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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PyeongChang Race Day #2

This afternoon I will start my second race of these Olympics, the 15K Skate Individual Start. I will be wearing bib 15 and will start at 3:07p.m. Korean Time, 11:07p.m. Mountain Time and 1:07a.m. Eastern Time. I included the broadcast schedule for the race in yesterday’s post, and I have copied it to the bottom of this post as well.

I am more nervous than I was for the 30K. Honestly, I have not felt great in training. However, I have had some of my best races when training has not felt good; I really haven’t found any correlation between feelings in training and in racing. My goal is to go out and put together a complete 15K effort with clean energetic skiing where I use my strength of high tempo skiing and also the skills I have built to glide and ski big as well.

I wanted to put up a blog this morning, before the race, so that I don’t feel pressure to do one this evening. I am always exhausted and not functioning at a high level after an afternoon race. I also wanted to write this morning because I have a few things on my mind.

First, I want to express my condolences to the families of the victims of the horrible shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. As news of the tragedy came in yesterday, all of Team USA was subdued and saddened.

I also want to add my voice to those calling on Congress to pass gun safety regulation to take sensible steps to address the gun violence epidemic in America. I took some time in the Athlete Lounge of the Olympic Village this morning to call my two senators from Colorado, Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet. In a voicemail, I asked them each to sponsor and support legislation that will make background checks mandatory for anyone purchasing a firearm, require safe storage of firearms, ban sales of bump stocks, end immunity for firearm companies and fund research into gun violence and prevention.

The second thing that I wanted to say this morning is that I have been thinking about those athletes who didn’t get a chance to come here to PyeongChang, to be on this Olympic Team. Sports are not always fair and opportunities are not always given equally. Many athletes who have worked as hard as I have, who care as much as I do, who shared my dreams of being an Olympian, did not get named to this team because the chips did not fall their way. It is a bit risky for me to name individuals because I know I will leave somebody out, but I feel compelled to mention a few who have been on my mind a lot: my two summer training partners, Tad Elliot and Kris Freeman, my good friends Eric Packer and Brian Gregg, APU’s David Norris and my friend Chelsea Holmes… I miss you all over here, and I think the world of you.

I don’t have many pictures since my last post. I enjoyed playing around with Erik Bjornsen’s new camera last night.

Here is the picture from the camera.

As usual, I watched some Olympic events last night in the Athlete Lounge with other members of Team USA. It is a really fun group to watch with!

I’m off to race! Here’s the broadcast schedule:

ON TV NBCSN – 2:40am EST and 11:00pm EST
3:00pm EST – 5:00pm EST

Women’s Olympic 10K

The women’s Olympic 10K individual start just finished, and it was one of the most exciting individual start races that I have ever seen. On the 5 Kilometer course, Norwegian Ragnhild Haga skied an amazingly fast second lap. After the first lap she was 3 seconds behind Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla. She won by 20 seconds! Charlotte held on for second place, but the real battle was between Norwegian Marit Bjørgen, Finland’s Krista Parmakoski and American Jessie Diggins for the bronze medal. At the 8.4K split, with exactly a mile left to race, Jessie was in third, 1.8 seconds ahead of Bjørgen and 5 seconds ahead of Parmakoski. Jessie is one of the best closers in the sport, and my teammates and I thought she was going to do it. Bjørgen and Parmakoski started and finished before Jessie. Parmakoski came across the finish line in an exact tie with Bjørgen. So Jessie was either going to get 3rd or 5th. On TV they showed the final 2 minutes of Jessie’s race, and we were screaming like crazy. Near the top of the last hill her legs stiffened and she was visibly hurting. Coming into the final stretch it was clear that she was going to just miss out. She finished 5th, just 3.3 seconds slower than Bjørgen and Parmakoski. So close!

Although she didn’t get a medal today, Jessie fought like crazy, and I am proud to be her teammate. She is an amazing skier and athlete. Today’s result is very impressive. It is just a matter of time before she gets that medal. Her next opportunity will be on Saturday in the women’s 4x5K relay, and I can’t wait to watch.

Life has been pretty chill in the men’s condo. I played a game of Euchre last night with Paddy Caldwell (left), Scott Patterson (center) and Erik Bjornsen. Andy Newell (standing) was hanging out too.

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PyeongChang Day 11

I wanted to title this post with a number to highlight that I’m only halfway through my Olympic experience. Today is my Day 11. Closing Ceremonies happen on Day 22, and I will depart Korea on Day 23. This is an amazing experience that I am fully appreciating, but it is also a long trip.

