Final Race

Saturday’s World Cup at the famed Holmenkollen Ski Festival in Oslo, Norway will be the final race of my professional ski career. This decision comes with excitement and gratitude mixed with sadness and some fear. In many ways, this decision has been a long time coming, but there is also an abruptness to the ending that is unavoidable. I will wake up on Sunday morning and my identity as a cross-country ski racer, which has been my primary identity for my adult life and the better part of my adolescent life, will be gone.

There are many reasons why it is the right time for me to step away from the sport. The most important is that I now want to invest my time and energy in things other than training and racing, but I would be lying if I said that results had nothing to do with this decision. The reality is that my career was on a steady upward trajectory through the 2013-14 season, culminating in two wins in World Cup stage races and a great Olympics in Sochi. Over the past four years, I have not come close to repeating that success, let alone continuing to build on it. My coaching team and I have taken nothing for granted and have continually tried to find creative ways to break through. Unfortunately, we have not been successful in putting me back on a path towards being the best in the world. Even still, I look back on my career with nothing but pride and gratitude.

One of the reasons I know it is time for me to move on is that results are no longer as important to me as they once were. It is ironic that my signal to turn the page is also one of the greatest gifts of my career: I have learned that results do not define me nor do good results guarantee happiness. That is not to say that I won’t look back with pride upon my stage world cup wins, my silver medal at the Under-23 World Championships, or my performance in the Olympic 50k in Sochi. I do, and I will. But I doubt that any of those moments will stand out compared to the memories of laughing and crying with my teammates and friends at ski resorts all over the world.

It is a fairy tale ending to finish my career at Holmenkollen, two weeks after the conclusion of my second Olympic Games. Not only is this the most prestigious World Cup race of the season with the best fans and the hardest course, it also has particular significance to me and my career. I raced my first World Championships at Oslo 2011 and have competed here six times since. Some of the best performances of my career have come on these trails. On top of that, both my dad, Mike Hoffman, and my coach, Zach Caldwell, will be in Oslo this weekend to watch and support me.

Very few athletes are afforded the privilege of ending on their own terms. Somehow, despite less than stellar results, I raced an almost full World Cup schedule, was named to represent the US in PyeongChang and will finish in Oslo. I am so grateful to have had each of these opportunities.

Of course, I am indebted to more people than I can possibly name for making my career possible. Skiing professionally has been the greatest honor and privilege of my life, and I am overwhelmed with love, humility and appreciation when I think about all of the people who have supported me throughout my journey. You all helped me grow into the person I am today and gave me more than I could ever repay. I will forever hold you in my heart.

My future is full of uncertainty and opportunity. Most likely I will pursue a bachelor’s degree in public policy, economics or law, but I also plan to take Zach’s advice and savor the transition with patience.  I will find new goals to pursue with the same dedication I committed to skiing, but I will also enjoy the moment and the unique freedom of my present situation.

Ironically, as I retire from a career as a professional athlete in an outdoor sport, one of the things that I crave most is more time in the outdoors, without a watch or a heart rate monitor or a training plan or a destination. I am also looking for more stability and less travel. I want to spend more time with the people who matter most to me in my life.

I do not know what my future online identity will be. I am grateful for the personal marketing, blogging, social media, photography, podcasting, website management and video editing skills that skiing has taught me, but I also know that my digital life is not contributing to my happiness. I will search for balance as I move forward.

Of course, I am nervous for and anxious about my uncertain future. I am grateful that I have many friends to lean on who have gone through this transition and others who are also in the midst of it. I plan to take advantage of resources available to transitioning athletes at the US Olympic Committee and US Ski Team.

My greatest fear about this transition is losing the amazing community that surrounds and supports me in everything that I do. This group includes my friends and family, coaches and teammates, supporters and fans. I do not know what my future involvement in cross-country skiing will be, but I do know that cross-country skiing is full of the most driven, successful, motivated, smart and caring people I have ever met. I hope that you will continue to consider me one of your own.

I would be remiss to end this essay without naming a few of the individuals who sacrificed the most to make my career happen. First and foremost, my parents have challenged me to justify each of my decisions, but, ultimately, they have fully and unequivocally supported me in everything that I’ve done. My sister has been my rock, always and unquestionably there for me. Zach Caldwell and John Callahan have given more of their time to my career, without pay, than any of us care to remember. Mark Doughty and Thoughtforms, the entire team at K2/Madshus, the Rocky Mountain Nordic Angel team (Mike Elliot, Craig and Becky Ward, Ruthie Brown, Dan Weiland, Dave Peterson and many, many others) and numerous other people and organizations have made my career financially possible. Last but certainly not least, the families who have taken me into their homes have shown me what true love and openness and generosity look like. Thank you all.

I will give everything I have for 50 kilometers on Saturday, and when I cross the finish line I will be proud of everything that I have given to the sport, tremendously grateful for everything the sport has given me and so very excited for the future. Thank you for being a part of my remarkable journey.

