ALPENSIA, South Korea (Feb. 4, 2017) – Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) matched her career best finishing second in a FIS Cross Country World Cup skiathlon on the PyeongChang Olympic venue at Alpensia. Stephen finished second to Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk. Rounding out the podium was Masako Ishida of Japan.
The USA played a big role in the men’s 30k skiathlon won by Russia’s Petr Sedov. Noah Hoffman (Aspen, CO) was a key part of the lead pack throughout the classic leg, taking a good amount of time out in front. He made the turn in eighth, but ratcheted it right back up towards the front before settling into the chase pack, eventually finishing eighth, matching his best individual World Cup finish. Scott Patterson (Anchorage) had his best World Cup finish, coming from behind near the end of the race to finish just behind Hoffman in ninth. Matt Gelso (Ketchum, ID) was 19th. It was the first World Cup points for both Patterson and Gelso. It was a strong day for the U.S. women with Caitlin Patterson (Craftsbury Common, VT) just off the podium in fourth and Liz Guiney (Craftsbury Common, VT) 13th – both career bests. It came just a day after Ida Sargent (Orleans, VT) was third in the classic sprint.
Kowalczyk of Poland took an early lead and continued to build throughout the race and was never really challenged moving to a 40-second lead by the 5k mark. During the early going of the 7.5k classic leg, Stephen and Patterson were bouncing around in the latter half of the top 10. Stephen moved up to fifth at the exchange, still 12 seconds from the podium. In the skating leg, Stephen moved up quickly and by the 10k mark, was in control of second and never really challenged.
While Stephen was thrilled with her finish, she also was feeling the effects of the grueling sprint race less than 24 hours earlier. “It’s hard not to feel happy when you get a podium finish,” she said. “However, I didn’t feel like I had as much energy as I wanted to have today, but it was enough to hold onto second.”
“Another day of great racing by all six USA athletes,” said Head Coach Chris Grover. “It was a small field so everyone knew it would be a rare opportunity to take some points and perhaps reach the podium. All six athletes really put together excellent races.”
One of those athletes was Guiney, who earned the World Cup trip based on her early season Continental Cup lead. “My goal today was just to ski my own race and stay relaxed, which can be tough in a mass start,” she said. “I was very happy with my race today – it’s definitely my best international finish ever. I felt strong in the classic leg, and was happy to hold my own in the skate leg, since skating tends to be my weaker discipline.”
Guiney joined other athletes in her praise of the Alpensia courses. “The courses here in South Korea are really cool – I like them a lot,” she said. “There aren’t really any long grueling climbs, except maybe one on the skate course, but they’re still difficult courses with lots of ups and downs. I like that the downhills are fast but many of the corners are banked and ski really well. They did a really good job with course design! Today it was overcast, but the first few days here were sunny and beautiful, and with nice snow, it’s been really good skiing all around.
The races are more than just competitions for the U.S. Ski Team. The team is using the opportunity to learn as much as possible about the Alpensia venues to be better prepared for the Olympics just a year away.
“It’s been a successful trip for the U.S., first because of a couple podiums, but also because we’re doubling this weekend as a ski service testing camp for our staff,” said Coach Matt Whitcomb. “We’re learning a lot about the venue and certain snow conditions. Waxing has been tricky but not overwhelmingly hard for the past five days of training and racing, and our staff, while zombie-tired, is working very well. I’ve been impressed with the skis the servicemen have produced, as well as the efforts that U.S. athletes have put forth.”
The trip to Korea also comes with the challenges of travel, but that’s all a part of the test. “Every athlete and staff member from every nation is tired, but our team has a very resilient way about it,” said Whitcomb. “They may be professional ski racers, but they are also professional travelers. We’re having a great first trip to PyeongChang.”
Stephen’s second matched her performance in the 10k freestyle in Rybinsk, Russia two years ago.
Action in PyeongChang wraps up Sunday with a freestyle team sprint.
Reported by U.S.S.A/U.S. Ski Team
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