Steel Hagenbuch Secures U23 World Championship Bronze Medal
John Steel Hagenbuch of the Stifel U.S. Cross Country Ski Team is taking home a bronze medal at the first race of the 2024 U23 FIS Ski World Championships, marking himself as the third-fastest U23 sprinter in the world today, Feb. 6.
On-site in Planica, Slovenia, Steel Hagenbuch is on one of the biggest podiums of his career. After only eight World Cup starts, with a career-best result in the Östersund 10k in 13th, he is setting the tone for the championships and adding his first U23 World Championships medal to his resume.
It was another warm day in Planica. On the same sprint course that the Junior World Championship athletes skied less than 24 hours earlier— where U.S. athlete Sammy Smith took home a silver medal— it was the U23’s chance. On the start list were several athletes who have consistently races on the World Cup circuit, many of them even racing through to the semifinals in sprints– the sprint field was strong in Planica.
During the qualification round, Steel Hagenbuch was sixth, behind his Stifel U.S. Ski Team teammate Brian Bushey who crossed the finish line in third. Alongside both Bushey and Steel Hagenbuch, was Walker Hall qualifying in 23rd, all punching their ticket to the sprint heats.
Into the quarterfinals, Steel Hagenbuch won his heat, .13 seconds ahead of Preben Horven on Norway, advancing through to the semifinal heat. Both Hall and Bushey did not advance out of the quarters but still added a top 30 to their U23 World Champs resume.
Into the quarters, Steel Hagenbuch was fourth, typically that would end an athlete's day as he did not finish in the top two or in the lucky loser position, but his heat was the fastest of the two semis, giving him the green light to race in a skate sprint final.
Into the final, he was the lone American up against the top juniors from Norway, France, Switzerland and Sweden. Off the start line, the Dartmouth Ski Team star turned on the gas and skied a smart race, crossing the finish line in third, snagging his first U23 World Championships medal and capping off one of the best races of his career.
“Considering that I was relieved to even make the heats, it was a really incredible day to go all the way to the final,” said Steel Hagenbuch. “It was not possible without a great support team, cracked skis, and a whole lot of luck. This is definitely my best sprint ever, so I’m grateful for such good timing! There were a lot of really strong competitors out there, and I was happy with how I executed my race plan of attacking on the second part of the course. It was easy to get nervous lining up with some really strong sprinters, but I was confident in my climbing and finishing speed after a solid qualifier. After today, the motivation is really high headed into my main focus - the 20km skate mass start on Thursday!”
At the end of the day, Steel Hagenbuch led the team in third, Hall in 18th, Bushey in 21st, Elijah Weenig in 45th. For the women, Haley Brewster of the Stifel U.S. Ski Team was the leading American in 13th, Anabel Needham 23r and, Nina Seemann 28th; Novie McCabe did not start.
Next up is the 20k mass start, scheduled for this coming Thursday, Feb. 8. Tomorrow, the World Champs Junior athletes will race the 20k.