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Gus Schumacher crossed the finish line, and started a long skidding stop. His skis chattered as klister gripped in spots and bits on the transformed, re-frozen snow at Oberstdorf, Germany. Finally, he came to a stop in front of the leader’s chair. Schumacher had raced brilliantly—improving his overall position from 62nd to top 20 in the Tour de Ski—but the look of happy astonishment on his face was not due to his own performance, but to the identity of the occupant of the leader’s chair at the side of the finish corral: his teammate, Ben Ogden, sat perched there in the chair—smiling broadly, cool as ever, throwback Oakley’s and all.
“It almost didn’t feel right,” Ogden said on sitting down in the leader’s chair during the 10 k individual start classic race that wound itself around three laps of Oberstdorf’s 3.3 k course. The leader’s chair is reserved for those who sit atop the World Cup field: that’s the sort of thing that would’ve been a dream for Ogden. After today, those sorts of dreams are a bit closer to reality.
Ogden started his race with an auspicious 2 k checkpoint where the 23 year old Vermonter was 10 seconds up on a field. Five kilometers later—the checkpoint at roughly 7 k—his lead had come down to two seconds, but when Ogden finally powered into the stadium, he had closed his race with determination. There was no doubt where he stood in the early standings—there were 27.8 seconds between Ogden and 2nd place—but there were many more racers still to come . . .
The perennial powerhouses of the men’s World Cup were slated to start later in the race. Paal Golberg, the Overall leader, wore bib 42. Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, the Tour de Ski Leader, started a minute and a half after that wearing bib 45. Ogden and Schumacher pulled up the live timing and waited for the perspective to be gained, for the whole picture to come into view. What was apparent, though, as Schumacher’s time popped up as 2nd behind only Ogden, and Hunter Wonders soon finished to slot in between them in 2nd place, was that the American men were having a great day. Just how great would have to wait, would have to be tempered by the Norwegian race playing out behind them.
Golberg was the leading edge of that piece of the picture. He was in a dead heat with Ogden through the 2 k checkpoint. Thoughts that Golberg would open a gap later in the race could have been excused: he is the Overall leader of the World Cup this year, and in the finest form of his racing career. Today, though, the checkpoints through the race indicated a dead heat. By 8 k, Goldberg held the lead by just two seconds over Ogden. As Golberg sprinted across the line he had only managed to gain a single second more: 1st) Paal Golberg, 2nd) Ben Ogden +3.1 sec.
That Klaebo was quickly coming through behind Golberg—and opening a gap over the second half of the course—seemed like an afterthought. It is almost easy to overlook the astonishing nature of Klaebo’s racing, even when he appeared sure to win the race by the time he passed the 6 k checkpoint with an 11 second gap over Golberg and Ogden. By 8 k that gap had expanded to 20 seconds. At the finish, Klaebo’s winning margin extended to 28.3 seconds over 2nd place Golberg.
A little further down the start list, a few more of the perennial favorites filed in with results. Simen Hegsted Krueger (NOR) split the difference between Klaebo and Golberg, and finished in 2nd place +12.4 seconds off of Klaebo’s 21:38.5. Didrik Toenseth (NOR) and Calle Halfvarsson (SWE), wearing bibs 60 and 64, soon bested Golberg as well, with Toenseth rounding out the podium in 3rd place +22.4 seconds, and Halfvarsson in 4th place +24.9 seconds.
When the whole picture came together, the full extent of what the Americans had achieved on the day was realized. Ben Ogden—who up until this point has made his progress through the World Cup field primarily through his Sprint results—had the best result of his young career, coming in 6th place. Hunter Wonders had the best result of his young career too, finishing in 11th place on the day. Gus Schumacher turned in a 15th place finish, and Scott Patterson finished in 29th place. Americans had 4 men in the top 30: that’s quite a day.
That team accomplishment strikes a particular chord given the conditions in Oberstdorf. Skiing is always a team effort, but on some days, the team becomes every bit as important as the effort. With the abrasive, warm conditions that confronted the World Cup today— with the pastures of Bavaria looking like the month of July—classic technique racing becomes a coordinated dance of a team of techs, coaches, athletes, and racers. As Gus Schumacher said in his post-race comments, “When the skis are running this [well], everything else is secondary.” For the Americans to have one of their best days ever will be viewed in that context. An accomplishment which speaks to the heart of a program that has pioneered emphasizing the holistic work required for individual results on the sport’s highest level.
That US team will now turn towards the opportunity to do some skiing together on Stage 4 tomorrow, where a pursuit start awaits with a 20 k Skate on the same man-made loop in Oberstdorf. As the US men look to hold onto places gained in the pack, Tour de Ski leader Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo will look to expand his lead over 2nd place Golberg, a lead that currently stands at 37 seconds through three stages of racing. Simen Hegstad Krueger is just three seconds behind Golberg in 3rd place overall, with Didrik Toenseth in 4th place at 57 seconds back.
In the meantime, across the American continent today, many skiers will be echoing the feelings of Ben Ogden on Stage 3 today: “It was a real treat,” he said. “A ton of fun.”
Ben Theyerl was born into a family now three-generations into nordic ski racing in the US. He grew up skiing for Chippewa Valley Nordic in his native Eau Claire, Wisconsin, before spending four years racing for Colby College in Maine. He currently mixes writing and skiing while based out of Crested Butte, CO, where he coaches the best group of high schoolers one could hope to find.