Aspen’s Hoffman top U.S. skier in 15K classic
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Aspen’s Noah Hoffman was the top American finisher Friday at the men’s 15-kilometer classic race in the Sochi Winter Olympic Games at the Laura Cross Country Ski and Biathlon Center.
Hoffman finished 31st with a time of 41 minutes, 2.7 seconds.
“Just a really tough course, and obviously there’s some guys who skied really fast,” Hoffman said after the race.
Dario Cologna of Italy won gold with a time of 38 minutes, 29.7 seconds. Two Swedes, Johan Olsson and Daniel Richardsson, finished with silver and bronze, respectively.
“I had really good opportunities for rides,” Hoffman said. “I had (Norwegian racer Eldar) Roenning, Olsson and Cologna all ski through me and couldn’t stay with any of them, unfortunately, but got some good opportunities.”
It was another very warm day in the mountains above Sochi. Racers, and even some spectators, wore short sleeves at the race course in the spring-like conditions.
The warm conditions made for a fair race, said U.S. head coach Chris Grover — teams are used to skiing these conditions in spring World Cups and in summer glacier training, so it wasn’t too hard to wax for it.
“Noah paced the race really well,” Grover said. “He maybe was a little too conservative during the first 5K, then he was able to ski with some guys who were coming from behind him pretty fast.”
But those guys — including two medalists — proved to be a bit too fast for him.
“A solid day for Noah, not the best,” Grover said.
The 24-year-old Hoffman has had some impressive results this year so far. In January, he took the best finish ever for U.S. men in 25th at the Tour de Ski in Europe, moving up from 46th place the year before. In November, he achieved the fastest time of the day in the final stage of the Ruka Triple in Kuusamo, Finland, in a 15-kilometer freestyle pursuit, ending the event in ninth place.
The other Americans competing Friday were Erik Bjornsen, who finished 38th; Brian Gregg, who finished 47th despite taking a wrong turn on the course; and Kris Freeman, who ended up 52nd.
“You come into peak form for the Olympics, and it’s pretty clear to myself and my coaches that it didn’t happen, and that’s disappointing,” said Freeman, who is competing in his fourth Olympics.
The men’s team’s will race again Sunday in the 10-kilometer relay.
Fully aware he was in the midst of the mountain bike race of his life, Aspen’s John Gaston said he “tried to not think too far ahead” to prevent the magnitude of the moment from getting to him. He eventually finished runner-up in the iconic race.
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