Male Biathlete of the Year: Tim Burke (USA)
In a season with many highlights, Burke easily had the most of all North American athletes – capped by a silver medal in the 20 k individual at World Championships in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. It was the first American medal at World Championships since 1987 when Josh Thompson earned silver, also in the 20 k. Burke landed 10th in the year-end World Cup rankings as well as snagging third in the discipline rankings for both individual and mass start racing.
It’s no yellow bib, but it was easily Burke’s best season in years. Besides the medal at World Championships, he was remarkably consistent from month to month on the World Cup, even despite a mid-season illness. After starting with two top-20’s in the opening weekend in Ostersund, Sweden, Burke had picked it up with a fourth-place finish in the Pokljuka sprint in mid-December, then a third-place finish to get on the podium in the mass start the same weekend.
At the end of the season he was still going strong, placing fourth in the mass start in Oslo in early March, fifth in the individual in Sochi a week later, then fourth again in the very last race of the season in the Khanty-Mansiysk mass start.
And that’s to say nothing of the many solid relay legs he turned in over the course of the season, including when the U.S. placed fifth in Oberhof, Germany.
Burke’s ability to be a podium threat week in and week out was what earned him top honors this year.
Honorable Mention: Jean Philippe Le Guellec and Sean Doherty
We’ve already written about U.S. junior Sean Doherty, who earned our Junior of the Year honors for winning a world title in the youth category as well as two silver medals. That dominance was extremely impressive and could easily earned him this honor as well – but let’s show the seniors a little love too, because there were plenty of great performances to go around.
Canada’s Jean Philippe Le Guellec made it tough to pick a winner in this category. He set his country’s biathlon world afire at the very first venue of the season, when he won the 10 k sprint in Ostersund. Arguably, his performance was a sign of things to come: watch out, biathlon, North America is back.
But while he provided Canada with some badly-needed inspiration, Le Guellec was not able to replicate that result for the rest of the season, or to be as consistently within striking distance as Burke. However, with tenth in the individual and 15th in the pursuit at World Championships, he had a strong season and was a closer runner-up for this award.
Female Biathlete of the Year: Annelies Cook (USA)
As we’ll discuss later, this was an incredibly difficult award to pick, as several North American women had remarkably similar results and year-end rankings. But while Annelies Cook didn’t have the best single performance of the year, what made the 28-year-old stand out was the incredible breakthrough that she showed on the World Cup.
Of Cook’s twelve best career performances, ten have come this season, including her first top-20’s. That mark fell in Antholz, Italy, halfway through the season, but Cook also shone brightly in the pre-Olympic races in Sochi, Russia, where she finished 18th in the sprint and 14th in the individual.
The ability to take a big step and become a consistent performer for the team should be a an inspirational message to athletes of all stripes. She ended up ranked 45th in the world – last season she was 83rd – and scored points in eleven races at seven different venues.
Honorable Mention: Susan Dunklee, Rosanna Crawford, and Zina Kocher
But the category this year was ridiculously close. In the final World Cup standings, Susan Dunklee (USA) was 40th, Rosanna Crawford (CAN) 44th, Cook 45th, and Zina Kocher (CAN) 48th. None of the four women had the results that distinguished the North American men’s winners, but this is remarkable progress. Since 1999, the last year that World Cup Total Score data is easily accessible from the IBU website, not once has both the U.S. and Canada put two women in the top 50. In fact, in many of those years, neither team even put one woman in the top 50.
Congratulations on the progress, ladies.
Dunklee had the best individual performances of the year, placing seventh in the 15 k individual in Sochi; she also did the best at World Championships, where she was 15th, also in the individual. The top-ranked American last season, it was a solid sophomore effort for Dunklee, who is a relative newcomer to the World Cup circuit, and her performance throughout the year proved that the fifth-place finish at 2012 World Championships was no fluke.
And like Cook (and Burke), her strong showing on the Sochi trails was, hopefully, a sign of things to come when the Olympics roll around next season.
Crawford, meanwhile, had an even bigger breakthrough than Cook; the Canadian had never actually scored World Cup points before this season, but she did so six times, including with a staggering 12th-place finish in the sprint in Pokljuka, Slovenia, and with a 17th-place showing in the individual at World Championships. But Crawford was mostly an early-season athlete; aside from the World Championships finish, her other five points-scoring races all came in either Pokljuka or Hochfilzen, both in mid-December.
Finally, it’s easy to forget Kocher’s success early in the season because she had a rough go at the end – and it’s particularly easy when one considers the regular top results Kocher saw last year, which just didn’t materialize in 2013. But in Ostersund, she placed tenth in the sprint, the second-best North American finish of the season, and like Crawford she scored points on six separate occasions.
Congratulations to all these biathletes on a great 2013.
Lowell Bailey (USA)
Sara Studebaker (USA)
Tim Burke (USA)
Zina Kocher (CAN)
Tim Burke (USA)
Zina Kocher (CAN)
Tim Burke (USA)
Caitlin Compton (USA)
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.