Freeman Strikes Late in Men’s 30 k Mass Start, Holds On for National Title

Alex KochonJanuary 8, 20159
Kris Freeman (Freebird) clinches his 17th national title in the men's 30 k classic mass start, ahead of APU's Lex Treinen (left, behind), NMU's Kyle Bratrud (behind Treinen) and APU's Eric Packer (behind Freeman at right), at U.S. Cross Country Championships on Thursday in Houghton, Mich. (Photo: Christopher Schmidt)
Kris Freeman (Freebird) clinches his 17th national title in the men’s 30 k classic mass start on Thursday, ahead of APU’s Lex Treinen (left, behind), NMU’s Kyle Bratrud (behind Treinen) and APU’s Eric Packer (directly behind Freeman at right), at U.S. Cross Country Championships in Houghton, Mich. (Photo: Christopher Schmidt)

HOUGHTON, Mich. — With 11 men together at the start of the last 10-kilometer lap in Thursday’s 30 k classic mass start at U.S. Cross Country Championships, Kris Freeman knew he had to make something happen.

If he continued to ski in the pack and wait to see how the places shook out in the 100-meter finishing straight, the second-ranked U.S. distance skier (after U.S. Ski Team member Noah Hoffman) didn’t like his chances in a last-ditch sprint.

“I knew that somewhere in the last five k I had to go, and I had to go hard,” said Freeman, 34, who skis independently as Freebird, after the third of four national races at the Michigan Tech Trails.

The men directly around him with eight kilometers to go — including two Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) Gold Team members (Matt Gelso and Miles Havlick), three Alaska Pacific University (APU) skiers (Lex Treinen, Scott Patterson and Eric Packer) and three Northern Michigan University (NMU) athletes (Fredrik Schwencke, Kyle Bratrud and Adam Martin), as well as Dartmouth’s Paddy Caldwell (also of the Stratton Mountain School T2 Team and U.S. Ski Team D-team) — generally anticipated Freeman’s move as well.

But all of them realized that leading was significantly harder in the cold-and-slow conditions with temperatures around 3 degrees throughout the day. Freeman tried it out, pushing the pace a couple times early in the first lap “just to experiment and see if I could hurt the field,” he said. “I just couldn’t.”

Kris Freeman (near) and Dartmouth's Paddy Caldwell (l) skiing near the front of the pack around 2 k into the men's 30 k classic mass start on Thursday at U.S. nationals in Houghton, Mich.
Kris Freeman (near), Dartmouth’s Paddy Caldwell (l), and NMU’s Fredrik Schwencke (behind Freeman) near the front of the pack around 2 k into the men’s 30 k classic mass start on Thursday at U.S. nationals in Houghton, Mich.

The four-time Olympian decided to hang back and attack somewhere on the second half of the last lap.

“I think I went with two-and-a-half k to go,” Freeman said. “And I knew I had a really good attack for two k, then my last 500 meters was pathetic.”

But it was enough for the win. On the second-to-last climb, Freeman successfully gapped Gelso, Patterson and the four others in the chase pack (Norris, Treinen, Packer and APU’s fifth man Reese Hanneman, respectively), and he frequently checked over his shoulder to make sure they weren’t reining him in.

“I had to double pole one long downhill that’s usually recovery so that they wouldn’t get back on me,” Freeman said of the final descent before the last climb toward the finish.

Treinen took advantage of an unfortunate misstep and crash from his teammate, Patterson, who  had been skiing with Gelso in second with a kilometer to go.

“I was kind of moving tracks and stumbled a little bit,” Patterson said of the final downhill. “I was wobbly out on one ski, trying to correct, but it just wasn’t enough — spun around, totally my fault, didn’t hit anyone else, they all moved around me, and it was a quick little fall, but still not something you want right at the end.”

Four of his teammates — Treinen, Norris, Packer and Hanneman — navigated around him, as did Bratrud. Gelso stayed out of trouble but lost steam up the final ascent.

Kris Freeman pushing hard for first with 200 meters to go in the men's 30 k classic mass start at U.S. nationals in Houghton, Mich.
Kris Freeman pushing hard for first with 200 meters to go in the men’s 30 k classic mass start at U.S. nationals in Houghton, Mich.

While Freeman forged ahead up the gradual hill, again looking back to see who was closest to him, his pain emitted through his facial expressions as he strode toward the finish.

Behind him, Treinen, on his 25th birthday, worked his way from fourth to third behind Bratrud and ahead of Gelso and Norris.

“Kyle Bratrud came up from behind and he looked like he was charging pretty hard so I tried to stay behind him for as long as I could, and on the last uphill, just gave it everything,” Treinen said. “I tried to break him — it just barely worked.”