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Closing Ceremony

Wow. What a ride.

I’m sitting in the lounge (Thanks Matt Whitcomb!) at the Incheon Airport in Seoul, waiting to board a flight to Moscow and then onto Helsinki.

I imagine it will take me a while to fully process these Olympics, and I’m struggling to make any grandiose statement about the entire experience. However, I know that I will cherish these memories forever. It has been an incredible privilege to be a part of Team USA, and these Olympics, more than any other event in my career, have helped me understand what it means to be an athlete. These Games offered me a fundamentally different experience from Sochi. Because I am older, because I am more social and better connected to Team USA and many international athletes, because we were living in a much larger Olympic Village, because the geopolitical tension on the Korean peninsula intersected intimately with these Games, and because the narrative of these Olympics in the US was more human and less adversarial than Sochi, these Games have helped me grasp the positive role that sport plays in society. Even though I did not have exciting results, my ski career feels more meaningful and less selfish than it ever has before.

You, the readers of this blog, have played a major role in my Olympic experience. Sharing it with you, and feeling tremendous support in return, is one of the defining features of my Games experience. Over 15,000 unique users have visited this site in the past 23 days since I arrived in Korea. I am blown away by your interest and entirely positive feedback. Thank you!

I do not plan to continue blogging daily, but I anticipate posting a couple of updates over the next two weeks while I am racing on the World Cup. I will also write about my plans for the future as they come into sharper focus. Thank you for continuing to follow along and for your continued support.

Yesterday I went to the venue to watch the final cross-country ski race of the Olympics: the women’s 30K classic.

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Olympic 50K

It’s Sunday morning here in Korea. The Olympic 50K was yesterday afternoon, and I feel like I got hit by a truck.

In the race, my teammate Scott Patterson skied to an absolutely remarkable 11th place finish. This is the best ever result for the US in the Olympic 50K! The previous best was a pair of 13th place finishes from Bill Koch in 1976 and 1980. I am blown away by Scott’s performance. In all three distance races at these Olympics he has set a new personal best performance. I think he has surprised even himself with these results, and I know he is stoked. I believe this could be a breakthrough that helps him gain the confidence to consistently be one of the best skiers in the world. I am certainly excited to see how his career progresses.

(I was actually getting updates during the race of how Scott was doing. Hearing that he was fighting for a top-10 was awesome and motivating.)

Here is Scott getting interviewed by NBC after the race.

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PyeongChang 50K

This is the third day in a row that I am going to kick off my post with news about Kikkan and/or Jessie, but that’s what happens when you win a gold medal. Today’s news: Jessie Diggins was selected as the US Flag Bearer for the Olympic Closing Ceremony on Sunday! Seven athletes were nominated for the honor, one by each of the seven winter sport national governing bodies (NGBs), though two NGBs nominated athletes from sports which they do not oversee. The seven nominees included Jessie, snowboarder Jamie Anderson, hockey player Meghan Duggan, luge athlete Chris Mazdzer, figure skater Adam Rippon, bobsled athlete Elana Meyers Taylor and Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn. All seven athletes won a medal at these Games. Every athlete on Team USA had the opportunity over the last two days to vote for one of the seven, and Jessie won the election. It is a huge honor, and I am very excited for her. Clearly she’s excited as well:

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Podium Ceremony

First, a bit of news that I believe is a really big deal but was overshadowed by yesterday’s action: Kikkan Randall, who won a gold medal last night, was elected today to the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC’s) Athletes’ Commission. There were 6 candidates representing 6 countries and 5 sports who were running for two available spots. The voting was open to all competitors of these Olympics for the past two weeks. I voted when I first arrived in PyeongChang. Finnish ice hockey player Emma Terho received the most votes and Kikkan was second in the final tally, barely edging out another cross-country skier, Norway’s Astrid Jacobsen. Kikkan and Emma will each serve an eight year term on the commission, representing all athletes at the IOC. Kikkan has already served as the cross-country representative on the International Ski Federation (FIS) Athletes’ Commission. She was great in that role, and I know she will do a wonderful job in this new and much bigger role. I want to congratulate her, and as always, I am honored and proud to be her teammate.

It is remarkable how normal life was today after everything that happened last night. The world did not fundamentally change, even though it seemed that it might. I even got to have lunch with Kikkan, before the announcement of the IOC Election results and the medal ceremony.

After a poor night’s sleep in which I was way too jazzed up, I couldn’t sleep in very late. Since I was awake, I decided to go up to the venue early to watch the Women’s Big Air Snowboarding final.

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Men’s Ski Halfpipe

My plan to blog first thing in the morning didn’t last long. Unfortunately, the morning is the only time that I can talk to people back home before they go to sleep. If I want to call my parents or coaches, I have to do so in the morning.

