Female International Skier of the Year: Marit Bjørgen (NOR)
By many measures, Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk could be considered the best female skier in the world in 2012-2013. She amassed over 500 more points than Marit Bjørgen over the course of the season-long quest for the overall World Cup title, won the Tour de Ski for the fourth year running and didn’t even have to start the very last race of the year in order to receive her crystal globe.
Bjørgen, on the other hand, showed signs of fallibility this year. A heart arrhythmia scare early on took her out of the Tour de Ski, setting her far back in the overall standings before the season was half over, and there were a few other races she didn’t start in the lead up to World Championships. It was an unusual show of imperfection for a veteran who first stood atop a World Championships podium at the age of 22 and hasn’t stopped much since. The usually smiling and confident Norwegian star later admitted to breaking down minutes before scratching from a race in Davos. Prior to late February it was reasonable to predict that 2013 would just not be Bjørgen’s year.
She then proceeded to stomp all over everyone in Val di Fiemme, only missed gold to teammate Therese Johaug in the 10 k freestyle, and ultimately tallied her twelfth career World Championships victory by the time she left Italy. Bjørgen didn’t disappear afterwards, either, winning the World Cup Finals mini-tour by nearly a minute to finish off her season.
In our minds, Bjørgen’s comeback from health trouble and ability to show up at the biggest event of the year in top form makes her the undisputed Skier of the Year. When it came time to fight for the real medals Kowalczyk was no match for her Norwegian rival. It may seem fairly predictable to pick the biggest name in women’s skiing as our international award-winner, but in this particular season the title was hard-won.
Male International Skier of the Year: Petter Northug, Jr. (NOR)
The men’s contest for International Skier of the Year was even less clear-cut than the women’s. Norway’s Petter Northug, Jr., ultimately won the overall World Cup title, reclaiming it for first time since he earned his inaugural title in 2010, but Northug was far from dominant. Despite announcing it was his mission to claim his first Tour de Ski title in 2013, he faltered in the second half to wind up fourth in the final standings. Russian powerhouse Alexander Legkov, on the other had, put on an impressive show to propel himself into first in the final climb, defeating defending champion Dario Cologna (SUI) and holding off Maxim Vylegzhanin (RUS) and Northug in the final stage of the most grueling event of the year.
Nor was Northug dominant at World Championships. He put together two impressive victories as Norway’s anchor leg in the 4×10 k relay and the individual 15 k freestyle, but these performances only tied him with Nikita Kriukov (RUS) as the most prolific gold-medalist at the event (Kriukov won both the individual sprint and the team sprint with Alexei Petukhov). What makes Northug’s showing in Val di Fiemme more slightly more noteworthy, however, is that he earned his gold medals in two completely different ways. In the 15 k, it took everything he had to overtake Johan Olsson (SWE) and finish with an 11-second win — he literally fell across the line. And in the relay, Northug delivered one of those entertaining sprint finishes that people love to hate him for, reminding everyone that when he’s on, he does what he pleases. Haters gonna hate.
The performances that truly put Northug ahead of the field as the best skier in the world this year came in the final few months of the season. The battle between Legkov, Cologna and Northug that first heated up in the Tour de Ski repeated itself at World Cup Finals, where each of them stood a reasonable chance at claiming the overall crystal globe. In March, Northug found whatever he had been missing in January to clinch the mini-tour victory and the overall title in an exciting finale. And for that, he his our International Skier of the Year in 2013.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.