Diggins, Valjas Earn FasterSkier Rookie of the Year Honors

Topher SabotApril 27, 20112

FasterSkier Rookie of the Year

It is hard to define a “rookie” in cross-country skiing.  First year on the World Cup?  First season as a senior?  First year in college?  First year skiing?  We keep it loose and give the award to skiers who take a major step forward while moving up to a new level of competition.

Rookie of the Year (women):

Jessie Diggins (USA/CXC Elite) The choice for the female Rookie of the Year was not an easy one. Diggins and Sadie Bjornsen had remarkably similar seasons. Strong arguments can be made for both women, but Diggins ultimately got the nod based mainly on her World Juniors results and her younger age.

Diggins, at just 19 years old, skied to a number of impressive firsts during the 2011 season, turning in results that would please a more senior athlete.

The high point was undoubtedly the two top-30 results at World Championships in Oslo, Norway, Diggins’ first try at a major international championship. She placed 25th in the freestyle sprint, and 28th in the 15km pursuit, the youngest finisher in the top-30 in both races.

On top of that, she skied a strong leg in the 4x5km relay, anchoring the US women to a 9th place result.

In addition to success on cross-country skiing’s biggest stage, Diggins skied very well at the World Junior Championships in Otepaa, Estonia, with a top finish of 7th in the 5km skate.

World Juniors marked the beginning of her first extended European tour – in all she made 13 starts, tacking on a number of strong Continental Cup results to her impressive performances at World Championships and World Juniors.

Domestically, Diggins won her first National Championship, besting a strong field in the freestyle sprint in Rumford, Maine. She also won the Canadian Nor-Am mini-tour in December, and took third in the season finale SuperTour Final mini-tour in Sun Valley.

Diggins was rewarded with a nomination to the US B-Team, and will postpone college to continue pursuing ski-racing full time.

Jessie Diggins in her first World Cup sprint race in Drammen, Norway

Honorable Mention:

Sadie Bjornsen (USA/APU) In most other years, Bjornsen would have been a shoo-in for this award. Like Diggins, she made her first foray into World Cup caliber racing, and fared extremely well. She also turned in two top-30’s at World Championships, taking a US-best 24th in the sprint, and 28th in the 10km classic.

Bjornsen also placed 17th in two U23 Championship events in Otepaa. And like Diggins, she took home her first National Championship, winning the 10k classic in Rumford, and finished third in the skate sprint as well.

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Rookie of the Year (men):

Len Valjas (CAN/CNST) The men’s decision was more clear-cut than the women’s. Valjas established himself as a legitimate World Cup sprinter, finishing ninth in the Drammen skate sprint after qualifying fourth and then following up with a 15th in the same event at World Championships.

He also placed seventh, qualifying second, in the classic sprint at the U23 Championships in Otepaa, and defended his Canadian Sprint National Title.

Still just 22, the lengthy Canadian made eight of his nine career World Cup starts this past season.

Len Valjas (bib #4) on his way to a career-best ninth at the Drammen, Norway World Cup sprint.

Honorable Mention:

Noah Hoffman (USA/USST) Hoffman has been around long enough that he seems like a seasoned veteran. But he won’t turn 23 until August, and raced his first European World Cups this season.

The Colorado native missed out on World Cup points when he finished 31st in the 15km skate in Gallivare, Sweden in November, and followed up with a strong relay leg a day later.

He placed 34th in the 15km pursuit as part of the Kuusamo mini-tour and then turned some heads at World Championships.

Hoffman placed 29th in the 15km classic – an excellent result especially when Hoffman’s preference for the skate technique is taken into account. He closed out the ten days of racing as the top US finisher in the 50km skate, placing 30th, and hanging with the lead pack for nearly two-thirds of the race.

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Previous Winners:

Simi Hamilton (USA)
Holly Brooks (USA)

Alex Harvey (CAN)
Morgan Arritola (USA)

Garrott Kuzzy (USA)
Liz Stephen (USA)

FasterSkier Awards 2011:

Rookie of the Year
Breakthrough Skier of the Year
Collegiate Skier of the Year
Adaptive Skier of the Year
Continental Skier of the Year
Biathlete of the Year
Nordic Combined Skier of the Year
Performance of the Year (cross-country, biathlon, nordic combined)
Cross-Country Skier of the Year

Topher Sabot

Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.

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  • cuxc

    April 28, 2011 at 9:25 am

    While not a cross-country racer, I think a strong case for male rookie of the year could be made for biathlete Leif Nordgren as well. He had some very impressive and consistent results this winter especially at the Biathlon World Championships.

  • wipeout2097XL

    April 29, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Jack Hegman (16) should win the breakthrough skier of the year. As a high school skier, he was ranked number 1 for the 16-17 age class, and up until he hurt his shoulder competing in Norway, he had beaten many great skiers much older than him, and noone had even come close to him in any HS race.

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