Athlete profile: Oliver Hodgins

A little humility from a big athlete goes a long way

Oliver Hodgins is a big kid, which can make hauling his broad shoulders around a cross-country ski course a bit of a challenge, even when that course is relatively flat.

In Monday’s 5-kilometre freestyle Hodgins finished a modest 12th.

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Yellowknife's Oliver Hodgins dodges around a less nimble racer during semi-final sprint action at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Center on Tuesday in Whitehorse during the Arctic Winter Games

“I’m really happy with 12th place, and was just over a minute off of first. Short distance freestyle isn’t really my forte, so I felt good with today's race,” he said after the effort.

He was content; as well he should be with a middle-of-the-pack finish at one of the North’s biggest sporting events.

But as big as Hodgins is, he’s also just as humble. He likely didn’t want to seem ungrateful for his result on Monday, but his real event was yet to come.

Hodgins is a special breed of cross-country ski racer. He isn’t enthralled with skiing endless laps or withering on grueling climbs.

Hodgins is a sprinter, and sprinters are all about power.

“I’m really looking forward to the classic sprint. It’s a short course, only 750 metres, and only one hill. It’ll be an important hill,” he said after Monday’s race, and apparently he meant it.

He claimed the silver medal in Tuesday’s 750-metre classic sprint race, fighting his way through technical traffic and playing his tactics almost to perfection.

Sprint racing differs from traditional cross-country ski racing in that its format is similar to track racing. Each athlete completes a time trial, usually in the morning, before advancing to heats of six skiers for the quarter, semi and final rounds. There are no lanes. There is no polite "tracking" to get competitors out of your way.

To steal a phrase from former national ski team coach and CBC Olympic commentator Jack Sassville, you have to either go around ‘em or through ‘em.

“I had planned on the hill being my advantage, and I think it was. I didn’t slip once going up the hill, and the skis were really fast. Just the right amount of kick and glide,” Hodgins said of his final heat.

The first two rounds had been relatively easy for Hodgins, though there was some minor carnage at the hairpin corner before the final descent into the stadium.

To succeed in sprint skiing, a racer must have a plan, a set of tactics they can employ to outwit their opponents. Hodgins’ was the climb.

“I was second off the start, and was really strong going into the climb. I was gained up on by a couple other skiers near the top of the climb, but I was able to push hard over the top and tucked well on the descent back into the stadium, so I made up ground there. In the finish I didn’t dare look back to see where anyone was. I knew I was second, and had to just hammer as hard as I could to the line,” he explained.

He hopes to enroll in civil engineering at the University of Calgary next fall, where he can spend his weekends skiing in the Rockies.

“I’d love to do road designs, and city planning stuff. Calgary’s got a good ski team, they’re close to Canmore and they have a co-op program close to Yellowknife that I’d really like to do,” he said.

“When I’m not on skis?” His broad shoulders rise and fall with an easy laughter.

“I mostly do school work, hang out with my friends and build jumps to hit on skis.”