(Note: This article has been updated to include comments from Hannah Halvorsen.)
Ben Loomis sounded a little subdued on the phone Tuesday. Maybe he was still absorbing his silver-medal performance at Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Lillehammer, Norway. Or it could be that he’s 17 years old.
“The only thing I can compare it to was I had a fourth-place finish in international competition this year,” Loomis, a U.S. Nordic Combined skier told FasterSkier after placing second in his first competition at YOG, the normal hill/5-kilometer Gundersen start.
Two months ago, he missed the podium by 4.3 seconds at the Continental Cup in Park City, Utah, finishing fourth behind two Austrians (David Pommer and Armin Bauer) and U.S. World Cup skier Taylor Fletcher, who placed second. All three were at least five years older than Loomis, of Eau Claire, Wis.
“That was kind of the big stepping stone for me, but this was also something new,” Loomis said of Tuesday’s YOG competition. “But way more exciting than anything else I’ve ever experienced.”
At the Youth Olympics, competitors are younger than 18, and nations can enter a maximum of two athletes per gender per sport.
After posting the second-best jump on the 100-meter hill, Loomis started the 5 k cross-country race 8 seconds behind Germany’s Tim Kopp, the jump leader. Kopp held off Loomis by 5.2 seconds for the win in 13:31.4, and Loomis remained 2.7 seconds ahead of third place, Ondrej Pazout of the Czech Republic, at the finish.
“I had probably my best jump all week in the competition,” Loomis said. “I just tried to catch the guy in front of me pretty quickly and I did that. I was able to ski with him for pretty much the entire race, but then there was also the third place guy who I knew was a fast skier. He caught us about half way through the race. So all three of us skied until almost the finish and then the Germany kid was able to pull away about half a kilometer before the finish.
“I tried my hardest, but I just couldn’t stay with the first-place guy,” he continued. “But I was able to maintain second.”
According to Adam St.Pierre, the U.S. cross-country coach at YOG, Loomis looked “relaxed” while skiing with Kopp.
“The Czech athlete caught them at around 2.7km,” St.Pierre wrote. “The trio skied together for the rest of the race with the German making a decisive move at 4.5km … Ben had been planning to make his move on this hill too, but the German beat him to it! Ben covered the move, but was slightly gapped, but he got a gap on 3rd and skied in for silver!”
After first meeting Loomis this week, St.Pierre explained that he wasn’t responsible for his success beyond helping wax his skis. Blake Hughes is the U.S. jumping coach at YOG.
On Thursday, Loomis will team up with the two American ski jumpers (Casey Larson and Logan Sankey) in the ski jumping/nordic combined mixed team event, where three jumps on the 100-meter hill are scored as a unit. Then on Saturday, he’ll participate in the “nordic team relay” as both a jumper and a skier.
“The two American jumpers and myself jump and then I’ll race and the two cross country skiers will race as well,” Loomis explained.
“The relay start will be staggered based on the jumping results and we’ll ski a 3 by 3.3km relay with the Nordic Combiner [Loomis] and the male and female XC skiers [Hunter Wonders and Hannah Halvorsen] — all skate,” St.Pierre elaborated.
After Youth Olympics, Loomis is headed to Nordic Combined Junior World Championships in Romania.
“That’s a big deal as well,” he said. “I think I really surprised myself with showing how well I can perform. It just really gave me a lot of confidence going into the next competitions…”
Results: Nordic Combined
Also on Tuesday, Hannah Halvorsen of Sugar Bowl Academy near Truckee, Calif., placed sixth in the cross-country classic sprint final. She had qualified in 13th, then went on to win her quarterfinal, and place third in her semifinal, 1.53 seconds behind Russia’s Yuliya Petrova, who won that semifinal. Moa Lundgren of Sweden automatically advanced in second and Halvorsen reached the final as a lucky loser.
Sweden’s Johanna Hagström won the final in 3:19.55, Petrova placed second (+2.4), and Norway’s Martine Engebretsen was third (+3.27). Lundgren finished fourth (+6.44), Laura Chamiot Maitral of France (+8.84) was fifth and Halvorsen sixth (+13.65).
“I was surprised to make it through as a lucky loser when I saw that our semi final heat was a couple seconds slower, so I was really excited,” Halvorsen wrote in an email. “I lost contact with the top girls by the first hill and started to move back throughout the heat despite putting in my best fight to the end.”
“Hannah skied well today,” St.Pierre observed. “She felt a little flat for the XC Cross on Saturday, but had her normal energy today.”
On Saturday, Halvorsen, who turns 18 on Friday, placed 13th in the YOG opening event: the ski cross sprint.
“Although the skier cross was a fun experience, it was nice to be back in a race I knew well,” Halvorsen wrote. “I skied [Tuesday’s] qualifier a little tense, but it was a good signifier that I was feeling good and my fitness was there. This made me feel confident going into the heats.”
“She looked very strong in her quarterfinal,” St. Pierre wrote. “The course started with a big climb, which Hannah was able to ski very relaxed. … The decisive moves were typically made on the second major climb of the course. Hannah made some tactical errors on this climb in her semifinal, switching tracks cost her some momentum over the top. But she finished out the semi strong, earning a lucky loser spot with her 3rd place finish.
“I wish I would’ve given her just a little more kick for the final,” he added. “She battled and ended up 6th on the day, happy but hungry for more!”
Canada’s Annika Richardsson finished 33rd in the qualifier, missing the top 30 needed to advance to the heats by 1.4 seconds.
In the men’s classic sprint, Hunter Wonders qualified 29th and placed 15th overall. He missed advancing to the semifinals after placing third behind Adam Matous of the Czech Republic in a photo finish for second. The two finished 0.11 seconds behind Norway’s Thomas Helland Larsen, who won the heat in 3:04.54, but only Matous moved on with Larsen.
“He was in fourth on the last downhill but the Russian skier ahead of him fell,” St. Pierre wrote of Yaroslav Rybochikin, who finished sixth in that quarterfinal. “Hunter avoided the fall and closed on 1st and 2nd just getting out-lunged.”
Larsen went on to win the final in 2:55.39, Korea’s Magnus Kim placed second (+0.33) and Vebjørn Hegdal of Norway was third (+1.1).
Like his Canadian counterpart, Levi Nadlersmith finished 33rd in the men’s race, 0.74 seconds out of qualifying.
Racing continues tomorrow with the biathlon single mixed relay at 4:50 a.m. Eastern time.
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.