I also had a massage this morning and I got called for an anti-doping test. After all of it, I never got around to composing a post.

First and most importantly, today is the Olympic Team Sprint for both men and women. These races, especially on the women’s side, represent our best chance as a team for an Olympic medal. I am going to the venue to watch in person. I wouldn’t miss it! The semifinals start momentarily, at 5p.m. Korean Time. The TV coverage in the U.S. is tape delayed, and the schedule is at the bottom of this post.

I have done two things in the past 48 hours that ended up being highlights of my Olympic Experience even though I didn’t believe either one of them was going to be that cool. The first was the trip to the Today Show, which I blogged about yesterday. I was not excited to go and stand in the back of a group of athletes and feel silly for just being an “extra”, but I ended up absolutely loving the adventure. My favorite part was meeting all of the interesting and successful people. I also loved seeing behind the scenes of a live television production. Lastly, I am a huge fan of live music and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Rachel Platten perform.

The second experience of the last couple days that surprised me with how happy it made me feel was going to watch the ski halfpipe competition yesterday.

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The Today Show

I’m composing this blog first thing in the morning since I have some content. I’d love to blog first thing for the rest of the Olympics, so I can use my afternoons to prioritize recovery and napping in preparation for the 50K. (I’m still not guaranteed a start in the 50K, but I’m going to prepare as well as possible in hopes that I will get one.)

In case we haven’t gotten enough stuff at these Olympics, more items keep trickling in. Yesterday we each received official certificates of participation as well as participation medals.

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PyeongChang Men’s Relay

In yesterday’s blog, posted before the race, I said that our goal as a US Men’s 4x10K Relay Team was to finish the race, to avoid getting lapped out. Not even I would have guessed that finishing the race would come down to just a couple of seconds after an hour and a half of racing.

The 3.3K lap was taking the leading skate skiers just over 7 minutes. The race organizers will pull a team from the race before they actually get caught so that they don’t interfer with the lead skiers and don’t appear on camera.

Our lead skier, Andy Newell, was skiing the first leg for the US for the third Olympics in a row. He used his experience to ski a very respectable race. He lost just 1 minute and 29 seconds to the leaders. (Remember, we have just over 7 minutes to lose in 4 legs before we get pulled.)

Reese Hanneman skied the second leg for us. Like Andy, Reese is a sprinter. Unlike Andy, Reese doesn’t have much experience in World Cup and Olympic level distance racing; yesterday was his first Olympic start. Putting Reese in the second leg of the Olympic relay is a little like throwing him to hungry wolves. He fought like hell and held on for a little over a lap, and then he made it hurt to limit his losses after he was dropped by all of the other teams. In the end he dropped 3 minutes and 40 seconds to the leaders and tagged Scott Patterson 5 minutes and 9 seconds back.

I was watching all of this unfold while warming up, and I knew it was going to take some great skiing from Scott and a serious effort from me for us to finish. Luckily, Scott, skiing third, delivered. It is almost impossible for somebody skiing all alone in the back to ski as fast as the leaders of the race who are pushing and fighting each other. For the first lap Scott actually put time into the leaders. The next two laps he limited his losses. In the end he skied 1 minute and 7 seconds slower than the lead of the race and tagged me 6 minutes and 16 seconds behind the leaders. More importantly, he tagged me 55 seconds AHEAD of the leaders on the track.

I knew that I only had to stay ahead for 2 laps because then the leaders would finish and the last lap wouldn’t matter; I’d be allowed to finish. I set out to do 6.6K as fast as I possibly could. I was skiing “scared” and started about as fast as I’ve ever started a race. In my first lap I actually put a little time into the leaders and I had a minute and 5 seconds near the end of that lap. I was getting splits from our staff all over the course of how much time I had on the two leaders. I knew that even with a minute five it was going to be close because I was going to pay a price for starting so fast and they were going to be racing for the win. About halfway through the second lap I could see them on a switchback right below me on the course and they were unnervingly close. I skied the last two hills as hard as I possibly could. When I crested the final hill I was 12 seconds ahead of Johannes Høsflot Klæbo, the finishing skier for the winning Norwegian Team. Luckily, it was only a few hundred meters all downhill to the lap lane. Once I was safely in the lap lane and out of the way of the finish, I basically came to a stop. I felt and acted like my race was over. I was feeling pretty good for having made it. I watched Klæbo finish before taking off on my final lap. I relaxed and enjoyed the experience of my first time anchoring a relay. Because we were several minutes behind the second to last team, the jumbotron showed me and the entire stadium cheered for me all the way up and over the final climb and into the finish. Honestly, it was an experience that rivaled the Opening Ceremonies. I’m so glad I had that opportunity and that my teammates and I did JUST enough to finish that race. It took everything we had.

Backing up, I was able to join my sister for lunch yesterday before the race. We also played a game of cribbage.

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