Biathlon CanadaCanadian National Ski TeamContinental CupGeneralNewsRacingFasterSkier’s Canadian Breakthroughs of the Year: Megan Bankes & Jess Cockney

FasterSkier FasterSkierApril 11, 2017
Jess Cockney (Photo: Fischer/Nordic Focus) and Megan Bankes (Photo: Bryan Dickson) are FasterSkier’s Canadian Breakthrough Skiers of the Year.

With the 2016/2017 season officially in the rearview, FasterSkier is excited to unveil its annual award winners for this past winter. Votes stem from the FS staff, scattered across the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and while not scientific, they are intended to reflect a broader sense of the season in review. This set of honors goes to outstanding athletes across the nordic disciplines who had a major breakthrough at any level of racing. 

Previous categories: Junior Skiers of the Year | Collegiate Skiers of the Year | Canadian Continental Skiers of the Year | U.S. Continental Skiers of the Year | Nordic Combined Athlete of the Year | Biathletes of the Year | Para-Nordic Skiers of the Year

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Megan Bankes, Biathlon Alberta Training Centre

Megan Bankes had competed internationally before this season, twice making the trip to World Youth and Junior Championships to represent Canada. She had done well: in 2016, she finished 18th in the pursuit and 19th in the individual in the youth category.

Megan Bankes takes a bite out of her gold medal after winning the junior women’s 12.5 k individual at 2017 IBU Junior World Championships in Osrblie, Slovakia, and becoming the first Canadian woman to do so at Biathlon Youth/Junior Worlds. (Photo: Airat Aitniakov)

But this season, Bankes both moved up an age group, becoming a junior, and started taking names. In early February, the 19-year-old Calgary native finished second in an IBU Junior Cup pursuit. She had started with bib 7 and was leading after the fourth shooting, only to get passed on the final ski loop.

“I’ve never started that close to the front in a ‘real’ pursuit, so it was neat to be chasing down first place,” Bankes wrote in an email at the time. “It was definitely a little surreal on the third loop when I realized I left the range in first, after cleaning both prone bouts, and was leading the race!”

A few weeks later, she was on to Junior World Championships, where she opened the week by winning the 12.5 k individual by an impressive 47.9 seconds.

“When I crossed the finish line I was really excited, but I didn’t really think my result would hold up because there were a few girls who were skiing fast and had hit 15/15,” she wrote in an email after the victory. “But then when a bunch of them started missing [in their fourth stages], and I realized my position was going to hold, it was incredible.”

That made her the first Canadian woman ever to win a Youth or Junior World gold.

Bankes also saw senior-racing action this season, collecting three top 30’s on the IBU Cup and getting two weekends worth of World Cup starts; her top finish was 64th in the sprint in Oslo.

Jess Cockney, Canadian World Cup Team

Jess Cockney racing to 28th in the qualifier of the men’s 1.5 k freestyle sprint at World Cup Finals in Quebec City. He went on to place 10th on the day to tie his second-best World Cup result. (Photo: John Lazenby/Lazenbyphoto.com)

In just his sixth World Cup start ever, Jess Cockney finished ninth in a sprint in Canmore. That was back in 2012.

Since then, Cockney has had a smattering or more of World Cup starts every year, and he also became an Olympian in 2014. Last season, he was 10th in another World Cup sprint on Canadian turf, in Quebec City, as part of the Ski Tour Canada.

This season, he doubled that tally, finishing 10th in both the sprint on the Olympic course in PyeongChang, South Korea, and the World Cup Finals sprint in Quebec.

“Man, I have had a really hard go of it this year,” the 26-year-old Yellowknife native said after the Quebec sprint. “Nothing was working at the start of the year … So this is a big lift. I’m really happy with that. Skiing a semifinal is always awesome. Nice to have a two heat day again.”

The two World Cup top 12’s this past winter should qualify him for his second Olympics next year.

“There is Olympic criteria that says that two top 12’s makes the Olympics, but it’s up to the selection committee to see whether they think those are worthy top 12’s or not,” he told reporters in Quebec. “So it’s not in my hands, I just had a couple good days, so we’ll see what happens from there.”

In the middle of the season, Cockney won the qualifier-only freestyle sprint that was a SuperTour race following U.S. nationals at Soldier Hollow, Utah. A week later, he won a NorAm sprint in Whistler.

“Being on the start line is exactly the same as sitting down for a test,” Cockney said after his Soldier Hollow win. “You don’t really have to stress about it if you did all the preparation and you studied for it. Ski training is very similar to that.”

Honourable Mention: Dahria Beatty, Alberta World Cup Academy/Canadian National U25 Team

Dahria Beatty racing in the classic team sprint at 2017 World Championships in Lahti, Finland, where the Canadian women placed 13th. (Photo: John Lazenby/Lazenbyphoto.com)

A perenial NorAm threat, Dahria Beatty became a World Cup regular this season, returning to North America ahead of U23 World Championships at Soldier Hollow in Utah. There, she tallied three consecutive individual top 20’s, her best results in her second U23 Worlds.

But before that, Beatty, who turned 23 last month, scored World Cup points in the first freestyle sprint of the season in December in Davos, Switzerland. She placed 25th for her second-best individual World Cup result (after finishing 15th in the classic sprint the season before in Canmore).

“It was my first skate heats in the World Cup, and my first World Cup heats in Europe so it’s a really good learning experience,” Beatty said after the Davos sprint.

The weekend after Davos, Beatty scored her first distance World Cup points, placing 26th in the 10 k freestyle mass start in La Clusaz, France. She would go on to record her third World Cup top 30 of the season in Otepää, Estonia, finishing 29th in the freestyle sprint, and compete at her first senior World Championships in Lahti, Finland. There, she was part of the Canadian women’s relay that finished 10th for its third-best result at world champs.

Also, just like Cockney, Beatty won the SuperTour freestyle-sprint qualifier in Soldier Hollow in January. She also won a NorAm skate sprint in Whistler and placed second to her teammate Emily Nishikawa in the classic sprint at Canadian Nationals last month in Canmore.

Honourable Mention: Léo Grandbois, Biathlon Estrie/Biathlon Canada 2022 Squad

Leo Grandbois racing to 14th in the youth men’s 7.5 k sprint in Osrblie, Slovakia, for his second-best result at his first IBU Youth World Championships after winning the 12.5 k individual two days earlier. (Photo: Jacqueline Akerman)

Our pick for male Junior Skier of the Year, Léo Grandbois opened the International Biathlon Union (IBU) Youth World Championships with a win in the 12.5 k individual, finishing 1 minute and 14.9 seconds clear of anyone else. It was his first time at Youth Worlds and his second international-racing appearance since competing at the 2016 Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway. There, his best result was 16th, but first at Youth Worlds and being the third Canadian to do so — that was a big deal.

Grandbois, who turns 18 in July, was born in Munich, where he spent the first year of his life before being raised in Lennoxville, Quebec. In his IBU profile, he listed fishing, hunting and woodworking as his hobbies. Now he’s accustomed to winning medals.

“I always go for the win when I race but I was aiming a top 10,” Grandbois wrote in an email after his 12.5 k win, where he shot a perfect 20-for-20. “Every thing was perfect for me today, I was focused on the range and tried to do like at training. I had some great legs too!”

He ended the season with his first trip to Canadian Nationals, where he won two junior boys races: the 10 k freestyle and the 15 k freestyle mass start. In his second classic race ever, the 7.5 k classic, Grandbois finished third. He followed that up with a second-place finish in the 1.1 k classic sprint.

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