With the conclusion of the second World Cup period following last weekend’s races in Oteppa, Estonia, the International Ski Federation (FIS) has released updated Red Group rankings.
The Red Group consists of the top-30 skiers from the past calendar year, ranked by World Cup points in both sprint and distance.
Inclusion in the Red Group provides significant financial benefit for teams, as travel and lodging expenses for Red Group skiers are covered by World Cup organizing committees.
All told nine North American skiers, six Canadians and three Americans, achieved Red Group status entering Period III. The only change is American Liz Stephen, who is ranked 27th on the strength of of an impressive result in the Tour de Ski Final Climb. World Cup points were awarded for the time of the day in that event, and Stephen was 8th in the trek to the top of the Alpe Cermis, garnering 30 points for her effort.
“The Red Group has been a goal for Liz this season, but of course it is more a result of many smaller goals being accomplished,” US Ski Team (USST) Women’s Coach Matt Whitcomb wrote to FasterSkier in an email.
In addition to the strong day in the Tour de Ski finale, Whitcomb pointed to the fact that Stephen cracked the top-30 in a World Cup classic race for the first time this season, a feat she then replicated two more times.
“Top-30’s in classic were a big focus in her preparation this year,” Whitcomb wrote.
The biggest names in North American ski racing easily held their positions. Kikkan Randall (USA) is the top ranked sprinter, and is also 12th in the distance rankings. Canadians Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw join Randall in both the sprint and distance rankings, a definite plus.
On sprint-only weekends (like Milan or Dusseldorf) only the sprint Red Group has expenses covered with the inverse true for distance weekends.
Perhaps more importantly, as distance-only, and sprint-only events are the exception, only three nights of lodging are covered in a mixed weekend for skiers on just one list, while Red Group athletes in both sprint and distance get a full four.
According to Whitcomb, the current rate is 125 Swiss Francs (CHF) per night—$136 at current exchange rates. This is in addition to the 750CHF ($816) in travel money for the week.
On the Canadian side, Chandra Crawford, Dasha Gaiazova, and Len Valjas all remained in the sprint Red Group and Ivan Babikov still joins Harvey and Kershaw on the distance side.
For the Americans, Andy Newell remains the only man to make either Red Group, solidly within the top-30 on the sprint side.
Since the Red Group consists of results from a full year, 2011 Period III and IV are included. With the the release of each new list, a period from the previous year is dropped. This can create significant turnover at the bottom third of the Red Group, and the pressure to consistently crack the top-30 is high.
Gaiazova, for example, will lose two 20th place finishes next period, for a total of 22 points. She will need similar results in the upcoming weeks to hold on to her 25th spot.
Of course other skiers are also losing and gaining points, so it is impossible to determine exactly what an athlete needs to do to hold Red Group status.
The surest bet is to crack the top-10. With World Cup points heavily weighted toward the top, a single high result can be worth half a dozen finishes in the high 20’s.
There are several North Americans who are in position to move into the top-30 with continued strong racing. Perianne Jones (CAN) is 41st on the women’s sprint list, and Simi Hamilton (USA) is 45th in the men’s sprint field, despite an illness plagued early season.
And while she has only just joined the World Cup, Jessie Diggins (USA) has cracked the top-20 in both a sprint and a distance race. It would not be out of the question to see her climb to the top-30 by the end of the season.
The closest, however, is Holly Brooks (USA), who likely would have made the grade had she not broken her wrist over Christmas.
Brooks competed in the Tour de Ski, and even picked up a few points, but was nowhere near the level she showed earlier in the season.
She has not raced since the Tour, but is still ranked 36th on the women’s distance list, 22 points out.
Brooks, however, will be hurt by the fact that she will lose three points races from World Championships last year when the next list is released after Period III.
Kris Freeman (USA), an on-again, off-again Red Group member, has fallen down the rankings with a rough 2012 campaign. Freeman has not managed to place in the top-20 this season, and is currently 55th, 106 points out.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.