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How Ben Ogden Scored the Best-Ever Finish In The Tour De Ski

By Peggy Shinn | Jan. 19, 2023, 10:27 a.m. (ET)

Ben Ogden competes in the men's cross-country skiing 15-km classic during the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 11, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China.

 

On a warm, wet January weekend in northern New Hampshire, Ben Ogden was cross-country ski racing through heavy, wet snow at the Bates Carnival, the first collegiate race of the NCAA DI eastern circuit.

 

With Ogden in the field, every other guy racing that weekend was racing for second place. Why? Because Ogden — a graduate student at the University of Vermont using his final year of NCAA eligibility — is a 2022 Olympian, reigning NCAA champion, and the best-ever finisher for the U.S. man at the seven-stage Tour de Ski.

 

“I always love racing the carnivals,” he told a reporter after the first collegiate race (referred to as “carnivals” on the NCAA Division 1 eastern circuit).

 

Ogden has balanced college and international ski racing for his entire tenure at UVM. And since his FIS World Cup debut in March 2019, he has had a meteoric rise in international standings. This year, the 22-year-old is ranked seventh the world in sprint standings and ninth overall—and at the 2022/2023 Tour de Ski earlier this month, he scored the best result in men’s distance skiing in four decades.

 

And the team aspect both on the U.S. team and in college skiing is one of the reasons behind his rise.

 

“For an individual sport, the team aspect of what we do is huge, be it the World Cup or college team or club team or whatever,” he said by phone on his way to New Hampshire. “The people around you are sort of who dictates your potential to some extent.”

 

Here’s a look at Ogden’s career and what has helped fuel his rapid rise.

 

 

Vermont roots

 

Ogden grew up in the mountain hamlet of Landgrove, Vermont, with older sister Katharine and younger sister Charlotte. Their father, John, skied for Middlebury College and coached the local Bill Koch League—a thriving program in that part of Vermont (thanks in part to the fact that Bill Koch himself lives nearby). Ogden attended high school at the local Stratton Mountain School. Along with a top-notch education, the school boasts a renowned Nordic program.

 

Ogden became one of the U.S.’s top junior cross-country ski racers and before graduating from SMS, won a world championship silver medal as part of the U.S. men’s 4x5km relay team. Over the next two years (2019 and 2020), the U.S. men then won the world championship relay, giving Ogden two gold medals.

 

After SMS, he went to UVM to study mechanical engineering and ski for the top ranked UVM ski team. He liked the balance of studying and training. So, after graduating from UVM in May 2022, Ogden decided to pursue a master’s degree (he had one year of NCAA eligibility left because of Covid-19 race cancellations in 2021). His master's project is on the thermal management of electric vehicle battery packs.

Ben Ogden competes in the men's cross-country sprint free qualification during the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 08, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China.

 

He hopes to defend his two NCAA titles (in freestyle and classic) in March. But most importantly, he wants to help the Catamounts win the 2023 NCAA team title.

 

“A lot of people talk about the individual [NCAA] titles,” said Ogden. “But this year my goal is team scoring. That's the last thing that I really, desperately want out of my college career, and this is my last chance.”

 

 

World Cup & Olympic Racing

 

Ogden made his world cup debut in Quebec City in March 2019, finishing far down in results. He was a freshman at UVM at the time, and he was not alone as the new guy on the world cup start list. Gus Schumacher, who was on the medal-winning relay teams with Ogden at world juniors, also made his world cup debut in Quebec.

 

Rather than be demoralized by the experience, Ogden and Schumacher used it as a learning opportunity. They looked at their strengths and weaknesses and figured out how to improve. Less than two years later, Ogden scored his first world cup points, finishing 13th in the 2020/2021 world cup season opening sprint.

 

“A huge, huge part of why I was able to move up quickly was that I was not on my own,” explained Ogden. “I think if I was solo out there, I probably would have said there's no hope for me in this world.”

 

Ogden made his Olympic debut in Beijing last winter. He made it as far as the semifinals in the men’s sprint, ending up in 12th place. It was the second-best finish for an American man at the Olympic Games since Bill Koch won a silver medal at the 1976 Innsbruck Games.

 

A few days later, Ogden and JC Schoonmaker (another friend from the NCAA circuit) made the finals of the team sprint and finished ninth.

 

“Our goal of getting to the final was met,” he said. “But realistically, we want to be much better than that, and that race was just one step along the way.”

Ben Ogden competes in the men's cross-country sprint free qualification during the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 08, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China.

 

 

Tour de Ski

 

The next step was the 2022/2023 Tour de Ski, held the first week in January.

 

Although Ogden had qualified for the sprint heats in several world cups and in the 2021 world championships, he wanted to show that his Olympic result was not a fluke. Cross-country sprinting is chaotic, with crashes and ski poles breaking. And sometimes, the strongest skier does not win. In the 2022 Olympic sprint, Ogden felt, in a way, that he had simply been in the right place at the right time to advance to the semifinals.

 

This past summer, he upped his threshold training, doing an hour of intervals instead of 30 or 40 minutes. He also worked on his technique, and he started the 2022/2023 season hoping to perform well in distance races as well as sprints. In the past, his technique tended to fall apart as he fatigued.

 

In the opening world cup in November this year, he scored his first world cup points in a distance race (10k classic). He backed that result up with two more top 30s in distance races. And in two world cup sprints in December, he finished seventh (his best world cup sprint finishes to date).

 

“There's something really nice about just going out and crushing a distance race and just like leaving it all out,” he said. “There are no tags (like in team sprints and relays), there are less tactics and more just what you got.”

 

By the time the Tour de Ski started on New Year’s Eve, Ogden was flying. He made the semifinal in the first of the Tour’s seven races (a freestyle sprint). But his best race was the 10k classic race in Oberstdorf, Germany, where he finished sixth—the best finish for the U.S. men in distance skiing since in 40 years.

 

Despite a few mishaps—like two broken poles, one stepped on by five-time Olympic gold medalist Johannes Klaebo, who won the Tour de Ski—Ogden ended the Tour ranked 13th, the best finish ever for an American man.

 

“I'm really proud of this Tour effort because you can't be in the right place at the right time seven races in a row, it just doesn't happen, and I had all manner of mishaps and made it work and kept fighting,” said Ogden.

 

Several teammates—Schoonmaker, Schumacher, Scott Patterson, and Hunter Wonders—all scored top 15 finishes in the Tour’s stages as well. Schoonmaker was seventh in the second sprint, Wonders was 11th and Schumacher 15th in the 10k classic, Patterson finished 14th in the final 10k freestyle race.

 

“When the esprit de corps gets to the place where we have it, you just step back and don't get in the way of it,” commented U.S. head coach Matt Whitcomb of the teamwork among the men.

 

“These results are so satisfying because it's a product of their work together. It won't be long before some of these guys are stepping up on that podium.”

Peggy Shinn

An award-winning freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered seven Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.

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Ben Ogden