This is it! Our final award of 2016. This set of honors goes to outstanding male and female cross-country skiers during the 2015/2016 season.
See also: Breakthrough Skiers (Canada & U.S.) | Biathletes | Coaches | Collegiate Skiers | Continental (Canada & U.S.) | International Skiers and Performances | Juniors| Nordic Combined | Para-Nordic | Performances (Biathlon & Cross-Country)
Alex Harvey, Canadian World Cup Team
In recent years, it’s hard to argue that it’s become Norway’s World Cup game to lose. The overall World Cup men’s standings this year confirms that premise: it’s congested with Norwegians. First, second, third, sixth, eighth, ninth, and 10th — all those places went to Norway.
Canada’s Alex Harvey stymied a bit of that perfection. He finished the season in seventh overall. As the lone North American male in the overall top 30, Harvey has proved he’s amongst the best all-around skiers on the globe. Since 2009 when he began racing World Cups full time, Harvey has placed in the top 10 of the final World Cup overall rankings five times, with a career-best third in 2014.
Coming into this season Harvey had recovered from iliac artery surgery. Pre-surgery, Harvey suffered from poor blood flow in his legs, which impeded his skating up steep uphills at full capacity. Post-surgery, Harvey began setting personal records for several runs he has used as test pieces over the years. All signs pointed towards a full recovery and an improved Harvey. But surgery is still surgery.
Of the 30 individual World Cup races he entered this season, Harvey was only out of the points in six. And in nearly 50 percent of those starts, he skied into the top 10, including two podiums. That’s a success.
Harvey is a skier with high expectations for himself. He is, after all, a four-time World Championships medalist. At 27 years of age, Harvey has proven himself to be a medal contender in either the sprints or distance events. With high benchmarks set by the likes of overall World Cup winner Martin Johnsrud Sundby, runner-up Petter Northug and Finn Hågen Krogh (all from Norway) as well as Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov (who placed fourth overall behind them), Harvey has his work cut out for him in 2017 in terms of improving on his overall finish.
But amidst the sea of hyper-competitive Norwegians and the upstart Ustiugov, Harvey held his own this year, setting benchmarks, too, for North American perseverance.
Jessie Diggins, U.S. Ski Team and Stratton Mountain School T2 Team
Imagine your’re back in school and it’s time to learn about bar charts and trends. The above chart, created by the International Ski Federation (FIS), is pretty simple: on the horizontal axis is time and on the vertical axis is number of top-10 positions. In this case, the graph refers to Jessie Diggins and the number of individual top-10’s she’s earned on the World Cup for the years 2011 to 2016.
Before this year, Diggins career best top-10 total in a World Cup season was four.
Above year 2016 on the chart, it looks like a lording skyscraper representing her top-10 finishes. It’s obvious Diggins had a breakthrough in 2016 — she quadrupled that former career best total of four top-10’s, upping it to 16.
What’s the trend here? That at the age of 24, in either sprint or distance, Diggins is learning to take charge. She was in the points, top-30 overall, in all 11 sprints this year. Traditionally thought of as a skate specialist, she made the finals and placed sixth on the Ski Tour Canada’s Stage 5 classic sprint.
She’s a feisty classic distance racer too. She placed fifth overall on the final Ski Tour Canada (STC) stage, a 10 k classic pursuit in which she skied the third-fastest time on the day.
And we know she kills when skating.
This season she stood on five podiums, including a sprint win in Toblach, Italy, anchored the best-ever finish for a U.S. women’s 4 x 5 k relay, skiing them into a historic second place, and was an athlete other women on the World Cup took notice of, finishing the season in eighth overall.
Although one does not become a North American ski racer for the money — the endorsements aren’t exactly lucrative — according to FIS, Diggins earned 46,500 Swiss Francs in winnings this season. That amounts to nearly $49,000 dollars. It’s a total that shows a U.S. cross-country skier can earn a professional wage commensurate with their professional athletic credentials.
Like Kikkan Randall before her who set a new standard for North American excellence, Diggins is breaking barriers.
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