Skip to content
Home News Last but not Least: USA, Estonia golden in cross country finale

Last but not Least: USA, Estonia golden in cross country finale

23 January 2023

“It’s a real treat to race here,” was an easy thing to say for USA’s John Steel Hagenbuch after capturing gold on home soil in the men’s 30-kilometre cross country freestyle mass start, the final Nordic skiing event of the 2023 FISU World University Games, Sunday.

It wasn’t until the last two 5km laps that “the hammer came down”, as the winner described it. There were a dozen athletes left in the leading group when the Dartmouth College student started to pull away from the rest of the pack, opening a gap nobody would be able to close.

“It was my race plan to attack on the last lap and I’m very happy I could execute it exactly like that,” said Hagenbuch, who took a spill early in the race.

“I actually collapsed with one of the coaches providing our feeding and took him down too,” he explained. “So after that, I was just trying to stay calm and ski my own race.”

And so he did, completing the gruelling event in 1:12:48.8 Coming in second place was Magnues Boee from Norway (1:12:51.3), who looked to be in a gold-medal position but made a tactical mistake.

“I was taking my last drink and fell back right before John took off,” the silver medallist said. “I call it on a tactical mistake today, because I think I had the legs and shape to keep up with him.”

Crossing the finish line just over a second behind Boee to take home bronze was Italy’s Luca Compagnoni (1:12:52.9).

Following up in the afternoon was the women’s 15km mass start and local fans were almost treated to another Team USA triumph, before the race took an unexpected late turn.

Kendall Kramer, a student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, started pulling away from her competitors early in the race, keeping a solid yet unsafe ten-second gap ahead of the chasing group with a handful of athletes still contending for the podium.

By the end of the last lap, however, Estonia’s Mariel Merlii Pulles, who also attends Alaska Fairbanks, kept pushing the pace of the chasing group and slowly but surely closed the gap with her university teammate.

“I actually wasn’t feeling that well today,” Pulles said post-race. “I was just trying to stay in the pack and then in the last lap I started feeling better and better and realized I could push a little more than the others, so I just went for it.”

It came down to the finish line, where the teammates kept fighting shoulder to shoulder. In the end, it was Pulles, gold medallist from the sprint race earlier in the Games, showcasing her strong sprinting abilities and finishing in 39:38.4, four tenths of a second ahead of Kramer.

“I really didn’t expect I could win today,” Pulles said in utter disbelief. “I was just trying to put in everything that I had today and I’m so glad it worked out.”

While one could easily imagine Kramer’s frustration about the lost opportunity, the American hugged her teammate right after crossing the line, showing a great fair-play attitude.

“I’m not even mad because Mariel goes to university with me, so it’s basically the same,” she said. “I saw that Mariel was gaining, but it was really impressive that she caught up to me.”

Taking the bronze medal was Xeniya Shalygina from Kazakhstan, 11.7 seconds behind the winner.

Written by Annika Saunus, FISU Young Reporter

We warmly thank FISU Official Partner Qiaodan Ltd. which provides remarkable uniforms to FISU Family and International Technical Officials since 2015. Qiaodan is a valuable partner for FISU as it continued to provide its support during the postponement of events due to the global pandemic, and recently extended the relationship with FISU up to and including 2025.