LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — In Cross-Country’s Men’s 30-Kilometer Mass Start Free, it’s all about waiting until the right moment. Go fast too early and you’re cooked. Hang back, and you might miss the winning break. John Steel Hagenbuch timed it just right, coming back from a fall midway through the race to win his first gold medal at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games.
“I’ve been hungry all week,” said Hagenbuch, who wore bib #1 as the top-ranked skier in the field. “It feels awesome to compete against skiers like Ryo [Hirose] here. He’s so strong, and it’s a great event, really well organized. We’re just thankful to be here.”
Hirose is a 2022 Olympian who won three gold medals and a bronze at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU Games.
Hagenbuch’s attack on the final five-kilometer lap put distance on the lead group. The 21-year-old economics major at Dartmouth College crossed the finish line in one hour, 12 minutes, 48.8 seconds for his first gold medal—and the first for the U.S. in cross-country skiing at these Games.
Magnus Bøe, a Korean-born Norwegian and 2018 Olympian, led the lead pack for much of the race but could not stay with Hagenbuch when he attacked. Bøe hung back, then attacked the chase group on the final climb, crossing the line for his third silver medal of the Lake Placid 2023 FISU Games in one hour, 12 minutes, 51.3 seconds — just 2.5 seconds behind Hagenbuch.
“I am very happy with how I managed my race, taking the lead, trying to thin out the pack,” explained Bøe. “Unfortunately, my mistake today was I let myself get way too far back right before Johnny went (hard), because I was taking my last drink [in the feed zone] and when you do that, you kind of fall back. It was not a good time to fall back because right afterward, Johnny went on a push and he got a gap. I could have kept up with him if I was right behind him when he went, but he had 20-25 meters head start. When he got the gap, I wasn’t going to try to close it right away, (as I) tried to have the Japanese guy work a little for it. Towards the end we made a pretty big push and almost caught him [Johnny], but it was just a little too late.
“It was a bummer! It’s been the story of the games — this is my third silver — it’s been close but not quite the gold. My shape’s decent, but it’s just a little bitter I didn’t get the gold medal. But either way, it was a good race.”
Luca Compagnoni from Italy also made a few moves on the final lap. He crossed the finish line in one hour, 12 minutes, 52.9 seconds for bronze. It’s the first medal of these Games for the 22-year-old exuberant Italian.
“I am very happy, and the feeling was very good,” said Compagnoni. “I try on the last hill, I go very fast, and I’m okay with it. I’m very happy.”
The race — six laps of a five-kilometer loop with total elevation gain of 3,760 feet — was one of attrition. Bøe and fellow Norwegian Oerjan Moseng — a biathlete who won two bronze medals at these Games — skied at the front of the lead pack for much of the race. They were joined by American Garrett Butts. Hagenbuch also took a few turns at the front. But near the end of third lap, Hagenbuch fell on a tight downhill corner, and his chances looked over.
“It threw a little bit of a wrench in the plan when a German skier pushed me wide because he wasn’t very good on the downhill, and then I went down,” said Hagenbuch. “But I came back.”
Hagenbuch is on the U.S. Ski Team. As a junior, he won two gold medals at world junior championships as part of the men’s 4x5km relay team. He returns to Dartmouth tomorrow for the winter quarter.
The FISU World University Games is the world’s largest multi-sporting event for collegiate athletes, ages 17-25. The 11-day Lake Placid 2023 FISU Games feature 1,443 collegiate athletes from 540 universities across 46 countries. The competition consists of 12 winter sports and 85 medal events contested throughout New York state’s Adirondack region, including Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Wilmington, North Creek, Canton and Potsdam.
Fans can follow the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter with @LakePlacid2023, @SaveWinterHQ, #lakeplacid2023, #savewinter.
For more information about the Lake Placid 2023 FISU Games or to purchase tickets, visit www.lakeplacid2023.com.