Gus Schumacher Is America’s Newest Celebrity Ski Racer

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Alaskan skier Gus Schumacher is still getting accustomed to fame.

To be clear, this is not widespread fame—we don’t think Schumacher, 23, will be dating a Kardashian anytime soon—but rather the type of stardom that comes from being extremely well-known and well-liked within your community. In the tight-knit world of American cross-country skiing, Schumacher has blossomed into a bonafide celebrity.

Exhibit A: At Saturday’s American Birkebeiner race in Wisconsin—the proverbial Boston Marathon of cross-country skiing—Schumacher could barely stroll through the race venue without being mobbed by selfie-seeking fans. Supporters snatched up the 500 signed posters he brought from his sponsor, Rossignol, almost instantaneously. Prior to the race, Schumacher went jogging along a deserted road, and at one point a car slowly drove up alongside him. “The driver sticks his head out the window and yells ‘are you Gus?’” Schumacher told me. “This is a new feeling. Everywhere I go people want to stop me and congratulate me.”

Not exactly Beatlemania, but you get the point.

All of the attention is due to Schumacher’s historic win at the FIS World Cup in Minneapolis earlier this month. I’ll set the scene for you, because the whole ordeal feels like the plot of an eighties movie. Once the Bad News Bears of international cross-country skiing, America is now on the rise, thanks in no small part to Olympic champion and Minnesotan Jessie Diggins. Diggins’ star status helped bring the World Cup to her hometown, Minneapolis this past February 17-18. It was the first cross-country World Cup on American soil since 2001, and ski fanatics turned out in screaming, cowbell-clanging droves. Estimates place the crowd at 30,000 or so.

Skier Gus Schumacher speeds around a course.
Gus Schumacher speeds through a section of the course in Minneapolis. (Photo: Gretchen Powers/Dustin Satloff/U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team)

Schumacher, meanwhile, was a total underdog in the 10-kilometer Freestyle race, which is a grueling individual time trial held over hills, descents, and twisting flats. American men are usually more than a few seconds slower than the star skiers from Scandinavia, and coming into the Minneapolis race, Johannes Klaebo and Harald Oestberg Amundsen of Norway were heavy favorites. Schumacher is no schlub—he won a junior world title in 2020—but he wasn’t even regarded as the USA’s top athlete in long-distance races. He was listed on Team USA’s “B” squad—a lower ranking that reflects his young age and up-and-comer status. Of the 76 athletes in the 10km Freestyle, Schumacher started 35th, well behind Amundsen, Klaebo, and the other favorites.

But unlikely athletes sometimes record eye-popping results when properly inspired, and that’s exactly what happened in Minneapolis. All of that screaming and cheering awakened something inside of Schumacher.

“People were chanting skiers names, including mine, and you just don’t hear that anywhere else,” Schumacher said. “In my final lap there was a coordinated ‘USA USA’ chant on the uphills, and it was super crazy to hear. I got so much motivation from that.”

The yelling was so loud, in fact, that Schumacher couldn’t hear his coaches barking out time splits—they had to write the valuable information on whiteboards.

Schumacher experienced the race of his life. His legs and lungs felt stronger than normal, and he set the fastest splits through the early kilometers. “The race felt different because I was going so fast and it felt like I was going easy,” Schumacher said. “I would go hard up a hill, descend to the bottom, and be like ‘wow, I can do that again.’ It was a really good feeling.”

In the final stretch, Schumacher felt the familiar pangs of exhaustion that always come in a long cross-country ski race. Like marathon runners or cyclists, cross-country skiers must maintain impeccable racing technique even as their leg muscles weaken under the buildup of lactic acid, and their bodies fatigue under cardiovascular stress. The suffering does strange stuff to an athlete’s body and mind. “Toward the end of a race I always have trouble seeing—my eyes get puffy and I have tunnel vision,” Schumacher said. “I was getting blindness toward the end of the race, but I just felt like I could keep pushing, even though I was getting to my limit.”

Schumacher completed the race in 20 minutes and 52.7 seconds, which placed him in the hot seat with half the racers still on course. Several dozen top skiers finished, and none of them topped his time. Then, it was time for the all-star Norwegians to come in. Amundsen, who currently leads the World Cup standings, crossed the line in 20:57.1, and then Klaebo sped home in 20:59.02. Schumacher had done it.

Cheers of “Gus! Gus! Gus” erupted from the venue, and members of Team USA hoisted Schumacher into the air. Videos of the wild scene circulated on social media, and within a few hours, Schumacher had been transformed into America’s newest celebrity skier, up there with Diggins. The day after the race, the American squad held an autograph session in Minneapolis with Schumacher and others. “The line got so long they had to cut it off,” Schumacher said. “I’d never seen anything like that before at a ski race.”

The crowds and noise helped propel Schumacher to the win, and so did his newfound approach to training. Schumacher said he often overtrained during his first two seasons in elite competition, and adopted a mindset that working harder than his competition would bring him wins. It didn’t. For the 2023-24 season, he says he’s focused more attention on recovery and rest. “In my first few seasons on the World Cup I wanted to be the best right now,” Schumacher said. “This year I’ve been more patient.”

The victory erased several losing streaks for team USA. The last American man to win a World Cup cross-country ski race was Simeon Hamilton, who took a sprint victory in 2013. The last American man won a World Cup in a distance race—events that are 10km or longer—was legendary skier Bill Koch, who did so in 1983.

The historic nature of the win was not lost on Schumacher, who grew up within the community of elite American cross-country skiing. His father, Greg, was a longtime doctor for Team USA, and as a child, Gus often traveled to international races and spent time with Olympians. He still owns a signed athlete card from Olympian Eric Bjornsen, who he met on a Team USA trip to Switzerland when he was a child. The two had played cards together, and Bjornsen left his phone number and a note alongside the signatures.

“It says ‘Call me if you ever want to play cards,’” Schumacher said. “There’s no reason why being around guys like him should have made me a better skier, but having comfort with the idea of being a World Cup skier was pretty valuable.”

Memories of those trips and of time spent with Bjornsen and other top athletes have popped into Schmacher’s mind of late. He’s now the celebrity skier, Olympian, and inspiration. Schumacher won the Birkebeiner on Saturday, and news of his latest thrilling win was published in newspapers back home in Anchorage, and across the country. Schumacher told me that he’d love to use his newfound fame to inspire the next generation of skiers, to bring the sport to a wider audience, and to even persuade more American cities to host major international races, like the World Cup.

And at the moment, this means he’s going to snap every selfie, sign every poster, and high five everyone who stops to congratulate him.


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