Yesterday evening was the Olympic Classic Sprint. Team USA had some really impressive performances, but we did not win a medal. Jessie Diggins was our only skier to reach either the men’s or women’s final, and she finished sixth. We were not favorites to win a medal last night, but we were certainly medal hopefuls. My sense is that we, as a team, are building towards a historic result and that we’ll see it in the next 11 days. There are four more cross-country races for each gender at these Olympics. We will be medal hopefuls in the women’s 10k, women’s relay, men’s team sprint and women’s 30k and we will be medal favorites in the women’s team sprint next Wednesday, February 21st. I cannot wait to race and to watch and to continue to be a part of this team. Racing kicks off again tomorrow with the women’s 10k.

It was cold and windy last night, and my teammates and I watched the sprint from the Village. We could even watch the qualifying round, which was a rare treat because it’s not usually televised. Here’s Sadie Bjornsen starting her qualifier.

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Sprint Day!

Today is one of Team USA Cross-Country’s best opportunities for an Olympic medal. The Olympic Classic Sprint starts in half an hour with qualifying at 5:30p.m. Korean Time (1:30a.m. Mountain Time and 3:30a.m. Eastern Time). The energy has been high around here all day. The sprinters are nervous, but I believe they are super ready. I cannot wait to watch. Information about the broadcast schedule for today’s race is at the bottom of this post.

I didn’t ski yesterday. Instead I jogged to The Haven with Liz Stephen. It was cold and windy and we were mostly running on busy roads. Honestly it wasn’t that pleasant.

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PyeongChang Skiathlon

Yesterday’s race was very disappointing for me. It was my first race of the Olympics, the 30K Skiathlon. I have felt good for the last week and thought I was setup to have a good day, but my body didn’t respond the way that I hoped it would. The pace was hot from the beginning, and I struggled in the classic portion to ski relaxed. The conditions were tricky with windblown tracks and icy corduroy, and I didn’t handle them well. I got dropped by the lead group early and continuously lost time on my way to a 54th place finish.

After the race I was feeling disheartened, frustrated and inadequate. I felt confused about why my coaches and I have been unable to replicate the best-in-the-world skiing that I did in 2014, despite trying everything that we could think to do. I felt like I don’t deserve to be here and that I am an imposter for writing this blog and pretending to be a successful Olympic athlete. I even felt guilty that my sister is coming to watch my next race when I’m skiing so poorly.

As the evening went on, I started to lift my chin up, put things into perspective and move on. Letting go of disappointment is something that I have worked on for much of my career. There were times early in my career when I would hold onto bad races for many days. Not only does being upset drain all of my energy, it also makes me super unpleasant to be around. As of this morning I had not fully let go of yesterday’s result, but now, at 3:30 in the afternoon (23 hours after finishing yesterday), I feel great, I can’t wait for another opportunity on Friday, and I am so psyched to be at the Olympics! I am proud of myself for letting go of the race.

My biggest goal for these Olympics is to live them, be present and take it all in. I can only accomplish that goal if I don’t get stuck in disappointment.

Also, there was one big reason to be excited about yesterday’s race: my teammate Scott Patterson finished in 18th place, only 1:08 behind the winner. That is easily Scott’s best result of his career, and he becomes one of a very select group of US men’s cross-country skiers with a top-20 finish at the Olympics. I was so excited, and super impressed, when I saw his result after I finished.

Like me, my teammates Erik Bjornsen and Paddy Caldwell were disappointed with their results, but I have full confidence in them and know that it will only get better from here for all three of us.

I think I can take some credit for Scott’s result because I convinced him to jog to the venue with me instead of dealing with the crowded buses. The extra-long warm-up must have worked for him!

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Race Day in PyeongChang

Race day! I’m feeling good and can’t wait to get started. Today’s race is the 30K Skiathlon which includes 15K classic technique, a pit stop to change skis and poles and 15K skate technique. I will be wearing bib number 47. It is a mass start and the gun goes off at 3:15pm Korean Time (11:15pm tonight (Saturday) Mountain Standard Time and 1:15am Eastern Standard Time). At the bottom of this post I have included details about how you can watch including tape-delayed coverage Sunday US Time on NBC.

My goal for today is to ski with high energy but also to push hard when necessary. I want to ski aggressively and show that I belong here. My best Olympic finish is 24th place, and I believe I can improve on that result.

Yesterday the cross-country events kicked off at the Olympics with the women’s skiathlon, and American Jessie Diggins put on an impressive show. It looked like she was struggling early, but she was characteristically tough as nails and fought like crazy to a fifth place finish, the second best US Olympic result ever and the best for women. She was so close to making contact with the group of second through fourth place finishers, and I believe Jessie is going to take a step onto the podium sometime in the next two weeks. I am inspired by her racing tenacity and want to emulate it today.

