FasterSkier Continental Skier of the Year
With two different continental cup series and two sets of national championships, determining the top domestic racers can be challenging. Head-to-head match ups are usually limited, and it can be difficult to compare field strength.
Such was the case this year. A strong argument can be made for both the overall SuperTour winner and the NorAm Cup. Champions. As is sometimes the case, we felt there was no better option than awarding joint winners.
Continental Skier of the Year (men):
Lars Flora (USA/APU), Graham Nishikawa (CAN, Whitehorse CCSC) In a resurgent season, the 33-year-old Flora won the overall SuperTour title for the third time in the last five years.
The veteran started strong, finishing second in the first three races of the season in West Yellowstone. He went on to take home the national title in the 15km classic in Rumford, Maine and followed up with a two more national podium appearances.
His efforts earned him a spot on the World Championship team and an extended stint in Europe. He was back for the SuperTour Finals in Sun Valley where he placed seventh in the 50km national championship event, and ninth in a loaded mini-tour field.
Like most of the top US domestic racers, Flora headed north after West Yellowstone for two weekends of racing on the NorAm circuit. He won two races and placed fourth in the Blackjack mini-tour.
All told an impressive season, and if FasterSkier offered a comeback skier of the year prize, Flora would be the winner hands down. But there are several arguments against him as the top performer on North American soil.
While he entered the SuperTour finals with a chance to win both the sprint and distance cups, he was unable to wrap either up, placing second in both categories. His overall victory was also aided by the cancellation of the Madison SuperTour due to political protests..
If those races had been held, with Flora in Europe, sprint cup winner Mike Sinnott (USA/SVSEF) or distance champ Brian Gregg (USA/CXC Elite) would have had a good shot at taking the top spot.
So that brings us to Nishikawa. Like Flora, “The Nish” as he is known, is no up-and-comer at this point in his career. But despite being an annual fixture on the elite North American racing scene, he is still just 27 yeas old and potentially entering his prime – a possibility he supported with a dominating domestic campaign.
Nishikawa stood on the NorAm podium a ridiculous 18 times in 2011, including eight victories and seven second place results. His success did not come against weak competition either. While mid-season continental cup races can sometimes be sparsely attended due to European trips, Nishikawa regularly matched up against Canadian stalwarts Drew Goldsack, Brent McMurtry, Steffan Kuhn, and George Grey, among others
He also traveled to the US to contest the season opening SuperTour races in West Yellowstone, placing fourth and fifth in the two distance races.
The knock on the Nish? He did not race the Canadian National Championships at the end of the season, and Flora had the upper hand in head-to-head meetings, posting a 5-2 record.
But if you add in the last World Cup period, Nishikawa evens the score, besting Flora in all four races the two matched up. And his reason for skipping the national championships? He was busy at the World Cup Finals.
At the end of the day there really isn’t much separation between the two, and in a reprise of the 2009 award, both men earn the Continental Cup Skier of the Year award.
Continental Skier of the Year (women):
Perianne Jones (CAN/CNST), Holly Brooks (USA/APU) While it is somewhat predictable, the women’s award is also shared by the SuperTour and NorAm winners. In some years one skier is clearly the superior North American source, but both Jones and Brooks had excellent seasons, and are deserving of the honor.
With eight victories and 12 total NorAm podiums, Jones won her second overall NorAm title in the last four years, besting runner-up Emily Nishikawa by over 200 points.
Jones earned a spot on the Canadian World Championship team, and raced in Europe from mid-February through the end of the season. While Canadian nationals were underway, she turned in her best-ever World Cup result, placing 12th in the Stockholm sprint.
Her consistent performance throughout the year easily made Jones the top domestic skier in Canada this year.
As for Brooks, she was no slouch south of the border. She easily won the overall SuperTour title, and both the sprint and distance cups.
Including US Nationals, Brooks had a total of five victories and five second place finishes in the US.
Additionally, she had two NorAm victories and placed third in the Backjack mini-tour.
Jones, a stronger sprinter, had a leg up on Brooks in the short distance, with better finishes in the two NorAm sprints both competed in. Throw in World Cup races, and Jones won four of five head-to-head sprints.
On the distance side, Brooks came out ahead in two of three NorAm races, and shut down Jones in Europe. In five World Cup and World Championship distance races, Brooks had a better result in all.
Ultimately both women had excellent seasons, and were clearly a step above the rest of their respective domestic fields. Jones is the stronger sprinter, and Brooks is better in the distance races.
And so, as with the men, the award is shared by both.
APU Women’s Team The APU women’s ski team swept the overall SuperTour podium with Kate Fitzgerald and Morgan Smyth following Brooks in the standings. With Sadie Bjornsen placing fifth, and Kikkan Randall sixth, APU had five of the top six women on the SuperTour.
Dasha Gaiazova (CAN)
Brent McMurtry (CAN)
Kristina Strandberg (SWE)
Lars Flora (USA)/Graham Nishikawa (CAN)
Kristina Strandberg (SWE)
Ivan Babikov (CAN)
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 is the editor of FasterSkier.