WHISTLER OLYMPIC PARK, Whistler, B.C. — It only takes one race. Here’s Jack Lange, on Monday of this week, standing at the finish zone here in Whistler after the 20km classic, gamely answering questions but frankly seeming slightly dazed about his transition to this level of racing:
“It was pretty easy to go out there and get overwhelmed, just, Whoa, I just got dropped. But I think the takeaway is just to be a little more confident. And I guess I’m motivated to come back next year.”
And here’s Jack Lange on Thursday, better rested this time after spending several minutes sitting in the leader’s chair after the close of his interval-start race, this time seeming slightly dazed about the extent to which he had just thrown down against the world’s best juniors in the 10km skate, finishing 11th overall and roughly forty seconds off the podium:
“It was confidence-inspiring to get up there and put down a really solid effort that I’m proud of, and spend a little time in the leader’s chair.”
Looks like the transition to this level of racing didn’t take Lange that long after all.
To back up slightly, Thursday brought the final individual juniors race at 2023 FIS Junior & U23 World Cross Country Championships, the junior men’s 10-kilometer interval-start skate. The sun was out, again, which apparently does not typically occur in Whistler, but has also been the case nearly every day this week. Multiple coaches and athletes have been heard to mutter that they had to go out and buy sunscreen, having never dreamed of packing it for Whistler.
Niko Anttola of Finland won the race, which counts as a minor upset by this point in a Norwegian-dominated championship week. (Disclosure, Lars Heggen and Thomas Linnebo Mollestad, both of Norway, were second and third.)
Jack Lange (Dartmouth) led the Americans in 11th, 47.7 seconds back of Anttola. He was followed by teammates Adrik Kraftson (Northern Michigan) in 30th (+1:51.4), Anders Weiss (Montana State) in 33rd (+2:00.5), and the ever-voluble Jack Conde (Montana State) in 51st (+2:46.6) to round out the quartet of NCAA skiers. Lange’s 11th was the best American junior men’s individual result this week, by a substantial margin.
While Lange did not, ultimately, win the race, his relatively early bib number, coupled with the extent to which he crushed it, meant that he was on the on-course leader for much of his race, and duly got to proceed to the leader’s chair once he had finished.
Sitting in the leader’s chair was “a new experience,” Lange said, once he had finally relinquished this prestigious perch to latter finisher Davide Ghio, given the Italian a congratulatory fistbump, and proceeded into the plebeian finish area. “It was a really fun and really sweet experience. And I hope to find myself back there again.”
Lange was “very surprised” to spend any time in the leader’s chair today, he candidly acknowledged.
“Especially after having — not a rough one,” he continued, “but certainly having a humbling experience in the mass start. It was confidence-inspiring to get up there and put down a really solid effort that I’m proud of, and spend a little time in the leader’s chair.”
Today’s race was far from rough for Lange. In fact, it was a race that gave him the experience of pinning it for all he was worth, and getting a courseside split from his coach that he was leading a world championship for the effort. So what’s that like?
“I definitely I had a moment out there,” Lange recounted, “where they were like, You’re having the fastest lap. And I just, like, holy shit, I got into a tuck at the top of the hill, and it was like, Whoa, let’s not ruin this one.”
Lange continued: “It’s definitely, like, once you get that good split, it’s just a cycle. It’s self-reinforcing. You get excited, and you’re, like, whoa, and it makes you race faster. It was a super great experience. And I’m glad everything came together: the tactics, the pacing; the tech team came through with awesome skis.”
As for tactics and pacing, Lange explained that he knows he can maintain an efficient V1, and so on the uphills he “focused on my breath to power up them and never get too frantic.” Lange added, “The course makes itself hard. It’s a hard course.”
And as for the skis, Lange, a young man with strong Granite State bona fides (Lyme, New Hampshire; Ford Sayre Ski Club; Hanover High School (okay also then Stratton Mountain School across the border in Vermont); Dartmouth College), gave a shoutout to first the techs on site this week, then to precisely the New England ski whisperer that you would expect given this background: “The skis are incredible. They’re just awesome boards, and Zach Caldwell always gets me the best skis, and I feel very lucky with the fleet that I have.”
Following Lange in the results, but preceding him in the leader’s chair, was Anders Weiss, who was the day’s fifteenth starter and claimed the fastest time when he crossed the line.
Sitting in the leader’s chair was “super, super nice,” Weiss said. This perhaps stood in some contrast to the race itself, which he characterized as feeling “really painful, but fast.”
Helpfully, Weiss’s skis were also fast. How fast were they? “Very, very, very fast,” Weiss said. “Much faster than any other skis out there, I think.”
Weiss had led interval-start races before coming into today, but never on a stage like this. It’s “super exciting” to get that split, he said. “It makes you just want to push faster. It’s great motivation.”
When asked about how he skied the course, Weiss said that he tried to really focus on the transitions, and make up in time in spots where other athletes might not be pushing quite as hard.
Adrik Kraftson, with the relatively late bib of no. 148, finished around this time. He placed 30th on the day. I simply did not catch Kraftson at the finish; I apologize for not having thoughts from him today.
Finally, a notably spent Jack Conde crossed the finish line in 26:22, placing 51st on the day. Conde and another American athlete had been battling illness for the last few days; Conde was not necessarily at his best. “But,” he reasoned once he had finally recovered enough to be interviewed, “I’m like, I got two weeks after this race of doing nothing, so it was good to get out there and just go for it.”
Going for it worked well for Conde in the first lap: “I’d say I skied my first lap pretty well,” Conde reasoned. “I think I was pretty confident going into it and just had no expectations. So I was loose on the start line. And I think my first lap went really well, and I’m proud of that.”
Unfortunately for Conde, the race was two laps long.
“The second lap, I felt strong up the main hill and was feeling pretty good,” he recounted. “And I, for whatever reason, I don’t know if I bonked — something happened where I lost a lot of time on the back half and ended up lower than I thought I was gonna. So there’s something there I could have improved on; not sure what that was.”
Conde also spoke to the effect on the team of the men racing second on a day when the American women had had a very strong day:
“As the guys were getting to the venue here, we were walking in and we heard, I think, Hattie was in sixth or something. And we immediately heard that and we’re like, Oh man, they’re killing it. And then we come through and she’s sitting in the leader chair, and I think all the guys looked at each other and we’re like, You know, the girls — we got big shoes to fill. So the girls killed it. And I think that helped a lot of the guys today just get in the mindset of, ‘We have the skis, we have what it takes to be good.’ And some of the guys showed that today for sure.”
Indeed, Conde noted in closing, “The skis were killer today. And I mean, every day, but it’s incredible how much work the techs have put in, and it definitely showed.”
On that note, I didn’t ask anyone on the American tech team today what was on the athletes’ skis; this is not a question that ski teams tend to answer on the record, nor should they. But whatever it was, there was widespread agreement that it was very, very fast, and that Jack Novak had done a very good job. (Disclosure: In his day job, Novak is one of my coaches with APU Masters in Anchorage.) In lieu of asking that question, here is a photo of Novak, above right, from earlier this week, in a very rare moment in which he ventured outside of the wax room.
— Gavin Kentch
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