FasterSkier’s coverage of the 2013 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, is brought to you by the generous support of Fischer Sports.
VAL DI FIEMME, Italy — Patience is sometimes a challenge for American Noah Hoffman. When he can pace himself he can produce admirable results on the World Cup, but when he takes a race out too hard he’s been known to hold himself back.
The World Championships 15 k individual freestyle was not to be one of those days. Before lining up for his second event of the week on Wednesday, Hoffman laid out a specific pacing plan based on what he knew about the challenging 5 k course: be patient, let the race develop and come on strong at the end. He executed the plan exactly and the result was a personal-best; 15th place, 1:50.0 behind race-winner Petter Northug (NOR).
“That’s a career-best, so that’s good,” Hoffman said after cooling down. “Can’t complain about that.”
Even though it cut his previous high water mark at World Championships nearly in half, and was a more serious result against than his eighth in the Canmore skiathlon in December, Hoffman still considers it a mere stepping stone to bigger goals. In the words of one of his coaches, Zach Caldwell, 15th was merely a “solid” day for him.
“I think there’s really identifiable things he does to compromise his performance and sometimes not deliver what he’s capable of, and today I don’t think he didn’t anything wrong; I think he did everything welll,” Caldwell said. “I don’t think it was a super-special effort; I think it’s a solid day… It’s just very representative of Noah at his best or at least near his best.”
Hoffman’s specific plan included the kind of information he did and did not want to get during his race — he asked his coaches not to give him splits on Wednesday so that he wouldn’t get distracted by them while he skied his own race.
“I felt like in Davos I was too focused on the splits and felt like I was getting confusing splits,” he explained. “I didn’t really know where I was and consequently just got super negative on myself and disappointed during the race, which is not a fast way to ski… And I didn’t really want to do that again so I just asked my coaches not to give me splits.”
The result was that Hoffman didn’t lose composure when he started in 38th at 1.8 k, because he didn’t know it. Instead he gradually picked up speed; by the next checkpoint at 9.4 k he had moved up to 20th, and with the help of a ride from Lukas Bauer (CZE) on his last lap he jumped five more places before the finish line. Bauer coming by him was part of Hoffman’s plan, too; he figured the Czech would start his second lap when Hoffman came through on his final one.
“He was definitely moving faster than I was so he was a great ride,” Hoffman said. “Just enough faster that I could stay with him, but it was a struggle — a good way to close out the race. Zach yelled at me the last time up the big hill, ‘That’s not your ride, it’s not good enough!’ And I was like, ‘I can barely stay with him! Really, this is not my ride? Because it’s going to have to do!’ So I was struggling to stay with him, but I stayed on him.”
Caldwell said Hoffman demonstrated “great composure and perfect execution of the plan,” and felt it reflected a continuation of the American team’s approach to World Championships this week.
“Everyone’s doing their job really well and things are falling into place,” Caldwell said. “I kind of feel like people have come to expect good performances from what they’ve got rather than having to do something special, and that was certainly true of Noah today.”
Hoffman led teammates Tad Elliott and Erik Bjornsen. Elliott was 34th (+2:55) and Bjornsen was 48th (+3:27). Kris Freeman skipped the race in order to save up for the relay and the 50 k.
Elliott’s splits were similar to Hoffman’s in that they improved as the race went on. He began the first few kilometers in the 40s — even reached 30th by 11.8 k — before finishing in 34th for a career-best at World Championships.
“I still feel like I’m a bit off from where I’d like to be at worlds, but I feel like it was a great race for me,” Elliott said. “I’m pretty happy with the result today… I got kind of shelled with about 2 k to go and I was kind of hurting on the way in, but my new skis were fast.”
Outside of the Canmore World Cup, Wednesday was Elliott’s best international result of the season. Like many of his teammates this week, Elliott said he skied with part of the momentum the women’s squad has been building.
“It’s been great for us, our women are on fire. It’s magic going to the awards ceremony every night and seeing your teammates up there… Hopefully we can ride their coattails a little bit.”
Bjornsen’s result was not quite what he was looking for from the 15 k. His started out hard in the top 30, but lost more ground than he would have liked as the race went on.
“I think I pretty much gave it all I could but it’s hard getting passed by people like you’re standing still,” he said. “But I feel like I was making good movements… If I wanted to have a good race I was going to have to start hard and see how long I could hang. That’s kind of what I did. I died a little more than I wanted to, but it was still a good last k.”
U.S. Ski Team head coach Chris Grover was overall happy with the team’s performance in the 15 k.
“I think Tad felt great about his race, it’s probably one of his best of the year. For Erik it was more experiential for sure, but he did a great job. And Noah — he just uncorked one. To be 15th in that field today was incredible,” Grover said.
The next men’s event on the schedule is the 4 x 10 k relay; Grover said the team would be announced on Thursday.