The 2008-2009 World Cup season came to an end a little over a week ago in Falun, Sweden, and while the 2009-2010 World Cup opener is less than 240 days away, there is a little time to take a look back at an eventful season.
FIS made the decision to get going a little later this year, abandoning the late October city sprint in Germany, and kicking things off in Gaellivare, Sweden at a much more reasonable November 22nd. A grueling schedule of 43 races over the next four months followed. This total includes World Championships (which do not score World Cup points), and does not count the pursuit in Rybinsk, Russia, which was canceled due to cold weather.
The season featured plenty of excitement and notable performances. Both the US and Canadian teams had excellent years.
The major highlights of the World Cup season:
Ola Vigen Hattestad (NOR) and Petra Majdic (SLO) dominating the Sprint Cup
Hattestad was almost unbeatable, winning 5 sprint events, finishing 2nd in two others, and “slipping” all the way to 7th in his one other start. He also won World Championship Gold in both the individual sprint and the team sprint event.
Majdic was even more impressive. She won eight World Cup Sprints, had both a 2nd and 3rd, and a 7th. She had more starts than Hattestad as she raced the Tour de Ski and in Rybinsk. Hattestad also sat out in Rybinsk, along with his teammates, in protest of the race being held in frigid temperatures. Majdic did have a disappointing finish at World Championships, posting a 13th place in the individual sprint, and leaving Liberec without a medal. Unlike Hattestad however, she is also a strong distance skier, posting consistent top-10 finishes, and nearly winning the overall World Cup title, ultimately taking 2nd.
Dario Cologna (SUI) and Virpi Kuitunen (FIN) Winning the Tour de Ski
Cologna came into his own this season, and the Tour de Ski was his coming out party. He showed his impressive versatility, posting excellent results in all distances and disciplines on his way to a convincing Tour victory. He had places of 1,2,4,5,8,15 and 23 in the Tour. The 23rd came on the Final Climb as he easily maintained his lead en route to victory.
Kuitunen avoided a reprise of last year when Charlotte Kalla (SWE) overtook her on the Final Climb to claim the win. This year Kuitunen overcame a strong attack by her teammate Aino Kaisa Saarinen. Saarinen actually took over the lead and opened a gap on the Final Climb, but Kuitunen responded and came back for the win in a very exciting race.
Dario Cologna and Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) Win Overall World Cup
Cologna took over the World Cup lead with his Tour de Ski victory, and held it until the 50km in Trondheim, where Petter Northug (NOR) overtook him. The 23-year old Swiss skier showed his mettle by responding with his best performances since the Tour in the World Cup Final, stepping up his game to retake the yellow bib from Northug and lay claim to the first ever overall World Cup title for Switzerland.
Kowalczyk also won the first World Cup title for her country. Poland is hardly known as a hotbed of cross-country skiing, but Kowalczyk, rumored to train 1200 hours per year, showed remarkable stamina, racing in every single World Cup event except one, and scoring World Cup points in every one of those starts. She had five victories and nine podium finishes. She also won two World Championship Gold Medals, and competed in four of six World Championship races, skipping the two sprint events. She also finished 4th in the Tour de Ski.
Kowalczyk also had the distinction of winning the overall title without leading until the final day of the season.
The battle for both the men’s and women’s overall titles came down the last days of the season. You can’t ask for more excitement.
Petter Northug (NOR) Dominates World Championships
Northug put on a clinic at the World Championships in Liberec. He won three Golds – two individual, and one relay, staging his trademark closing move in the last 500 meters of each race to lock up the victory. He also was part of two of the most exciting races of the season, the Tour de Ski Final Climb, and the 50km classic in Trondheim.
In the Tour, Northug, skied up from fifth to catch nemesis Axel Teichmann (GER) before blowing the German out of the water with a ridiculous charge to the finish and a second place finish.
In Trondheim, Northug took advantage of the intermediate sprint World Cup points, and took over the overall World Cup lead. His climb to the top of the standings included a string of dominating performance starting with World Championships. Northug posted top results in all events, beating Hattestad in a sprint, finishing 5th in the aforementioned 50km classic, and placing 4th in the World Cup Final. Ultimately, he fell just short of the overall title, as he tired in the last weekend of races, and Cologna took back the top spot.
Mass Start Success in Trondheim
The 30 and 50km mass start classic in races rank at the top of the scale for World Cup excitement. Defying the norm of elite mass start events, the race featured a strung out field, many attacks and responses, lead changes, and stunning comebacks. Hopefully FIS can fins away to replicate this type of race. You can read a full report here.
And now onto the North American focused highlights…
Kikkan Randall (USA) Wins World Championship Silver
Randall won the first ever Championship medal (including Olympics) by a US woman. The only other World Champs medal was a bronze by Bill Koch. Randall was second in the freestyle sprint in Liberec and overall, had an excellent second half to the season. She started slowly, but rounded into top form at the perfect time.
Randall also showed continued improvement in her distance racing, turning in a career-best 22nd, and along with Liz Stephen and Morgan Arritola, give the US Women three athletes who can crack the points in the longer events.
Todd Lodwick (USA) Wins Two Golds at World Championships
Todd Lodwick completed an impressive return to the Nordic Combined World Cup, winning two Gold Medals in Liberec. He also finished 24th in the overall World Cup and had two podium finishes in addition to his medals.