Treinen edged the 21-year-old NMU senior, who won Sunday’s 15 k freestyle to start nationals, by 0.4 seconds to claim second for his first national podium. He finished 3.7 seconds behind Freeman, who won his 17th national title in 1:31:14.8.

“They were yo-yoing [behind me] and I was totally loaded coming up into the finish,” Freeman recalled. “If someone had sprinted by me, there would’ve been no response. There was nothing I could do.”

APU's Lex Treinen (111) celebrates his second-place finish and first national podium after the 30 k classic mass start at U.S. nationals in Houghton, Mich. (Photo: Christopher Schmidt)
APU’s Lex Treinen (111) celebrates his second-place finish and first national podium after the 30 k classic mass start at U.S. nationals in Houghton, Mich. NMU’s Kyle Bratrud (109) placed third, and APU’s Eric Packer (r) secured fourth. (Photo: Christopher Schmidt)

“Lex and I were gaining on [Freeman] at the end so who knows how it would’ve played out if there was another k to go,” Bratrud recalled.“I found myself leading a decent amount and then when Kris took off and kind of split the field up, I was able to at least pick up most of the pieces.”

On Sunday, Freeman placed second to Bratrud in the individual skate race.

“Even though the skate race didn’t go quite like I wanted, the sensations I had were great,” he reflected. “Today except for the last 500 meters, I felt like I was in total control and I just feel totally different then I did last year. This should absolutely cement my place on the World Championship team and that’s been my goal all year.

“SuperTour points are nice, but I want to go prove I’m one of the best in the world at World Champs,” Freeman added.

The U.S. World Championships team will be tentatively announced on Jan. 26, according to the team-selection criteria. The first criteria is based on World Cup results in the selection period (from Nov. 29, 2014 to Jan. 18, 2015); the second is coaches’ discretion, and the third, should it come down to it, is based on the best-ranked athletes in the 4th edition of the USSA Sprint and Distance Points List, which will be released Jan. 23.

Heading into nationals, Freeman ranked second in the 3rd USSA distance points list (including races before Jan. 2), nearly six points ahead of Gelso in third.

That made him one of Freeman’s biggest perceived threats on Thursday.

“Gelso looked really comfortable on his skis; he was having good kick everywhere and he’s right behind me on the points list and he’s having a great season,” Freeman said. “Kyle also obviously just had a great race so those two I kept looking at.”

Kyle Bratrud (NMU) and Scott Patterson (APU) leading the U.S. nationals men's 30 k mass start around 2 k on Thursday in Houghton, Mich.
Kyle Bratrud (NMU) and Scott Patterson (APU) leading the U.S. nationals men’s 30 k mass start around 2 k on Thursday in Houghton, Mich.

Bratrud explained he came into the race more relaxed than he had anticipated after winning his first national title (and with it, his first national top 20) earlier in the week.

“All summer I had been targeting this 30 k and into the fall, I started realizing that maybe the 15 k would be a better shot for me,” he said. “Winning that I felt like I had a pretty successful week even if I was dead last in this race. I was just out there having fin. It’s fun to do well.”

Freeman felt similarly. After digging himself into a self-described hole last season, Freeman was enjoying racing again.

“I backed off my training a little bit; I’m more relaxed. I’m accepting that I’m 34, I can’t train a thousand hours anymore and expect to recover the same why I did,” he said. “And ski racing’s fun.”

While Freeman was gunning for 2015 World Championships next month in Falun, Sweden, Bratrud put himself in prime position to be nominated to the U23 World Championships team his previous win at nationals. Another podium on Thursday prequalified him for NCAA Championships as well, as nationals double as a Central Collegiate Ski Association (CCSA) and NCAA Central Region qualifier for NCAA’s.

“It was a weight off my shoulder to win the skate race and pretty much guarantee U23’s so now I can go home and train for a bit and head over to Kazakhstan,” Bratrud said. “I’m prequalified for NCAA’s so I can come back and get another little block in and then hopefully race some of those fast [University of Colorado] Boulder Norwegian guys.”

NMU Claims College Cup

Four NMU skiers landed in the top 13 with Bratrud in third, Schwencke in 11th (who skied near the front of the pack and led the long climb up after the race’s halfway point, then raced in the top 11 with eight kilometers to go), Martin in 12th and Erik Soderman in 13th.

“The Northern Michigan guys put in some strong attacks on the second lap, and I think they widdled the field down [by the last lap],” Freeman said. “I tried working with Freddy [Schwencke] right before the end of the second lap, but we got caught and I just said, just tuck it in here until it’s time.”

With the highest-collective  performance over three days at nationals, NMU won the 2015 College Cup.

