meanwhile, the Canadian women were quietly having a solid race of their own. According to the FIS results database, the last time a Canadian women’s team finished a regular World Cup relay was at this same race series…. in 2004. And it wasn’t a completely Canadian team, with Sara Renner instead joining up with three Germans. While the Canadians regularly field relay teams at championship events like the Olympic Games and World Championships, to have four racers competing on Sunday was a landmark.
“It was fun to be out there, racing with everyone, for sure,” Perianne Jones told FasterSkier. “It was my first World Cup of the season, and I think it’s a huge success for us to have a relay team. We finished, and there were people behind us, so those were all positive things.”
Expectations weren’t sky-high, she said: “All of us are sprinters.” Coach Justin Wadsworth had confirmed to FasterSkier the day before that sprinting has their full focus. But the ladies were happy with their performances; Alysson Marshall won a photo finish against Kazakhstan to net the team 14th place out of 18 finishers.
“I was kind of lonely for most of it,” anchor skier Marshall said. “I could tell that those two girls were working together to catch me, so it was kind of fun once they caught me that I could just stay behind them and ski with them until the finish. I think I got the sprint finish. So that was fun.”
Not as happy with their performances were the U.S. men. After an anchor leg from Andy Newell that left them in eighth place, 13 seconds behind the leaders, Noah Hoffman and Tad Elliott struggled to find their pace on the short 7.5 k loops – a new format this year, since men’s relays have always been 4 x 10 k. Although Kris Freeman turned in the seventh-fastest anchor leg, he was only able to gain a few spots, and finished 15th, a second behind Sweden II.
“I got tagged pretty far back there,” he told FasterSkier. “I started out with a group of three and I wasn’t expecting that Swede to be as strong as he was – I’m curious who he was, because he was skiing very well. The Finn dropped off pretty quick, and we were reeling a couple of guys in, but there just wasn’t enough course.”
The Swede Freeman was referring to was Calle Halfvarsson, a Swedish national team member who finished fourth in the opening 15 k skate in Sjusjøen last season. Like Freeman, he was probably hoping to receive the tag a little further up in the field. But the two turned out to be good allies.
Freeman, however, was disappointed with the distance change: “I think that every time skiing makes a change for TV, it’s really bad for the sport,” he said with a smile that was difficult to interpret.
Hoffman was slightly more diplomatic.
“It’s hard for me,” he said of the change. “But I think it probably makes it more exciting, and I understand why they did it.”
Despite the fact that the distance change without a doubt made it tougher for Hoffman – or Elliott or Freeman, since all are distance specialists – nail a good relay leg doesn’t mean that he wasn’t frustrated. He believes he can do much better. “Disappointing” was the first word he used to describe his performance.
“Newell skied awesome,” Hoffman said. “I was super impressed and psyched that he handed off to me basically with the pack. And then I just struggled. It’s fast – 7.5 k goes really fast, and the pace went out really hard. I just couldn’t hang onto those guys.”
When the World Cup was last in Gallivare two years ago, the U.S. had a strong run through three legs. Newell skied an almost identical opening leg, before Freeman skied the team into fifth. At that time just 21 years old, Hoffman had attacked the third leg and kept the team in contention, sitting in sixth place. (He tagged off to SuperTour leader Chris Cook, and the team dropped to 17th by the finish.)
While that performance was skating, which had been Hoffman’s stronger technique, he didn’t feel that he should have done any worse classic skiing now in 2012.
“I believe I can ski better than I did today in any leg in the future,” he said. “I’ve really worked hard on both techniques and trying to stay balanced in both, so I don’t really have a prefrence at this point. So whatever the team needs me to do, I hope to be able to produce a good result for it.”
Newell, despite having one of the stronger performances on the team, was merely ambivalent about his performance: he’d been hoping for something a little better. His strategy was to be at the front when “the move went down,” but he was stuck behind a French skier and unable to respond for just a moment, meaning that he then had to play catch-up. While the deficit to the leaders wasn’t much by the time he tagged, “I would have liked to have been closer to the top three or four,” Newell said.
Women’s 10 k
More from Brooks, who was surprised with her fifth-place performance, but says that she now knows what it takes to do well at the World Cup level: “There were some really, really high speed corners, and I don’t know – you just gotta go for it. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that if you hold back at all on anything – and I did, I was a little bit of a wuss on some of the hills, and I was three seconds from the podium. So I have no regrets at all, but every second out here counts. Every second, every half a second.”
Canada’s Chandra Crawford on the corners that took out Stephen and Diggins: “It’s really dark up here in the afternoons, so I’ve been skiing around on this course when it’s really dark. Some parts of it have no lights. I was really glad about that when I got out there, because I could ski all the downhills with my eyes almost closed.”
Teammate Dasha Gaiazova on the FIS policy, new in the last few years, to alternate the seeded group with unseeded skiers (she is the latter): “I really liked that, for sure. As a slow person, I loved that. It was definitely good to see those fast girls. To see Vibeke [Skofterud, of Norway] go by, and to see that with just a little more on the hills, I’d be able to stay with her longer and get in a few more positions.”
Men’s 15 k
Hoffman of the U.S. wasn’t thrilled with Saturday’s race, either, where he placed 38th: “Yesterday was a little disappointing place-wise, I was hoping to do better, but it was so tight and so fast, 30 ½ minutes for [winner Martin Johnsrud] Sundby, which is really fast, so I was feeling like I wasn’t that far out of the points, 15 seconds or so, and I was only 45 seconds out of the top ten, so I think that it’s a good place to start from. I’m hoping to build on it.”
This year, a big focus for Hoffman has been technique work and gaining efficiency in both disciplines. How did all of the changes work in a race setting?
“I think it’s an improvement,” he told FasterSkier on Sunday. “Last week in Muonio and yesterday were both challenging conditions for me, and I think I handled them better than I have in the past, so I think that’s a good step in the right direction. But obviously there’s a lot of work still to go.”
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Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.