With the 2014/2015 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. and Canada, and while not scientific, they are intended to reflect a broader sense of the season in review.
Petter Northug, 2015 World Championships 50 k classic mass start
Like him or not, it’s hard to deny Petter Northug has a winning formula. In mass starts the Norwegian will often save his energy in the middle of lead pack, wait till the end of the race, and sprint past the world’s best skiers to victory. He did exactly that in the 2015 World Championships 50 k mass start, a performance that earned him the title of FasterSkier’s international men’s performance of the year.
The victory was Northug’s fourth at the 2015 World Championships and his 13th career World Championships. The gold medal is also his fourth in the 50 k, with additional wins at the 2009 and 2011 Championships and the 2010 Olympics. The number ties Swedish skier Sixten Jernberg who won two World Championship titles in 1958 and 1962 in addition to the 1956 and 1964 Olympic titles.
According to Northug, there was no particular part of the World Championships 50 k that necessarily suited him. He explained in a press conference that his plan was to remain in the middle of the pack until the final 10 k, and then make his way towards the front. After his finish, Northug told NRK Sport that one of his favorite parts about racing is the actual finish, especially in a long 50 k.
“It is a great relief to go in the finish. The feeling of crossing the finish line first is indescribable. That is what we train for, and that is what we hope to replicate in Championships,” he said. “I have had the opportunity several times here in Falun. It is the feeling that is difficult to describe. It is so good that you do everything you can to get it back.”
Northug faced a turbulent year after crashing a car in May and subsequently being charged with intoxicated driving. The Norwegian rarely mentions his thoughts surrounding the incident, but said to NRK that the 50 k win was the high of two extremes in the past year. He explained that his complete focus on training in the 2015 season was essential to his four victories in Sweden.
“There are two extremes, from being completely down to win four gold in a World Championships” he said. “The road has been long, it has been a lot of training, many tough sessions. But the plan we put in May has been solid. It has been very quality of what we have done and that is why I have been in such good shape that I’ve been in this Championship.”
Charlotte Kalla, 2015 World Championships 10 k freestyle interval start
There was one name on everyone’s lips at the 2015 World Championships: Charlotte Kalla. The Swede was skiing in front of a fanatic home crowd and by the middle of the championships she had already won her first individual World Championships medal – a bronze in the skiathlon – in addition to silver in the team sprint.
However, throughout the Championships Kalla had her eyes set on one race. The 10 k freestyle individual start suited all her strengths and there was extra incentive from the thousands of cheering Swedes singing her name.
“I was a little bit nervous before the start and for the whole morning; I just longed to go to the competition area and put on my race bib,” Kalla said in a post-race press conference. “When the speaker presented me before the start, it was an amazing atmosphere in the stadium. I had to keep calm and focus on skiing all the way and not just go crazy because there was a big crowd cheering for me.”
The combination of the home course, cheering crowd, and focused training appeared to work for Kalla as she sped to victory. The Swede rounded the course in 25:08.8, 41 seconds faster than the next finisher, American Jessie Diggins.
What was truly impressive of Kalla’s win was her ability to overcome the day’s conditions. Lightly falling snow at the start turned into a full-fledged downpour of wet-and-heavy snowflakes throughout the race, making an already soft track in above-freezing temperatures even slower. And while some of the Norwegians, like Therese Johaug, later said they felt like they were skiing on glue, the snow didn’t seem to bother Kalla. Although, early starters had faster and more stable conditions, Kalla was not one of those skiers. She faced the worst of the weather, yet was able to dominate the day.
None of the famed Norwegians, including powerhouse Marit Bjørgen, came anywhere close. Heidi Weng – who was the highest finisher from the team – placed 22nd and 1:51.9 behind Kalla. The rest of the squad finished over two minutes back, demonstrating the impressive demonstration of power by the Swede in the challenging conditions.
“It’s a dream come true, to become world champion at home,” Kalla told Expressen after the win. “It probably has not really dawned on me yet. I need enough time for it to melt in.”
Therese Johaug, World Championships 30 k classic mass start
The World Championships 30 k classic mass start demonstrated that Johaug is called the energizer bunny for a good reason. From the beginning to the end of the longest women’s race at World Championships, Johaug’s high tempo created an ever-growing gap over her competitors so that when she crossed the finish line, the Norwegian was 52.3 seconds ahead of teammate Marit Bjørgen.
French men, World Championships 4 x 10 k relay
The French men did what no one expected at the 2015 World Championships: earn a repeat bronze in the men’s 4 x 10 k relay. They accomplished the feat at the 2014 Olympic games, but it was a day that the Norwegians and other nations missed the wax. That was not the case in Falun, where the French led for much of the race. It was a clear, decisive accomplishment for a team with just a fraction of the resources of the Swedes, Norwegians, or fourth-place Russians, and from a country where cross-country skiing is hardly a popular pastime.