“All my success comes from training with those guys every day and Freddy’s a very good classic skier so I was confident skiing next to him,” said Bratrud, who led through the 10 and 20 k lap checkpoints. “When he put the hammer down pretty hard when we came through the second time, just to be able to ski confidently with your teammate and be at the front of the race is a pretty good feeling and that gave me a good feeling going forward.”

APU Takes 5 of Top 8

This past summer, APU’s seven-person men’s team (with U.S. Ski Team member Erik Bjornsen, Reese Hanneman, Tyler Kornfield, Norris, Packer, Patterson, and Treinen) initiated a “#five2falun” slogan.

Sun Valley's Matt Gelso  (l) and Miles Havlick (r) lead the 11-man pack (with a fleet of APU and NMU skiers) around 22 k in the 30 k classic mass start at U.S. nationals in Houghton, Mich.
Sun Valley’s Matt Gelso (102) and Miles Havlick (106) lead the 11-man pack (with a fleet of APU and NMU skiers) around 22 k in the 30 k classic mass start at U.S. nationals in Houghton, Mich.

“It started as a joke; it’s all in good humor,” Hanneman explained at the time. “There was another elite team in the U.S. who, they last couple years, they had a campaign: six to Sochi. We thought, we can do our own little thing. Five because it starts with and ‘F’ because seven doesn’t really sound as good.

“Now we’re kind of using it as motivation for ourselves,” he added. “If [we] did actually send five to Falun from one team that would be absolutely insane. The men have traditionally been so spread out in the U.S. that we’re kind of excited about having a group of us that changes the landscape.”

On Thursday, after months of waiting for a breakout-team performance, the APU men got it.

Treinen led them in second, Packer rose from seventh to fourth (+4.9) over the last kilometer, and Norris finished 11.2 seconds after Freeman in fifth, 1.9 seconds ahead of Hanneman in sixth. Hanneman came back from 13th and 18 seconds behind the leaders at 20 k, to eighth with 1 k to go.

Gelso finished seventh (+14), and Patterson, who’s back after a pulmonary embolism kept him from racing from late October until mid-December, recovered from his fall on Thursday to edge Havlick and Caldwell by less than a second for eighth (+24.3). Havlick placed ninth (+25), and Caldwell was 10th (+25.1).

“I had a pretty good sprint so if I hadn’t had that fall who knows what would’ve happened,” Patterson said. “I would’ve been right there challenging for it, maybe not Freeman but the next guys.”

Treinen called his second-place finish “pretty special, especially because it’s my birthday. It was kind of in the back of my mind, not gonna lie — I was thinking about that.”

His previous national best was fifth in the 50 k classic mass start at U.S. Distance Nationals last spring.

“I feel like we were just waiting for him to have a good day and that was today,” APU Head Coach Erik Flora said. “He looked great, he looked energetic, he looked under good control and you could see so many times just like a smile on his face so it was really cool.”

Flora added that he was proud of the entire team, with five men in the top eight.

“To have all those boys in there fighting and challenging each other is just awesome,” he said. “I think that the training for those guys is working and their commitment to being skiers all that good stuff.”

“I’m just happy to have my teammates do so well as well,” Treinen said. “It’s the best team I’ve ever been on and I think we’re just starting to show what we’re made of.”

Packer rose from seventh to fourth with 200 meters to go, proving to himself that he was back on form after the flu took him out of commission the week before the 15 k.

“I couldn’t be happier with feeling good today,” the first-year APU member and Anchorage native said. “… I grew up skiing with all of the guys. We all started training together actually in middle school. It’s kind of cool to have five of those same guys that you started with at 12 or 13, five in the top eight today.”

Norris led at times during the race, including around 22 k with Gelso, and said he was disappointed to slip from fourth at the bottom of the last climb to fifth (when Packer passed him in the final stretch).

“It’s hard when you get passed in the last hundred meters … but it was my teammate and he’s a good finisher,” Norris said. “And I’m feeling better every race we do throughout the season.”

Moreover, he was excited for his team.

“We had the feeling that we were going to have some great results as a team and we hadn’t really shown that yet this year,” he said. “We all had great skis. Everyone’s skiing stronger so it’s cool to see Lex have a good sprint finish when he’s notoriously a distance guy and Packer have a good 30 k when he’s been good at sprints. Everybody’s improving their weaknesses.”


