Johnny Hagenbuch of Ketchum carved out a piece of American skiing history last month at the cross country Junior World Ski Championships in Finland.
Hagenbuch skied the third leg of the 4x5-kilometer relay for the U.S. under-20 team, exiting the course with the Americans in a tight race for gold. He watched as teammate Gus Schumacher crossed the finish line nearly 4 seconds ahead of the competition — securing the historic first Junior World gold medal in cross country skiing for the U.S. men.
“That was a profoundly emotional moment,” Hagenbuch said.
Hagenbuch, 17, is a junior at the Sun Valley Community School and a member of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation team. He grew up in Ketchum and began Nordic skiing about six years ago as a recreational activity with his parents.
He was one of six U.S. men on the U20 team in Finland, skiing in three events. He felt like he could have performed better in his individual events, where he finished 34th in the 10km individual start skate and 17th in the 30km mass start.
The men’s team didn’t win a medal in any of the individual events but the group was confident it could break through in the relay, Hagenbuch said.
“In no way did we approach it with any ... thought that we were the underdogs,” he said. “We recognized that we were contenders. ... It truly is a representation of depth and the strength of a team as opposed to individual brilliance.”
Luke Jager and Ben Ogden handled the first two, classic-style legs. Hagenbuch took the third leg, which is a skate, with the idea that he just needed to give Schumacher a chance in the 19-team race.
Schumacher held off Russia and Germany on the final lap.
“I knew that Gus was a strong enough skier and that our team’s effort as a whole was strong enough that we were going to get a medal no matter what,” Hagenbuch said. “I was going to be incredibly proud of that, even if it wasn’t gold.”
Hagenbuch was the youngest member of the relay team but all four are eligible to compete in the U20 competition again next winter in Germany. They’re part of an improving U.S. team that celebrated its first Olympic gold medal last year in a women’s relay.
Hagenbuch says he keeps his focus on the level he’s skiing at now, and not where he might be able to go in the future. But he’s enjoying his sport.
“It’s truly one of these activities that you can pursue over an entire lifetime,” he said. “There are a whole bunch of people around in their 80s and 90s who are cross country skiing. I really love it and look forward to doing more of it.”
Three other SVSEF members/Sun Valley Community School students competed in Finland: Sydney Palmer-Leger (fourth in women’s relay), Sophia Mazzoni and Bentley Walker-Broose.
Top juniors headed to Bogus Basin
The Bogus Basin Nordic Team will host races Saturday and Sunday that serve as qualifiers for the Junior National Championships. More than 250 athletes from the Intermountain Division are scheduled to compete. The division includes Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Montana (Hagenbuch is scheduled to compete). Races begin at 10 a.m. each day and spectators are welcome.
The Bogus Basin Nordic Team has more than 100 members this season.