Reese Hanneman was so close, heartbreakingly close, encouragingly close, however you look at it, 0.45 seconds from making it into the points at World Cup Finals as a 24-year-old U.S. Continental Cup leader.
Sixteen days after his first World Cup of the season, Hanneman notched his all-time best World Cup result on Friday: 31st in the classic sprint in Falun, Sweden. The leader at the end of the last SuperTour period, the Alaska Pacific University skier earned his way to Europe, but in a field of fewer than 50 competitors, most of which have made the World Cup top-50 cut to get to Falun, there’s always a fear of finishing last.
Hanneman was far from it on Friday, nearly qualifying for the rounds, which would’ve made him the third American to do so this year.
“To be that close to the heats, and scoring points, is brutal,” Hanneman wrote in an email. “I felt good, but I didn’t even execute it perfectly. There are a few places I know I could have been faster. But there is nothing like a 31st on the World Cup to make you so hungry for the future.”
U.S. coach Matt Whitcomb was excited about Hanneman’s performance, considering he’s been in their development pipeline for several years. This season, just over two weeks ago, marked his international World Cup debut.
“To put the carrot that close to his face at the end of the season, he’s going to go home more motivated than ever,” Whitcomb said. “It’s a significant accomplishment to come that close to even qualifying for a World Cup sprint … He can review the tape from today and see a few mistakes that he made, very small ones, but that’s all it takes to find that half-second.
“He’s made a big step this year, and APU and all his coaches and all his sponsors have done such a great job of bringing him along patiently,” Whitcomb added. “He’s struggled at times and he’s constantly training with one of the toughest groups of guys in the country and to have patience with the ups and down has really paid off for Reese and he’s seeing this weekend that he can be a World Cup sprinter.”
Since winning his first national title and making the podium in three out of four races at U.S. Cross-Country Championships in January, Hanneman has known this trip was coming with a “pretty decent lead in the SuperTour overall” and Period-1 SuperTour leader Brian Gregg over in Europe racing and preparing for the Olympics.
“I didn’t set too many performance goals for myself over here for all of these World Cups,” Hanneman wrote.
He finished 80th in the skate sprint in Lahti, Finland, a course he felt didn’t play to his strengths. The Drammen classic sprint and Holmenkollen 50 k in Norway were next, and Hanneman knew both would be “insanely deep and competitive fields.”
His goal was to simply ski his best and try to find a sense of normalcy in what he found to be an intense World Cup setting.
“I think for the most part, I have been able to do that. I feel at home, and prepared to compete with these guys, for the first time in my life,” he wrote. “And that’s huge. I guess, in years past any time I raced a World Cup I would be starstruck and running around trying to get autographs and stuff… now I’m over that. Now I’m just like, Johaug, meh, whatever… :)”
On Saturday, Hanneman placed 38th in the 30 k skiathlon, 40.3 seconds ahead of U.S. Ski Team sprinter Andy Newell in 39th. It was his best distance result on the World Cup and second-best individual finish of his career.
“To finish 38th in a World Cup distance race (yes I know there are only like 42 finishers), is good for me, because there are no stragglers here,” Hanneman wrote. “These are literally the best 50 guys in the world, and that’s it. Being here as just the Conti Cup leader, it is encouraging for me to be able to be competitive at all.”
He finished one place and just over a minute behind 2013/2014 World Cup Sprint champion Ola Vigen Hattestad of Norway.
“My goal for today was to ski a strong classic leg and then try to do my best in the skate,” Hanneman explained on Saturday. “I felt good in the classic, but was afraid about pushing it too hard, knowing I still had a brutal 15k skate ahead of me. I hoped to be skiing in the top 30 for the classic leg, and I ended up skiing with the 28-33 group for most of it so I was right there. Haha, it was actually me and like four of the best sprinters in the world (Brandsdal, Peterson, Gloerson, Hattestad), so I was feeling pretty stoked.”
Hanneman described the above-freezing temperatures on a sunny afternoon as “crazy. I have never seen such variable snow in one race. Some parts were absolute saturated, watery deep mashed potatoes, and some parts were drifting cold dry new snow. It was really strange.
“In the skate portion you could be tucking straight down a hill and then all of the sudden your skis would grab as if you had caught your klister, it was weird,” he wrote. “So considering the insane variability, my skis in both techniques were incredible. The US coaches and wax techs, and Eli Brown who is waxing my skis, did what I thought was an exceptional job on what must’ve been one of the hardest waxing days ever.”
Looking ahead to Sunday’s 15 k freestyle pursuit, Hanneman explained that he’s once again going to try for his best and ski aggressively.
“Tomorrow is definitely not my forte, and I will be skiing alone,” he wrote. “So I just want to put in a hard effort and hang on.”
Just Shy of Points
Also just outside the top 30 in Friday’s classic sprint, U.S. Ski Team member Jessie Diggins placed 34th, 1.15 seconds from qualifying. In an email, she explained that she was satisfied with the result her first race back since getting sick after the Olympics.
“Classic sprinting has never really been my thing, but it’s also nice to have some big goals to work on for next year,” Diggins wrote. “I’m still looking forward to qualifying in a classic sprint!”
With a lingering cough she’s told will fade soon, Diggins went with the attitude of “ ‘Screw it … I just want to race!’ ” and decided to give everything she could at World Cup Finals.
“I don’t have really specific results-oriented goals since I don’t know where my body will be in distance racing,” she wrote. “But my overall goals are to enjoy the experience and give 100% so I can finish out the season knowing I didn’t hold anything back.”
On Saturday, Diggins placed 36th in the 15 k skiathlon. Her teammate, Ida Sargent finished 10 seconds later in 37th, and Continental Cup leader Caitlin Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus) placed 40th, six seconds ahead of Sophie Caldwell in 41st.
On Friday, Sadie Bjornsen, Kikkan Randall, Caldwell, and Sargent all made the rounds, with Randall and Caldwell advancing to the final, where they placed fourth and sixth, respectively.
Gregg finished 48th in the sprint. “I had fantastic skis and felt like I had skied super well,” she wrote in an email. “When I looked at the results board I saw that I had only beaten one girl, but then I realized she didn’t even start 🙁
“I am continuously impressed by how well our USA girls are skiing, we had 4 qualify and Diggs was right there as well then two moved onto the final!” the 2014 American Birkebeiner champion added. “It’s incredible to be in this positive atmosphere!”
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.