FasterSkier’s coverage of the 2015 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Falun, Sweden, is brought to you by the generous support of L.L. Bean, now featuring a complete line of Kikkan Randall training wear.
FALUN, Sweden — It’s not easy following a double-medal act. A day after two U.S. women, Jessie Diggins and Caitlin Gregg, racked up silver and bronze in the 10-kilometer freestyle at 2015 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, their male teammates finished outside the top 30 in the men’s 15 k individual start.
Not that they were trying to compete with Diggins and Gregg, but after all the hype surrounding the U.S. women’s achievements, it was difficult for some of the American men to get excited about their results on Wednesday.
“I had trouble getting going a little bit,” U.S. Ski Team (USST) member Noah Hoffman, who led the U.S. men in the 15 k in 34th, said after his race. He finished 2:35.6 behind Sweden’s Johan Olsson, who won by 17.8 seconds in 35:01.6.
“[I skied] kind of just very even-keeled and neutral, but certainly nothing special, so not quite what I was looking for,” Hoffman added.
The seventh starter out of 86, he posted split times throughout the two-lap race that ultimately ranked in the top 40. While they indicated consistent skiing, they weren’t as fast as he wanted, and he said he lost time all over the course.
“It’s been a little discouraging,” he said of his World Championships thus far, which included one other race: the 30 k skiathlon, in which he placed 44th last Saturday. This season, he’s only completed three races after a broken leg in the 2014/2015 World Cup opener derailed his World Championships prep.
“It was not the year I planned on and [I’m just trying] to build on every race,” Hoffman said. “The season’s not over and I’ll think about moving on from the end of the season once the season comes to a close.”
In a blog post Wednesday evening, Hoffman reflected more on his race.
“I executed today more or less how I wanted to. I skied relaxed with high energy,” he wrote. “The race was a step in the right direction from Saturday’s skiathlon, and there’s nothing for me to do but keep preparing as well as I can and hope my form comes around.”
After Hoffman, Erik Bjornsen placed 47th for the U.S., 3:19.5 after Olsson, Kyle Bratrud was 52nd (+3:58.7), and Kris Freeman finished 59th (+4:25.9).
Bjornsen and Bratrud explained they came into the 15 k generally aiming for a top 40. Bjornsen finished 22.9 seconds back from that goal.
“Some spots were good. It felt like the body was firing. The results weren’t great,” the 23-year-old Bjornsen said.
He started 64th, one minute behind Bratrud in bib 62, and 30 seconds ahead of Norway’s Petter Northug. At one point, Northug nearly caught him, and Bjornsen was prepared to take advantage of a boost by trying to stay with him.
“All of a sudden, I could tell he wasn’t behind me anymore, and I looked back on one downhill and he was way back there,” Bjornsen said. “It would’ve been one thing if it was someone like [Switzerland’s Dario] Cologna, but with Northug, I figured he went for it and then wasn’t feeling it and started walking or something.
“I saw some fast guys behind me. I was hoping to at least ski with somebody out there, but it didn’t happen,” he added. “I felt like I was hammering a few hills and felt all right, but I lost some time somewhere.”
At 1.5 k, Bjornsen heard he was 17 seconds down to the race leader at the time.
“I was like, ‘Woah, that was quick,’ ” he recalled.
Despite pushing harder, he still didn’t feel like he was having a great race.
“There were parts today when I felt really good and obviously I felt great about the pursuit,” Bjornsen said, referring to his 28th-place finish in the World Championships 30 k skiathlon. “I think that I did a good job peaking for this championship. I love head-to-head racing so hopefully I’ll get a chance to do that on the relay [on Friday].”
A Northern Michigan University senior in his first World Championships, Bratrud was pleased with how he fared in his signature race on Wednesday.
Early last month, Bratrud, 21, punched his ticket to U23 World Championships, and ultimately the Falun World Championships as well, with a 50-second win in the 15 k freestyle at U.S. nationals.
On Wednesday, he was looking to improve on his 84th place from 10 days earlier in the 15 k freestyle at his first-ever World Cup in Östersund, Sweden. He knocked off 32 places and didn’t crash, so he considered it a success.
“It was really soft, but I think that probably benefited me being a small guy,” Bratrud said of the slushy conditions on a 40-degree, damp-and-overcast afternoon. “I felt like I kept my tempo up pretty much the whole race. I died a little bit at the end, but it was a lot better paced than it was in Östersund so that was good. It was a good way for me to end my time in Europe.”
He ended up beating Northug, who placed 62nd.
“He’s been one of my idols since I’ve grown up,” Bratrud said. “I wouldn’t say I’m better than him, but to beat him is pretty cool.”
Now done with his first-and-only race of World Championships, Bratrud planned to head back to Marquette, Mich., to “catch up on the month and a half of homework” before heading to NCAA Skiing Championships in Lake Placid, N.Y., in mid-March.
“We have a really strong team so I want to go back and put together a solid effort at NCAAs,” he said.
After placing 59th, Freeman called his race “horrible.”
He started eighth, right after Hoffman, and his 1.5 k time ended up ranking 33rd. By 7.5 k, he slipped to 42nd and then 55th by the 12.8 k checkpoint.
“I don’t understand — I felt pretty good this morning and I felt good on the first lap, and then it was just lights out and I couldn’t ski anymore,” Freeman said. “In this kind of snow, once you get a little tired you start to sink and if you’re feeling good you stay on top and float, and I was sinking. I’m really confused and disappointed.”
While he wasn’t sure whether he’d race Friday’s 4 x 10 relay, which the U.S. Ski Team won’t divulge until the start list has been posted Thursday evening, Freeman expected to race Sunday’s 50 k.
“Right now I feel like it’s a really long way and I’ve got to figure something out,” Freeman said. “I just want to feel the way I’ve been feeling this year and the first two races [of World Championships] I just haven’t felt like that at all.”
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) 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.