Nine North American cross country skiers have finished the season ranked in the top 30 overall of the FIS World Cup for either distance or sprint racing.
Combined with points from World Championships, which are not counted in overall World Cup rankings, that equates to all nine making the “Red Group”, a FIS designation meaning that their travel and living costs will be paid for by organizing committees of each World Cup weekend, at least for the first period of World Cup racing. The Red Group is calculated at the end of each of four periods of competition throughout the year, so skiers can move into and out of the costs-covered group over the course of the season.
Top 30 rankings at the end of the season, though, carry more prestige, and are additionally useful for sponsorship and team namings.
Meanwhile, the number of skiers scoring World Cup points is used to calculate the number of quota spots available for a country in the next World Cup season. 11 Americans and 7 Canadians scored World Cup points for their top-30 finishes in individual races this season.
Among the Americans, Liz Stephen was the top-ranked overall, landing seventh in the World Cup distance rankings, fifth in the Red Group rankings, and tenth in the World Cup total score. But more teammates than ever followed her into the Red Groups: Jessie Diggins and Sadie Bjornsen ended up 22nd and 23rd in the World Cup, and inside the top-30 Red Group calculations in both distance and sprints; Kikkan Randall ranked 17th in the Sprint Cup and the sprint Red Group, although mid-season she fell out of the distance Red Group for the first time in several years; and Sophie Caldwell and Ida Sargent ranked 20th and 26th in the Sprint Cup, equating to 18th and 29th in the Red Group when World Championships results were included.
That’s one more woman than has ever earned year-ending Red Group status for the U.S., which has seen a steady climb in its women’s team rankings. At the end of the 2014 season, there were five in the red group, and at the end of the 2013 season just four.
Two more American women scored World Cup points: Rosie Brennan ended the season ranked 87th overall and Caitlin Gregg ranked 99th. Both were well outside the Red Group cutoff. But thanks to their points, which were all scored in distance races, the U.S. will be able to start five women in distance competitions next season. They will only have four spots in sprints, a decline from previous years. At the end of the 2014 season, seven U.S. women had scored points (including Holly Brooks, who did not compete on the World Cup this year), and each of them scored in both disciplines, netting five spots each – plus Kikkan Randall won the overall Sprint Cup title and was thus guaranteed an extra starting spot in addition to the Americans’ quotas in sprint races. This season, Marit Bjørgen of Norway won the Sprint Cup.
As a team, the U.S. women finished sixth in the Nations Cup standings, two spots down from their fourth-place finish in 2014 and scoring 1,573 points to the 2,421 scored in 2014. Although more different women scored points, two factors changed this season: the Norwegian women were even more dominant, taking home almost 1,500 more Nations Cup points than they had in 2014 and leaving fewer for the other teams; and Kikkan Randall scored 156 points this season compared to 841 in 2014.
For Canada, Emily Nishikawa and Perianne Jones both scored World Cup points, but were not close to making the Red Groups. With Nishikawa scoring in distance and Jones in sprint, the Canadian women will get three starters in each discipline next season.
Alex Harvey led the way for North American men, finishing ranked ninth in distance racing, 13th in sprinting, and ninth overall on the World Cup.
He was the only Canadian to make a red group; Lenny Valjas finished the season just outside, placing 33rd in the sprint standings. Valjas was 74th in the overall World Cup, slightly behind Ivan Babikov, who ended up 69th. Devon Kershaw and Jesse Cockney also scored a few points for Canada.
It’s a slight drop for Canada: last season Harvey finished third in the overall World Cup standings, while in 2012 Kershaw finished second and Harvey sixth. In Nations Cup standings, the team fell from seventh to eighth. They will still be able to start four men in both distance and sprint competitions next season, however.
Andy Newell led the U.S. men’s team, ending the season ranked 18th in the Sprint Cup and 53rd overall on the circuit. Teammate Simi Hamilton also snuck inside the Red Group sprint rankings, ending up 26th in the World Cup and 20th in the Red Group. Hamilton also scored a few distance points, which added up to 63rd overall on the World Cup. The only other American man to score points was Erik Bjornsen, who is ranked 132nd overall. The U.S. men will be able to start three men in both distance and sprint racing next season.
The team climbed from 12th to 11th in the Nations Cup standings, despite no points scored this year by Noah Hoffman, the team’s strongest distance skier in the past few seasons who broke a bone in his leg and had to sit out much of the 2014/2015 campaign.