My teammates and I did our pre-race ski as soon as the women finished their race yesterday. We didn’t want to miss watching the second half of their race, so we decided to take an earlier shuttle to watch from the athlete lounge at the venue. The race started while we were on the bus, and it was nice to have the TV that allowed us to watch.

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PyeongChang Opening Ceremonies

The Olympic Opening Ceremonies are so cool, and I can’t believe that I’ve had the honor of walking into them twice as a member of Team USA. Last night was perfect, as was my experience in Sochi. I feel so lucky to have these opportunities. Thank you to everyone who has helped me get here.

I want to say a special thank you to my parents. They have been a stabilizing force in my life forever. As I have matured, I have become aware that my parents put up with the worst version of myself. I take advantage of them, I don’t communicate as well with them as I do with others and I don’t show them my appreciation for everything that they do for me. As I’ve gained this awareness, I’ve tried to do better, but I often find myself falling back into old habits. I know that they’ll read this, and I just want to tell them that I think they’ve done a perfect job of parenting and that even when I don’t show it, I’m so lucky to have them and grateful for everything they do. We made a decision as a family for them not to come here to Korea. It is expensive and requires a lot of time away from work and from their new farm in Montrose, Colorado. I would rather spend that time with them adventuring in the desert this spring, which we are planning to do instead. It would be nearly impossible and very stressful for me to spend any time with them here in Korea.

On the other hand, my sister is going to come next weekend. I will hardly see her, but she is going to watch the 15K and the relay if I am on the team. She is traveling with a friend and will be entirely self-sufficient. They are coupling this trip with some time powder skiing (hopefully) in Japan.

Last night’s excitement started with a dress up party in our apartment. Erik Bjornsen made the hard and personal decision not to walk in the Ceremony because he felt it was the best thing for his performance at the Games. Although we missed him last night, I highly respect his decision. He still participated by helping us look sharp. He even laced up Paddy Caldwell’s boots.

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PyeongChang Day 6

My apologies for the lack of creativity in naming these posts. Honestly, I have limited time this afternoon before Opening Ceremonies tonight, and I need to publish this before I leave so I can go to sleep as soon as I get back.

We’ve made it to the start of the Games! So sweet to be here. My plan for this evening is to do the same thing that I did in Sochi: walk into Opening Ceremonies with Team USA and then walk out without ever taking a seat. I will come straight back to the Village and get ready for bed. I’ll be excited to watch highlights of the show on YouTube tomorrow. Several of my teammates are on the same plan as me. It’s really nice to have the compromise option to walk and then leave because it allows us to participate in one of the highlight Olympic experiences without getting to bed too late or spending too much time out in the cold. (The ceremony this year is in an open-air stadium. Luckily, it is significantly warmer (around 30°F) than it has been the last several days.)

Yesterday, Paddy Caldwell and I did a skate intensity session. It was my first time going hard since being here, and I felt surprisingly good. After some easy skiing, we did a 5 minute threshold warm-up interval followed by 6×2 minute hard intervals. We were both at max by the last interval. It was a great session, really fun to be out there with my teammate and a good wakeup for my body. It was my first time testing our Olympic suits. I like the way they look!

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PyeongChang Day 5

Part of my commitment to soaking in this experience at the Olympics in PyeongChang and to living in the present involves really embracing the lifestyle that will help me race fast. Ironically, that means embracing boredom and simplicity. Although there is so much attention and excitement around the Olympics, it is ideal for me to reside in a bubble that is free from distractions and extremely relaxed. It’s hard for me to fully articulate this concept, but, in trying to share my real Games experience through this blog, I want to share this sense that living in the present and taking in the whole Games really involves the most simple life. Here are the only things that matter on my to-do list every day:

  • Do the prescribed training (at most 90 minutes a day)
  • Eat 3 relaxed healthy meals
  • Get a massage
  • Spin and stretch

Anything else I choose to do on a given day needs to be relaxed, low energy and cannot detract from the important items above. Hopefully that explanation makes sense. I think it’s a really unique time in my life to have the days be so incredibly simple.

I have also been thinking about why I have chosen to blog again during these Olympics. I feel like my motivation this year is a little simpler than it was from 2012-15 when I blogged daily. I am blogging during these Games because I recognize that I am incredibly privileged and lucky to be here, that very few people have this opportunity and I feel that I owe it to the community to share this with all of you. I am only here because of this community. Additionally, I think noteworthy experiences in general are better when shared. You all are making my experience better by coming along on this journey with me. Thank you!

Speaking of sharing the experience, my wax technician at these Games is the amazing Patrick Moore. Patrick is a volunteer technician and has joined our staff at major Championships for many years. I have worked with him previously, and it has gone really well. Patrick is also good friends with my coach Zach Caldwell, who manages my fleet of skis. Zach is in Vermont and not coming to the Olympics, but he is advising Patrick from afar.

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