When organizers delayed and dramatically shortened the final men’s ski race at the Beijing Olympics due to inclement weather, Scott Patterson of Anchorage took the change in stride.
Then Patterson threw down for eighth place in the 30K freestyle to achieve the third-best U.S. men’s Olympic cross country skiing result in history, trailing only Bill Koch’s silver medal and sixth place results in 1976.
“I’m psyched with how it went,” Patterson told reporters after the race. “Eighth is pretty special.”
The result is no fluke: Patterson, who was shooting for a Top 10, has achieved most of his career-best results at the World Championships and the Olympics. He’d previously placed 11th at the 50K classic in the 2018 Olympics and 11th in the 30K skiathlon that kicked off the Beijing games.
Friday’s race was supposed to be 50K kilometers, but with single-digit temperatures and strong gusting winds the organizers shortened it — somewhat controversially — to four laps of 7.1-kilometers each. They also delayed the start by an hour.
“In the end, the conditions ended up being pretty reasonable,” said Patterson, 30, a member of the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center. “Obviously it’s windy, but a lot of the course is actually pretty sheltered so I think it skied pretty well.”
Patterson, who trains about 1,100 hours a year, said he’d have preferred to grind out 50 kilometers as planned, but did not fault the organizers for the change.
“I think they had a tough decision and made a decent call with it,” he said.
Patterson, showing no ill effects from surgery this fall to heal a broken wrist, kept his composure as the lead pack was whittled from more than 30 skiers early on to a final group of eight. That octet included four Russians, two Norwegians, a Frenchman and Patterson. Early in the final lap the South Anchorage High School graduate even worked his way up to second place.
“I was thinking about a medal but also realizing that I was getting a little tired,” he said. “I don’t think it was exactly realistic to fully believe (a medal) was happening today.”
Patterson defeated such luminaries as Johannes Klaebo, the world’s top-ranked skier from Norway, Hans Christer Holund and Swiss star Dario Cologna.
Russian Alexander Bolshunov won gold to collect his fifth medal of these games, completing the hilly, high-altitude course in 1 hour, 11 minutes and 32 seconds. Patterson finished 33.9 seconds behind and was only 26 seconds off the podium.
Although the U.S. was allotted four spots for the iconic race, Patterson was the only American to participate. Fellow distance skier Gus Schumacher of Anchorage, who had a tough first three races, decided instead to focus on the upcoming Under 23 World Championships in Norway. And two of the team’s sprinters, Anchorage’s Luke Jager of the University of Utah and JC Schoonmaker of the University of Alaska Anchorage, are leaving Beijing to compete at their respective NCAA regional meets.
The U.S. men’s team has long been overshadowed by the American women, who have earned medals at the last two Olympics. But Patterson’s Top 10 will help get the men get some recognition.
“To do that today, under conditions like this, is such a huge success for our program and for Scott and for his club, APU,” U.S. coach Matt Whitcomb told FasterSkier. “For all the coaches over the years, Erik Flora that’s worked with him, and the [rest of the] coaches at APU. It’s such a huge success for [Patterson’s collegiate program], the University of Vermont; Alaska Winter Stars where he started skiing; and just so many people have been a part of this incredible journey. And so happy for all of them. But mostly for Scott because he earned this sucker today. It was brutal.”
Brennan’s final race Saturday
Rosie Brennan of APU is among the four U.S. women’s starters in Saturday’s 30K and has a shot at a medal.
Brennan came excruciatingly close to medaling in the freestyle sprint by placing fourth just 1.33 seconds behind teammate Jessie Diggins, who won bronze.
She also helped the U.S. earn sixth place in the four-skier relay and fifth place in the team sprint with Diggins. In the team sprint, she tagged off to Diggins for the final lap in third place.
At age 33, Saturday’s race could be the final Olympic event of her career, although Brennan has not yet announced her career plans.
Jessica Yeaton, a South Anchorage High School grad, and Casey Wright, formerly of the University of Alaska Anchorage, will represent Australia in the 30K.
The race was moved up 3 ½ hours to 6 p.m. Alaska time but the distance has not been altered (unlike the men’s race).
Hufman fourth in curling
Fairbanks native Colin Hufman, an alternate for the men’s U.S. doubles curling team, saw his hopes for a medal dashed after the U.S. reached the semifinals but then lost tough games to Great Britain and Canada.
Hufman, who now lives in Minneapolis, mostly watched from the sidelines but did see action in one game of the round-robin portion of the tournament.
Slopstyle skier Hall wins gold
Alex Hall, who was born in Fairbanks, won a gold medal in slopestyle skiing after expertly navigating rails and landing jumps at the Genting Snow Park.
Hall was born in Fairbanks to an American father and Italian mother, both university professors. He was raised in Switzerland and now lives in Salt Lake City.