With the 2015/2016 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.
Oksana Masters, U.S. Paralympics Nordic
When Oksana Masters ended her season undefeated in every International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Cup cross-country event, she proved podiums are just as much a performance as they are a process.
Her third year on the U.S. Paralympic Nordic team — after making the switch from rowing to skiing in 2012 — Masters finished the 2015/2016 ski season with 11 cross-country victories in a row and four biathlon podiums. Prior to this year, her top World Cup result was second in the 5 k sitting event at 2015 IPC World Championships.
“Success doesn’t happen overnight nor does it happen on the 1st try. Every time [you] get up [you’re] 1 step closer,” Masters tweeted prior to this year’s IPC World Cup races in PyeongChang, South Korea.
For Masters, it’s important to look beyond the season’s results to see the full story. Her 14 podium finishes (five of which came from U.S. Sit Ski Nationals) were not only products of strong skiing, but staying tuned to her body throughout season training and race recovery.
“Oksana made gains this winter in making smart decisions for her recovery and health, even when it meant backing off from training,” U.S. high-performance coach Eileen Carey wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “She made a few mistakes early in the winter, training through some sickness, but she learned from it and made smarter decisions for the rest of the season. Her performances in cross country races would not have been possible without that adjustment.”
Masters’ winning streak began in Siberia, when she raced to a first place in the women’s 12 k cross-country sitting event. The run continued as she competed at U.S. nationals and the IPC Continental Cup in Craftsbury, Vt., as well as the World Cups in PyeongChang, Finsterau, Germany, and Vuokatti, Finland.
At the end of the season, Masters won her second-straight overall cross-country World Cup by more than 200 points. She was nominated for the USA Olympic Committee’s Female Olympic/Paralympic Athlete of the Month for March, as well as the Allianz Athlete of the Month.
“I am so excited to be nominated as Allianz Athlete of the month for the Paralympics,” she tweeted.
Andy Soule, U.S. Paralympics Nordic
Sprinting, distance, or middle distance, cross-country or biathlon, you name it, Andy Soule is an automatic choice when it comes to all-around athlete.
Soule, who, like Masters was also FasterSkier’s 2015 Para-Nordic award winner, continued his hold on the title after racing to 11 podiums during this IPC World Cup season.
However, Soule’s podiums proved him as an adept skier in all distances and disciplines. He raced to two third-place finishes at the PyeongChang World Cup in the 1 k sitting sprint and the 5 k middle distance.
He went on to achieve to two second-place finishes in PyeongChang, this time in the 7.5 k biathlon sprint and 12.5 k middle distance event.
He took two more third-place podiums in Finsterau, one in the cross-country sprint and one in the biathlon 7.5 k sprint. He also finished third in the season-opening 12.5 k biathlon pursuit in Siberia.
At nationals in January, he won four out of five races: the men’s biathlon sprint and individual as well as the cross-country sprint and middle distance.
Soule, who has been on the U.S Paralympics Nordic team for the past nine years, pointed out that his performances this year were not without challenge.
“The men’s sit field is very strong in IPC nordic, and I was up against some great skiers every day,” Soule wrote in an email after competing in Finsterau. “I just have to approach each race one at a time, and focus on good procedure, technique, and recovery for the next day.”
At the end of the season, Soule placed fourth in the overall cross-country World Cup, 30 points short of the podium. He was fifth in the overall biathlon World Cup, while Masters placed sixth in the women’s biathlon overall.
Canada’s Emily Weekes placed seventh in the women’s standing cross-country and Brian McKeever finished eighth in the men’s visually impaired, despite competing in a few select races (he won two races, including the inaugural 30 k marathon, at World Cup Finals).
Weekes finished the season in ninth overall in the biathlon World Cup, and yet another Canadian Para-Nordic Ski Team member, Mark Arendz tied for ninth in the men’s standing biathlon.