Aspen’s Hoffman battles way into World Cup Finals
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
STOCKHOLM – I just arrived in Stockholm, Sweden, for my first World Cup Finals.
Two weeks ago, just after the world championships, I wrote in The Aspen Times about the progress I have made this season and the goals I was still looking to accomplish.
One of my biggest goals was to qualify for the World Cup Finals. The top 50 skiers on the season-long World Cup tour (the highest level professional race series in the world) qualify for finals.
When I last wrote, I was sitting just inside the threshold in 47th position. The next weekend, in Lahti, Finland, I had a disappointing race. I didn’t score any points and dropped outside the cutoff (to 51st position) with one race to go.
The pressure was on to score points in last Saturday’s 50-kilometer mass start skate race at the famed Holmenkollen stadium in Oslo, Norway.
I had trouble dealing with my nerves last week. I didn’t get a lot of sleep. Luckily, a 50-kilometer skate race was the best event I could have hoped for when I needed a great result.
However, I wasn’t at all sure I would score enough points to pass at least one athlete and hold off the skiers behind me. I could get points in two ways: either finishing the race near the front or sprinting for midrace points.
Mass start races on the World Cup tour have intermediate sprints that award points to the top 10 skiers to cross a given point on course.
Saturday’s race had six intermediate sprints. I talked with my coaches, including John Callahan from Aspen, every day last week discussing race strategy and how much emphasis to put on the intermediate sprints versus the final finishing place.
The strategy we came up with was to be patient, skip the first two sprints and focus on a great finishing place when the most points are available.
After spending hours formulating my strategy, I could not have diverged any further from the plan.
When the gun went off, my nerves and anxiety got the best of me. I wanted to score enough points to lock up my spot in World Cup Finals as soon as possible.
I took points in the first three sprints before the effort of staying at the very front of the field and sprinting every lap got the best of me.
I lost contact with the lead group of more than 20 people halfway through the race. I finished the race in 24th place, which in and of itself did not give me enough points to lock up my spot in Sweden.
However, the points I scored early in the race put me over the line to reach my goal.
Of course, I need to learn how to deal with my nerves.
Eventually, I want to win World Cup races, and to do that I will need to be patient and follow my plan. However, I am ecstatic to be here in Sweden, to have the opportunity to race in four more World Cup races and to get another shot to score points toward my other big goal, qualifying for the World Cup Distance Red Group (the top 30 season World Cup skiers in only distance races). If I can accomplish that second goal, I will likely earn a spot on the U.S. Ski Team’s A Team.
As always, I could not pursue my dreams and represent the United States (and Aspen) in this European-dominated sport without the incredible support of the Roaring Fork Valley.
You can follow my pro-gress this weekend at noahhoffman.com.