Billy Demong (USA) Wins Two Medals at World Championships, 3rd in Overall World Cup
Demong cemented his position as on of the top Nordic Combined skiers in the world, winning a Gold and a Bronze in Liberc, and finishing third in the overall World Cup standings. He also had five World Cup victories, and a total of ten podium finishes.
Lindsey Van (USA) Wins World Championship Ski Jumping Gold
Van won the first World Championship Gold medal ever awarded in Women’s ski jumping, and finished 4th overall on the World Cup. She had a total of eight podium finishes during the year. Van and her fellow competitors are in the midst of an effort, including a lawsuit, to bring women’s ski jumping to the Olympics in Vancouver.
Alex Harvey (CAN) Third in Trondheim 50km
Harvey, the 20 year old Canadian phenom, took part in the most exciting race of the season, leading for a good portion, before finishing an impressive 3rd. He finished off the season with a run six points scoring races, including four top tens and a 6th in the World Cup Final. He climbed into the Red Group, and has arrived as one of the top skiers in the world.
Kris Freeman (USA) 4th in World Championship 15km Classic
Freeman, battling compartment syndrome, missed a World Championship medal by under two seconds, and showed the World he is still very much a medal threat. Matching his place from the 2003 Championships, Freeman closed out an up and down season with his best results.
Canadian Men 5th in World Championship Relay
The Canadian men’s team battled for 4th, and were within striking distance of third, demonstrating that they can compete for a medal in the Vancouver Olympics. With three Red Group skiers (Harvey, Ivan Babikov, Devon Kershaw) and another capable of solid top 30’s and better (George Grey), the team should be able to ski with anyone on a good day.
The Emergence of Liz Stephen (USA) and Morgan Arritola (USA)
It may be unfair to group these two together, as they both are deserving of their own listing, but the two are on a similar development track and often appear very close on the result sheet. Stephen teamed with Kikkan Randall to finish 4th in the team sprint in Whistler, and turned in a 15th and 17th at her first World Championships. She also had a 4th and 7th at the U23 Championships, won two National Titles, and scored her first World Cup points.
Arritola had a 22nd and 32nd in the World Championships, a 25th at the Whistler World Cup, and a 5th and 8th at U23’s.
Along with an improving Kikkan Randall, the two young women are on track to give the US women legitimate distance threats at the World Cup level.
Devon Kershaw (CAN) Battles For Top Tour de Ski Finish
With a second straight strong season, Kershaw has solidified his spot as one of the top 30 skiers in the World. Due to illness, he faded to a still impressive 21st in the Tour de Ski, but was in position for a top-10 or better before the flu struck. He finished 18th overall on the World Cup, scoring points in 20 races, including 6 top-10 results, and his first-ever World Cup distance podium result. Kershaw has shown excellent versatility, scoring points in all distances and disciplines.
Ivan Babikov (CAN) Wins Tour De Ski Final Climb
Known for his hill-climbing ability, and fierce tenacity, Babikov put it all together, posting the fastest time on the Tour de Ski Final Climb, despite battling a nasty flu. He had eight points scoring races, and finished in the Distance Red Group.
Jeremy Teela (USA) Finishes Third in Biathlon World Cup
Teela turned in a career-best third place finish at the pre-Olympic World Cup in Whistler. This was the best US result since 1992.
Andy Newell and Torin Koos Lead US Sprinters
Newell finished 15th in the World Cup Sprint Cup, posting eight top-30 results, including two top-10s. It is a sign of how expectations have risen when these results are considered disappointing. Newell struggled to reach the A-Final, but still demonstrated that he is as fast as anyone in the world when it comes to pure speed. He gave US ski fans a reason to check the World Cup results every weekend, and proved that he can compete with the best with his 5th place finish late in the season.
Koos climbed into the Sprint Red Group with a strong second half of the season. He was 24th in the World Cup sprint rankings, and scored points in six of the last seven World Cup sprints after not scoring any in the first five. His best result was an 8th, and improved skating made him a threat in both disciplines. He and Newell also teamed up for a 4th place finish in the team sprint in Germany just before Christmas.
Alex Harvey (CAN) and George Grey (CAN) Finish 3rd in Whistler Team Sprint
Harvey and Grey teamed up to reach the World Cup podium on home soil during the pre-Olympic World Cups in Whistler. The exciting day was capped with lunge to the line by Harvey, to take the final podium spot.
Sara Renner (CAN) Completes Comeback
Renner, in her first full season back after a year off to have a child, showed she is back in the upper echelon. She finished 21st in the overall World Cup, scoring points in 15 races, including a 5th, 6th and 9th. She was also 15th in the Tour de Ski.
US and Canada Have Combined Seven Skiers in the Red Group
Andy Newell, Torin Koos, Kikkan Randall, Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey, Ivan Babikov, and Sara Renner all ended the season in the Red Group.
Tim Burke (USA) Finishes Strong in World Cup Biathlon
Burke overcame a slow start to the season to climb back into the top-30 in the world, including a season-best 8th place in the second-to-last race of the year.
In addition to these highlights, there were many other exciting individual performaces throughout the year in cross-country. If you feel we missed anything, please add it to the comments below.
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Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.