Jørgen Grav (University of Vermont) was an early frontrunner in the men's 30 k classic mass start at U.S. nationals in Houghton, Mich. (Photo: Christopher Schmidt)
Jørgen Grav (University of Vermont) was an early frontrunner in the men’s 30 k classic mass start at U.S. nationals in Houghton, Mich. (Photo: Christopher Schmidt)
  • Jørgen Grav (University of Vermont), who placed 24th, skied in the top five for much of the first lap, just ahead of Freeman, amid a large pack of about 30 separated by 15 seconds at 10 k.
  • Brian Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus) finished 21st after skiing in the top 7 through 10 k, then slipping into the mid-20s on the second lap.
  • Tad Elliott (Ski & Snowboard Club Vail Elite Team) finished 36th in his first race at nationals after spending the earlier part of the week recovering from a flu/cold at home in Durango, Colo.
  • Ben Lustgarten (SVSEF) sat out the mass start as he’s been suffering from vertigo this week, which led him to miss Tuesday’s classic sprint as well.

— Lander Karath contributed reporting


Alex Kochon

Alex Kochon ( is a former FasterSkier editor and roving reporter who never really lost touch with the nordic scene. A freelance writer, editor, and outdoor-loving mom of two, she lives in northeastern New York and enjoys adventuring in the Adirondacks. She shares her passion for sports and recreation as the co-founder of "Ride On! Mountain Bike Trail Guide" and a sales and content contributor at When she's not skiing or chasing her kids around, Alex assists authors as a production and marketing coordinator for iPub Global Connection.

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  • nyctvt

    January 9, 2015 at 10:30 am

    Congratulations to Kris Freeman for winning the 30K Mass Start National title. I do think that he is delusional if he still thinks he is one of the best in the world.

  • paldesgn

    January 9, 2015 at 11:46 am

    Congrats to Kris, great to see him return to his old form!
    Does anybody know if this win and recent success will get him back on the World Cup circuit?

    nyctvt: I think Kris has the right attitude and I hope he gets to Europe soon … as you know, we don’t have any American men who are even close to the best distance skiers in the world. You must admit that it’s pretty sad to watch the World Cup distance events and see our guys either not racing or simply coming in at the back of the field.

  • lihtsalt666

    January 9, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Good job Kris.

    Unfortunatly US hasńt filled the Hoff place not even temporerily. My guess they are afraid that someone can show same result has Hoff (my all repect to Hoff).

  • chuckrunkle

    January 9, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    Bjornsen is close. With time he will be a decent distance skier. For his first full season on WC he is doing pretty damn good. Something people often fail to look at and FS fails to mention, is that more often than not his FIS points for positions in the 40s or 50s is better than some of the women in the top 15… Not entirely comparable, but he is holding his own and making progress. Freeman is more than likely done. Maybe he will get picked for World Champs and get some more Bjorn Daehlie USST Swag. Did anyone see the video of him finishing the 30k? Yikes. He was good and promising 12 years ago at U23 in Validentro and World Champs in Val di Fiemme that same year… We need statistical skier back in action to put things in perspective.

  • teamepokeedsbyn

    January 9, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    Mr. Chunkle, ….sooo according to your inferences mr. Freeman should not be taken to World Championship level events, but mr. Bjornsen should go? How about taking those who meet the NGB published standards, as would be following the “letter of law”. If the guy meets the standards, take his ass, if not, don’t. As a person who is deeply involved in civil legal dealings myself, I am all for following the rules as stated, with no grey line. I think our only real prospect currently in men’s skiing is mr. Hoffman, but he really seems to overthink his events, sort if a “headcase”

  • chuckrunkle

    January 9, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    I do not recall saying the USST should not take him. I was only giving my opinion on a 34 year old athlete who has not had any improvement, and giving Bjornsen some credit because lihtsalt said no one has stepped in and filled in the Hoff’s gap. Bjornsen is likely skiing quite a bit better than Freeman, but that is not the point. I would also have to question Hoffman as being a future prospect as his results have been rather stagnant for a couple years.

  • teamepokeedsbyn

    January 9, 2015 at 11:15 pm

    Inferred as much. Hey, if you are Italian or Finnish, you still have the capability of standing on a podium at 40, so perhaps mr. Freeman still nay have a few good years left.

  • chuckrunkle

    January 10, 2015 at 2:00 pm


  • hankmoody

    January 10, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    If I leave here tomorrow Would you still remember me? For I must be traveling on now ‘Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see. But if I stayed here with you, girl, Things just couldn’t be the same. ‘Cause I’m as free as a bird now, And this bird you can not change, oh, oh, oh, oh. And this bird you can not change. And this bird you can not change. Lord knows I can’t change. Bye, bye, baby, it’s been a sweet love, yeah, Though this feeling I can’t change. But please don’t take it so badly,
    ‘Cause Lord knows I’m to blame. But if I stayed here with you, girl, Things just couldn’t be the same. ‘Cause I’m as free as a bird now, And this bird you’ll never change, oh, oh, oh, oh. And this bird you cannot change. And this bird you cannot change. Lord knows, I can’t change. Lord, help me, I can’t change. Lord, I can’t change. Won’t you fly high, free bird, yeah?

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