With the 2016/2017 season officially in the rearview, FasterSkier is excited to unveil its annual award winners for this past winter. Votes stem from the FS staff, scattered across the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and while not scientific, they are intended to reflect a broader sense of the season in review. This honor goes to two outstanding North American skiers of the year.
Previous categories: Junior Skiers of the Year | Collegiate | Canadian Continental | U.S. Continental | Nordic Combined | Biathletes | Para-Nordic | Canadian Breakthroughs| U.S. Breakthroughs | Coach | International
Alex Harvey and Jessie Diggins are FasterSkier’s North American Cross-County Skiers of the Year. Sound familiar? No, you’re not going crazy; these are the same winners as last year.
But this is only repeat in the sense that both athletes earned this award as standout North American World Cup skiers. They didn’t have identical seasons as last year; in fact, they continued to outdo themselves.
Alex Harvey, Canadian World Cup Team/Pierre Harvey National Training Centre
If it weren’t for Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Sergey Ustiugov, Canada’s Alex Harvey could easily have been tapped for International Skier of the Year. The 28-year-old Quebec native finished third in the Overall World Cup and second in the Distance World Cup. He had been third overall once before — in 2014 — but two end-of-season World Cup podiums? That was something to write home about.
Fortunately for Harvey, he was already right at home in Quebec City, where World Cup Finals were held March 17-19. There, he won the skate sprint to start the mini tour and raced to second in the 15-kilometer freestyle pursuit, putting him second in the mini tour. Over the course of the season, Harvey accumulated two regular-season individual World Cup victories and six podiums (including a freestyle team-sprint win with Lenny Valjas and 4 x 7.5 k relay bronze with Valjas, Devon Kershaw and Knute Johnsgaard). He placed seventh in the Tour de Ski for his best overall finish in the multi-stage event.
Oh, and at World Championships, Harvey won the 50 k freestyle mass start, which stood as his first individual championships gold medal and his fifth medal total in four World Championships.
Asked about his confidence ahead of next year’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, Harvey told reporters on the last day of World Cup Finals he was “really confident, especially with [being] able to win a gold medal at world champs. It was the last race of the championships, so it was like, in French we say, quarter before midnight, it was just last chance to dance. … The team believed in me and I believed in the team and we were able to deliver on the last day so I think that itself gives me a lot of confidence for PyeongChang.”
As for his overall World Cup finish, he said that had been a season-long focus.
“Even though it’s not the win, it’s not the Crystal Globe, it still means a lot to me because we are on the road the whole winter,” he told reporters. “It’s a lot for me, and for the whole team. It means you can’t miss the skis too often in the season, can’t allow yourself to get sick or have a big dip in form, so that’s really important for me to be able to be third in the overall.”
Jessie Diggins, U.S. Ski Team/Stratton Mountain School T2 Team
On the second weekend of the World Cup season, American Jessie Diggins scored her first win of 2016/2017 — in the 5 k freestyle in Lillehammer, Norway. It had been one of several events she had been eyeing for the season, and on Dec. 3, she delivered, beating Norway’s Heidi Weng and Marit Bjørgen for the top step on the podium.
It was the second individual win of her career, with the other coming in a 5 k freestyle in Toblach, Italy, the year before. Almost exactly a year from the date of her first win, Diggins did it again in the 2017 edition of the 5 k skate in Toblach for her third-career individual win. She also proved herself an all-around contender in the 10 k skiathlon in Oberstdorf, Germany, a few days earlier, where she placed second in the third stage of the Tour de Ski.
The 25-year-old Minnesota native went on to finish fifth in the Tour de Ski (tying the best American result in the Tour), and at Lahti World Championships, she captured two medals — silver in the skate sprint and bronze in the classic team sprint with Sadie Bjornsen — for her third and fourth career World Championships medals.
“For me, this is one of the most exciting ones because … it’s in classic,” Diggins told FasterSkier after her team-sprint bronze. “And I don’t want to be just a skater, or just a 5 k skater. I want to be able to do it all, and do it with my team and do it for the team. So this is really pretty special for us.”
Diggins ended the season with a four-race sweep of the SuperTour Finals/U.S. Distance Nationals in Fairbanks, Alaska, winning the 15 k skiathlon, skate sprint, mixed relay (with three Stratton teammates), and 30 k freestyle mass start. She finished the World Cup season sixth overall and seventh in the distance ranking — besting her eighth and ninth place finishes in those categories, respectively, from the season before.