Three Alaskans raced the men’s cross country skiing Olympic relay on Saturday — but the result was not quite what they were looking for.
The U.S. team started with Luke Jager (West Anchorage High School), followed by Anchorage’s Scott Patterson (South) and Gus Schumacher (Service). They were joined by anchor Kevin Bolger of Utah, but the quartet was never in the mix, placing ninth of 15 teams in 2 hours, 2 minutes and 56 seconds.
Amid falling snow and slow conditions, the Russia Olympic Committee team dominated the 4X10-kilometer race, besting powerhouse Norway by more than a minute. The Americans finished 8 minutes and 5 seconds behind.
Jager, who skied strong opening relay legs to help the U.S. win gold at the World Junior Championships in 2019 and 2020, said he was thankful to participate but disappointed in his performance. Jager finished his classic-technique leg in 13th place more than 2 ½ minutes behind Alexey Chervotkin of ROC.
Jager said the extremely challenging course held at altitude, along with the 10K distance — twice as long as the junior relays — contributed to his struggle.
“At the end of the day, I just wasn’t fit enough to be where I want to be and there was no hiding to be had,” Jager told FasterSkier. “So, I feel like I learned a lot from it, but I just feel like I need to go home and train a lot more.”
Every American was at least two minutes slower than the fastest skier for their leg. However, Patterson, skiing classic and without a group, moved the team up to 11th place. Then Schumacher, skiing the freestyle technique, kept that spot before Bolger passed Japan and the Czech Republic to bring the U.S. into the Top 10.
“I’m proud for us coming together as a team,” Schumacher, who skied with a temporary tattoo of an American flag on his cheek, told FasterSkier. “We’ve all had some tough races here. It hasn’t been easy for us.”
The result was an improvement from the last two Olympics, where the U.S. finished 11th. The American’s also had the satisfaction of topping their rival Canada.
In Friday’s women’s 4X5 relay, the U.S. team had hopes of achieving its first-ever medal. But that wasn’t to be, as the Americans placed sixth 1 minutes, 28 seconds behind champion ROC.
Two members of the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center — Hailey Swirbul of Colorado and Rosie Brennan of Utah — skied the opening classic legs. Swirbul handed off to Brennan in sixth place 24 seconds behind and Brennan — racing against Norway’s Therese Johaug and several other stars — lost an additional 12 seconds.
“(My leg) was full of a lot of the heavy hitters, so I knew I had a tough job ahead of me,” Brennan told FasterSkier. “So I tried to ski smart, but also find something extra to dig a little deeper, but I knew there was going to be some hard fighting at the end.”
Brennan, who placed fourth in the sprint, will have another chance at a medal in the team sprint late Tuesday night. She’ll be teamed with two-time American medalist Jessie Diggins.
For the men’s team sprint, the top two Americans in the individual sprint — JC Schoonmaker of the University of Alaska Anchorage and Ben Ogden of Vermont — will likely be paired together.
Hufman Sees Action in Curling
Fairbanks native Colin Hufman became the third Alaskan to curl at the Olympics on Saturday, joining Vicky Persinger (2022) and Anchorage’s Jessica Schultz (2010).
Hufman, who now lives in Minneapolis, is the designated alternate for the U.S. men’s doubles team skipped by John Shuster.
After watching his team split its first four games, the Americans trailed Canada 7-1 at the midway break on Saturday and inserted Hufman to replace lead thrower John Landsteiner.
Hufman played the rest of the game, which Canada won 10-5.
The Americans now are 2-3 in the nine-game round-robin and will need to rally in order to claim a spot in the semifinals and have a chance to defend the gold medal they won in 2018.
Even if Hufman returns to the sidelines, he can now say he’s curled at the Olympics. His effort to make the Olympic Team in men’s doubles came up short at the U.S. Olympic Trials five times starting in 2006. Although his Team Ruohonen lost at the 2022 Trials, he was then picked up by Shuster as the Olympic alternate.