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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Olympic Relays

First, I missed posting a blog yesterday, the first day I’ve missed of these Olympics. My sister Maggie Hoffman Blatz and her traveling partner Caitlin Dunn arrived in PyeongChang on Friday, in time to see me race in the 15K Skate. Yesterday they watched the women’s relay and today they will watch me in the men’s relay. Yesterday was my only good opportunity to spend time with them, and I chose to do that instead of composing a blog. My apologies.

Second, this weekend Simi Hamilton and I were featured in a piece on NPR’s All Things Considered about the impact that climate change is having on winter sport and the hard reality that the lifestyle of a winter sport athlete exacerbates the problem. The piece was written and composed by Elizabeth Stewart-Severy, a longtime friend and excellent reporter for Aspen Public Radio. I am very impressed with Elizabeth’s story, and I’m honored to be featured nationally on NPR. You can listen to the piece here.

Looking back, the 15K skate race on Friday was a bit better for me than the 30K Skiathlon last weekend. It was only a small step forward, but at least I’m moving in the right direction. My primary goal for the race was to ski with relaxed muscles so I could use my full aerobic capacity without getting heavy legs or “blowing up”. One way for me to keep my muscles relaxed is to “soft pedal”, or keep the motions light. The result of high energy light skiing is that I have an exceptionally high tempo. This type of skiing can be very effective on really hilly hard courses like Val di Fiemme, Italy or Holmenkollen, Norway. As evidenced by my 48th place finish, it is less effective on a more gradual course like this one. In retrospect, I needed to lengthen the motions a bit more than I did and use a bit more power. However, skiing light and “clean” allowed me to feel like I could attack the course all the way to the end, which in turn gives me good feelings and confidence going forward. I hope to use that confidence to add a little more power to my skiing in today’s relay.

Yesterday was the women’s 4x5k relay. Our American team of Sophie Caldwell, Sadie Bjornsen, Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins were medal hopefuls. There was palpable excitement amongst our whole team throughout the day. Sophie skied the first leg and had a great first 2.5K lap. As she started to suffer on the second lap, she fought like hell to hang on. Some of the best skiers in the world were charging at the front and setting a torrid pace. Sophie tagged Sadie one minute behind the leaders. Sadie, Kikkan and Jessie each skied impressive legs. Even though the leaders were fighting and pushing each other, our women didn’t lose much more time. In the end they couldn’t quite climb back into medal contention, but they finished in an impressive 5th place.

Today it’s our turn. Erik Bjornsen and Simi Hamilton both opted not to race today in order to better prepare for the Team Sprint on Wednesday. Paddy Caldwell is still recovering from a cold. Andy Newell is going to ski the “scramble” (1st) leg for us. Reese Hanneman, in his first ever Olympic Start, will ski second. Scott Patterson, who is skiing amongst the best in the world right now, will ski third and, for the first time in my career, I will anchor the team (ski the 4th leg). Our goal for the race is simple: finish. Each leg will consist of three 3.3K laps, and if a team is in danger of getting lapped by the leaders, they will be pulled from the race. This is not uncommon. If we put together four solid legs, we can finish and have a very good day. I’m honored and excited to be a part of this team.

The weather has been gorgeous here in Korea. Here is coach and wax technician Erik Flora before the 15K on Friday.

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