A week ago, Noah Hoffman was in Toblach, Italy, nearly 3,000 kilometers away from the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, resting up and recouping for one last weekend of World Cup racing.
After his last pre-Olympic race on Feb. 1, the 24-year-old Aspen, Colo., native would have seven days to gear up for his first Games. One of seven Olympic rookies on the U.S. cross-country team’s 14-athlete roster (along with Erik Bjornsen, Sadie Bjornsen, Sophie Caldwell, Jessie Diggins, Ida Sargent, and Brian Gregg), Hoffman wasn’t alone in the nuance and whirlwind of the massive leadup, which intensified after the athletes flew to Munich on Monday for processing, where they received their credentials and uniforms.
“Uniforming was like shopping in a giant apartment store with really helpful employees where everything was free and you can’t say no,” Hoffman wrote on his blog. “We were handed checklists of all the stations we had to visit, and we could go in any order we liked. The whole thing was in a big warehouse.” The next day, the team arrived in Russia.
FasterSkier caught up with Hoffman, of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail/Team HomeGrown, on Jan. 30 to talk about everything from his training to his mentality and goals before the Olympics. Hoffman plans to compete in four events: the 30-kilometer skiathlon, 15 k classic individual start, 4 x 10 k relay, and 50 k freestyle, respectively.
FasterSkier: So the taper has begun?
Noah Hoffman: Oh yeah, I’ve hardly trained at all. I took the last two days off and today [last Thursday] I think I skied for 30 minutes. It is definitely that time of year.
FS: How does that feel? Are you restless?
NH: I’m pretty restless, for sure. I’m glad to be out of Seiser Alm [Italy] because there was not a lot going on up there. It was actually a tough place to be tapering, but it would be a great place to train five hours a day and be really tired when all you want to do is eat, sleep and ski, but when you don’t have much going on I was struggling to stay happy just because there was so little to do and so little going on.
FS: When did the Olympics start to feel real?
NH: I read a bunch of stuff to get psyched about the Games. Until then I’d been stockpiling it and putting it off to the side. I went through and looked at the maps of the villages … and it’s coming right up … it’s crazy.
FS: How are you keeping nerves in check?
NH: Honestly, I don’t feel like getting too excited has been an issue for me. Like I said, I was dealing with staying happy in Seiser Alm which means that I wasn’t worrying. I was being a little more introspective. I honestly haven’t been that focused on the Games. I’ve been working on a little trip I’m taking after the Games, like a little vacation. Looking beyond them has helped a little bit in terms of not taking them totally out of proportion in my own mind. I think that the best thing I can do is treat them as another race, because I give it my all in every race. I just need to go there and execute my plan. The reason I should ski better in these races is because my training plan is tailored to them, not because I do anything different once I’m on the start line.
FS: How do you feel about where you’re at?
NH: It’s up and down, as always. There are many, many races that I wish I had back. There are some races where I just didn’t have it, but the true standouts: the best time of the day in the last race of the Kuusamo Triple and the second-best time of the day in the point-to-point race in the Tour. Those are really high, highs, those are better races than I anticipated coming into this season. It gives me a ton of confidence, especially in my skate skiing. I continue to be frustrated in my classic skiing and I believe I’m a better classic skier than I’ve shown this year. But I’m really excited about my skate skiing, and I think it’s an indicator that my fitness is really good and that the work that I did through my surgery last spring was really good, and that the work that I’ve done with Zach Caldwell on my skate technique has gone really well.
I’m really excited to take confidence in the process because I have clear indicators that it’s going in the right direction and I really believe that anytime I’m on the start line I can be top-10 in the World Cup, which is something that I have not had in the past. I haven’t had a really disappointing skate race all season. There haven’t been that many skate races … There’s basically been three: two that I was top three in and the one in Davos where I was good, but not great. And so there’s a lot of skating coming up in the Olympics, the second half of the [skiathlon] pursuit next week and then the 50 k and I’ll probably do a skate leg of the relay. I feel like I’m on track in my goals being among the best skiers in the world in a couple of years.
FS: Which of those events are you most focused on?
NH: [The skiathlon and 50 k skate] bookend the games; they’re two weeks apart. I am confident in my classic skiing. I feel like it’s not that far away and I believe I can easily stay with the group through the classic portion of that skiathlon, and then it just becomes a mass start skate race. At that point, I’ve proven this year that I’m one of the best skaters in the world and I think that’s a really, really good opportunity for me. And then of course the 50 k skate is on the hardest course in the world, it’s a long distance race, it’s at a little bit of altitude [around 6,000 feet], all of which plays right to my strengths. That is gonna be an amazing experience and I’m really looking forward to that race. I feel like the 15k classic; I can accomplish other goals in that race. I have an outside chance at a medal in the two mass start races but not in the classic race. A top 15 or top 20 result is very achievable in that race and if I achieve something along those lines I’ll be very happy.
FS: How did prequalifying for the Olympics affect your confidence?
NH: I was happy with my results last season, and going into this season, making the Olympic team was never on my mind. Not making the Olympic team would have been a step in the wrong direction. That probably would have made me question my sole focus on skiing and so I’ve really just been looking forward. Doing well in Sochi was always a step towards my bigger career goals. It’s really nice to be in that position, but there is still a long, long way to go to accomplish my goals, and so I’m just looking forward.
FS: How has it been being the lone distance guy on the team for most of the season, until now?
NH: I like to train by myself anyway and I have a lot of faith and trust in my personal coaches and I really believe that working with them, especially working with [1992 Olympian] John Callahan out of Aspen has been critical to my success. So I think it would actually be more challenging if I were on a team with more really high-end distance skiers because I would feel definitely torn – do we want to train more in a German style as a big group and really push each other, or do we want to train more in a Norwegian style and hope that we all each do well independently? And so I’m not really left with that choice, but I think that doing it independently is my choice anyway.
Having guys like Newell and Simi on the team is really, really good for me to be able to work on my weaknesses and I can learn a ton from them and I respect them and their skiing immensely and I really enjoy spending time around them as well, but I think that not having them be directly competitive with me in most races and having them be on slightly different schedules works really well and is a really nice balance. I’m looking forward to having more distance guys in the future to push me, you know having Erik Bjornsen and Brian Gregg and of course [Kris] Freeman who’s been a mentor for me on the distance side of things. Really important to have those guys around for me I can learn a lot from them also.
FS: And your parents will be watching you at the Olympics from home?
NH: They came to the last few days of the Tour de Ski and we took a little vacation afterwards, but it was just a little too expensive and a little too logistically challenging to get to Sochi. They’re very excited to be able to follow it from home and I think NBC is gonna have good coverage.
Note: Hoffman broke down the Olympic TV schedule on his blog.
Also on his blog, Hoffman confirmed Friday that he would walk in the Opening Ceremony, two days before his first race and the eve of the women’s 15 k skiathlon.
“I decided to attend, and I’m really excited. I am going to return on the early shuttle departing after we walk in,” he wrote. “I’m bummed to miss the show, but I’m hoping to be in bed by midnight. The bus that stays for the whole ceremony is scheduled to return at three in the morning.”
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.