In the past year, a number of North American skiers posted unprecedented results in cross-country skiing. A gold medal for Chandra Crawford. Four World Cup victories, nine podiums and overall World Cup second place for Beckie Scott. Silver medals for Scott and teammate Sara Renner. US Olympic and World Cup bests for Kikkan Randall. A podium and three consecutive top-ten finishes for Andy Newell.
Now, as we begin another four year cycle leading up to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, FasterSkier.com takes a look at how North American skiers stack up against the other nations on the World Cup, and what to look for this season.
The Nations Cup
The Nations Cup is given to the top overall country on the World Cup circuit. The Nations Cup points are determined by adding up all the individual World Cup points earned by a country’s skiers during the season. Individual World Cup points are given to the top 30 skiers in each World Cup race. The winner gets 100 points; second place gets 80 points and so on, down to 1 point for 30th place. World Cup points are not awarded at the World Championships or at the Olympic Games.
Norway (8728 points) was first on both the men’s and women’s Nations Cup lists last season to easily win the overall. Sweden took second overall (5435 points) with their men in second place and their women in 5th, just enough to beat third place nation Germany (5287 points) which had both their men and women in third place. Russia, Italy and Finland followed next.
Canada was 7th with 2117 points and USA was 17th with 563 points. The Canadian men were ranked 14th (276 points) and the Canadian women 6th (1841 points) while the US men were ahead of Canada in 12th place (446 points) while the US women were 17th (117 points).
A look at Canada’s numbers shows that, not surprisingly, Beckie Scott was Canada’s biggest point collector with 1020 points (48% of Canada’s total points). She was 2nd in the overall World Cup and 3rd in the sprint World Cup. Sara Renner was 10th in the World Cup with 446 points. Combined they captured 1466 out of Canada’s 2117 points (70 %).
Devon Kershaw grabbed a World Cup sprint podium and improved his World Cup standings last season, while George Grey and 4 additional male skiers scored points for the first time. The Canadian men appear to have a core group of skiers similar to their women’s team from 4-5 years ago. Will the men continue to progress the way that Scott and Renner did? A number of the Canadian men, including Kershaw, perform well in both sprints and distance races. Will they be fast enough to factor in Tour de Ski?
The World Championship is at sea level in Sapporo, Japan. Canadians train a lot at altitude — will they be ready for the supposedly very tough courses in Japan? Will youngster Alex Harvey step it up and become a factor among the North American adult skiers this season?
Outlook for USA
Newell’s success could be the catalyst the sprinters needed to do well as a group. Newell already has a top ten World Cup finish this season. We’ll soon see if Koos and Cook are ready to make the step up with him (both were sick in Dusseldorf). The main problem for the development of this hard working group (and even more so for the many talented US sprinters right behind them) is lack of competitions in World Cup type course profiles. Street races, flat courses and so on won’t help lift the level. The World Cup sprint courses are often hilly and on the longer side. Going to Europe in October for all of the early World Cup races should help.
Kris Freeman (USA): Looking to regain his old form
Kris Freeman has shown that he has the capacity for World Cup success, but has struggled in the past couple years. Last season he was occasionally showing that he could stay with the world’s best, but not quite to the finish line. Freeman has gone back to his training roots this season, training at home in New Hampshire, and reports from the US Ski Team say that he is back in form. We’ll watch his distance races with great interest. Freeman has also won a few sprint races in North America in the past few years. This makes us believe that he could be a factor in Tour de Ski. Success there could again be the stepping stone to doing well at Worlds for Kris.
On the women’s side, will Kikkan Randall be able to build upon the success she had last year? She has been enjoying some good early-season on-snow time in Alaska, and should be ready for the World Cup this month. Will any other US women step up and give Kikkan some company? The US Continental Cup team is loaded with young, talented women: Morgan Arritola, Liz Stephen, Lindsey Weier, Lindsay Willliams, Morgan Smyth, and Tazlina Mannix. It is great to see the US team supporting such a strong group, but it will probably be a few years before they are ready for World Cup competition. Let’s hope they continue to progress and that Kikkan continues to be a successful role model for them.