Noah Hoffman was running with his middle school cross-country team when he decided to try cross-country skiing with some other runners. He wasn’t a natural nor did he take an instant liking to the sport. Once, he even went into the woods and rather than keep training, he and his teammates built a snow fort.
But hard work and a fierce determination to qualify for every race has taken the Aspen, Colo., 24-year-old all the way to the Sochi Olympics, where he will compete in a total of four events. While he said he doesn’t expect to earn a medal, he seems confident the experience he gains in Russia will enable him to stand on the winner’s platform in four years in South Korea.
Hoffman is the current top-ranked distance skier in the United States, has been a member of the U.S. cross-country team since 2008 and has ranked among the Top 10 in the world. In his first Olympic race last week, he placed a “disappointing” 35th. He crashed coming around a 180-degree corner turn and broke his pole, he said during a phone interview from Sochi.
He hopes to improve in his three upcoming races, including a 50-kilometer one Feb. 23 that closes the Olympic Games. His races range in distance, and he estimated that they take from about 40 minutes to two hours and 20 minutes. His next race is Feb. 14 and is 15 kilometers long.
His last race includes “a massive hill.” He described himself as best during long-distance races and is working on his sprinting skills.
Skiing and running were just activities until, when a freshman in high school, his friend qualified for the junior national races and he did not.
“I was just jealous, so that summer I went from not training at all to really training on a professional level,” he recalled. “I did four-hour runs and five-hour bike rides.”
“It was so simple,” he said. “Hard work brought success.”
While he called the opening ceremony in Sochi “one of the coolest experiences of my life,” the rest of the time has been fairly typical for him. He is racing against many of the same people he faces all year long and is living in the endurance village with only cross-country and biathlon participants. The other two Olympic villages are the mountain village and coastal village.
When Hoffman races through the snow, he is relaxed but incredibly focused on where the other skiers are. His intensity doesn’t necessarily translate into counting what lap he is on. Therefore, his coach positions himself on the sidelines, yelling out the lap numbers.
During the Olympics, his training is fairly limited.
“This is all about rest,” he said. “My only goal is to be strong.”
Hoffman’s family wasn’t particularly religious, but he said, “I’m proud to be Jewish.” He has a lot of great memories of celebrating Chanukah with his family. So when the U.S. ski team was on the road during this past Chanukah, he decided to throw a party even though he’s the only Jew on the team. He made latkes and showed his teammates a dreidel.
For now, Hoffman plans to keep skiing and winning championships. After that, he intends to go to college and probably study economics and public policy.