FasterSkier Performances of the Year
The FasterSkier Performance of the Year Award is presented in three categories – cross-country, biathlon and nordic combined, with men’s and women’s in the first two.
We will start with cross-country.
XC Performance of the Year (women):
Kikkan Randall (USA/USST) In some ways this is the easiest of the Performance of the Year awards – there is no question that it will go to Kikkan Randall. The challenge is picking one race as her best.
The choice can quickly be narrowed down to her two World Cup sprint victories – the first coming post-Tour de Ski in Liberec, Czech Republic and the second in the her next World Cup start in Drammen, Norway.
Both races featured extremely strong fields, but at the end of the day, the win in Drammen gets the nod. A World Cup victory in Norway is a bit more impressive than a similar performance elsewhere – the strong Nation’s group, and the added intensity at such a race being the primary reasons.
Randall was in control throughout the day in Drammen, qualifying sixth and then executing perfectly in each of the heats, using the long gradual climb to the finish to her advantage.
In the final, Randall bided her time letting 20-year-old Maiken Caspersen Falla (NOR) lead the way. The only US skier to win a World Cup race other than Bill Koch, Randall stayed patient through the first part of the homestretch before accelerating away to the win.
The final also included Sprint Cup runner-up Arianna Follis (ITA), Marit Bjoergen (NOR), and the World Champions in the team sprint, Charlotte Kalla and Ida Ingemarsdotter of Sweden.
All but four of the top 36 women in the overall Sprint Cup standings were present, with none of the biggest names missing.
Kikkan Randall (USA/USST) As mentioned above, Randall had a second victory in Liberec, the site of her World Championship silver medal in 2009. There is no question that picking the Drammen win over this one is merely splitting hairs.
There were numerous other strong performances by North American women throughout the season but in absolute terms, no one was close to the World Cup podium, let alone winning.
XC Performance of the Year (men):
Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw (CAN/CNST) The men’s version of the XC award is fairly straightforward as well. Despite a season that saw Devon Kershaw win a stage of the Tour de Ski, and string together four podiums in six races during the multi-stage event, and teammate Alex Harvey finish second in the Drammen World Cup sprint, win the U23 30k, and take fifth in the World Championship 50k, this award will not go solely to either man.
The pair teamed up to win World Championship gold in the classic team sprint, upsetting the Norwegian duo of Petter Northug and Ola Vigen Hattestad. Kershaw battled back from losing a ski early in the race, and Harvey outsprinted double-poler extraordinaire Hattestad to take the win.
A gold medal is…well…the gold standard and the duo broke through for Canada after coming very close at the 2010 Olympics.
Devon Kershaw (CAN/CNST) Kershaw had a magical season, and while FIS does not consider his individual races in the Tour de Ski actual World Cup podiums, we don’t really care. In many other years Kershaw’s victory in the freestyle sprint in Toblach, Italy would easily have earned him this award, but he bested himself at Worlds.
In Toblach, Kershaw used a bold move over the top of the last climb to break free, holding his lead until the finish. A similar attack in the classic sprint a few days earlier didn’t quite pan out, though the Canadian still ended up second.
He was also second in the 15km pursuit and third in an action-packed 20km mass start – all as part of the Tour
Alex Harvey (CAN/CNST) Harvey’s second in the Drammen freestyle sprint was a bit of a surprise. While he has shown his chops as a World Cup sprinter, regularly qualifying for the heats, Harvey had never made it to the finals.
But in a prelude to an impressive World championships, he edged Petter Northug at the line to take second to Sprint Cup champion Emil Joensson.
Harvey’s fifth in the World Championship 50k also deserves recognition. While he was unable to match Northug’s very late move, he ended up less than two seconds off the podium in front of what some have described as the largest crowd in cross-country ski history.
Biathlon Performance of the Year (women):
Sarah Studebaker (USA/USBA) Studebaker placed 17th at the World Championships in the 15km individual. While it was not as good as her 14th at the Presque Isle World Cup, the fact that it came on the big stage of World Championships gives it a bit more cachet.
Studebaker missed two shots on her way to her second-best career finish, capping a breakthrough season, and a resurgence of the US women’s biathlon team.
Only winner Helena Ekholm (SWE), who cleaned, and Nadezhda Skardino (BLR) with one miss, shot better than Studebaker – though many matched her two misses.
Sarah Studebaker (SUA/USBA) Studebaker’s 14th on home snow in Presque Isle was the top finish for the US team in 2011, and moved her into the ranks of the biathlon elite.
Laura Spector (USA/USBA) Spector was overshadowed by Studebaker later in the season, but the Massachusetts native had a very strong start to 2011, peaking with a 19th in the Oberhof sprint.
Haley Johnson (USA/USBA) Johnson wrapped up an excellent career with a season-best 21st in the ski mecca of Oslo, Norway, finishing 21st in the 10km pursuit and qualifying for the mass start event.
Biathlon Performance of the Year (men):
US Men’s Relay Team The US men placed sixth in the World Championship relay in Khanty Mansiysk, Russia, finishing just ten seconds off the podium. The foursome of Lowell Bailey, Jay Hakkinen, Tim Burke and Leif Nordgren teamed up to record the best World Championship finish for the US men.
The performance also came in a somewhat down season for the US men, and kept the world on notice that when the pieces fall into place, the team is a force to be reckoned with.
Lowell Bailey (USA/USBA) The FasterSkier Biathlete of the Year, Bailey placed ninth in the 15km mass start in Fort Kent, Maine. With two misses, Bailey was less than 10 seconds out of the top-5.
Nordic Combined Performance of the Year
Last season the Nordic Combined Performance of the year came down to a decision between various Olympic medal races. The story was a bit different in 2011 with top Nordic Combined skiers Billy Demong, Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane having sub-par seasons for a variety of reasons – Demong took some time off while Lodwick and Spillane struggled with illness and injury respectively.
But matching Olympic medals is always going to be tough and there was still plenty of strong NoCo racing.
Todd Lodwick (USA/USST) Lodwick placed fifth in the large hill competition at the World Championships in Oslo, Norway. He skied up from 12th, posting the sixth fastest ski time and ended up 31 seconds off the podium.
Billy Demong (USA/USST) In the same race at World Champs, Demong finished just one place and ten seconds behind Lodwick. The Olympic gold medalist overcame a ranking of 20th after the jump to move up to sixth on the strength of the second fastest ski time.
Demong and Lodwick swapped places in the normal hill competition in Oslo, with Demong leading the way in seventh and Lodwick less than a second behind in eighth.
Devon Kershaw (CAN)
Kikkan Randall (USA)
Tim Burke (USA)
Zina Kocher (CAN)
Billy Demong (USA)
Kikkan Randall (USA)
Alex Harvey (CAN)
Kikkan Randall (USA)
Andy Newell (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 is the editor of FasterSkier.