There are some good problems to have for American World Cup athletes these days: Jessie Diggins and Ben Ogden are really, really good skiers, what with the individual world championship gold and the U23 green bib and so on. That’s why I created a separate category to let readers vote on the best of everyone else competing on the World Cup last season.
I’ve said this before, but it’s worth emphasizing: The “everyone else” here are also really good skiers. If you are as old as this reporter, and have pored over ski media for as long as this reporter, you will remember when Kikkan Randall would finish, like, 27th in a World Cup race in 2006, and the old FasterSkier comment section (R.I.P.) would light up in jubilant, and not undeserved, celebration of the top-30 result. American skiing has come a long ways since then. There’s also more than one woman on the U.S. Ski Team now, so that’s nice.
Anyway, all of this is to say that the 2023 Nordic Insights Readers’ Choice Award for the Best American Female World Cup Skier Not Named Jessie Diggins was Rosie Brennan, the only athlete currently on the national team with results on her FIS page from that 2005/2006 season.
(In case you’re curious, and are also a dork like me: Brennan was a healthy 20th in the 10km classic at 2006 U.S. Nationals, racing at home at Soldier Hollow a month after her 17th birthday. She was also 29th in qualifying for the skate sprint, a race format that at the time featured five athletes in each semifinal, and four athletes in each of the A- and B-Final. Kikkan Randall took the American title in that race, over Wendy Wagner and Laura Valaas, two women who haven’t raced in a decade. Brennan has been doing this for a long time.)
Rosie Brennan had herself a year. She finished fourth in the World Cup overall standings. She finished fourth in the Tour de Ski. She finished fifth in the 30km mass start classic at World Champs, 3.6 seconds out of a medal after 80-plus minutes of racing.
Brennan was third in an interval-start 20km skate in Davos (this was her seventh career individual World Cup podium), continuing her string of strong performances there. She was third, with Julia Kern, in a team skate sprint in Livigno (this was her fourth career team World Cup podium, and first in a team sprint). She was fourth in a 15km classic race and sixth in a 10km classic on the World Cup, and, as noted, fifth in the 30km classic in Planica. She was seventh in the classic sprint final at World Champs, the best American finish in this event (JC Schoonmaker was ninth). She had multiple top-10 finishes in distance skate races. That’s some range.
Put it all together, and Brennan notched a heady eleven individual top-10 World Cup finishes last season, ten in distance and one in sprint. Nearly all of them came after her 34th birthday, which she celebrated in early December.
It’s impossible to write about Brennan, at this stage of her career, without focusing on either the calendar — she was born in 1988, and you’ll note that I couldn’t resist dropping a reference to her relative athletic senectitude in the paragraph above — or on the results sheet, where she has come oh. so. close. so many times now. Or on the more colorful Jessie Diggins, whose spectacular rise has largely coincided with, and at times overshadowed, Brennan’s late-career flourishing.
But, as Brennan told Nat Herz after a crash and broken binding took her out of the world championship skiathlon, leading to more media attention than she had ever received even for winning a race, “I think people should be more concerned with the good things and not the bad things.” So I will simply allude to Herz’s fine parsing of the dynamic between Brennan and Diggins both on and off the race course, and my more philosophical pondering on what it all means that Brennan is still out there crushing, and leave it at that.
Brennan is still hungry; she is skiing as well as she ever has; and she is back for more next season, after doing things her way last year with the support of longtime partner Tyler Kornfield. And she goes into the dryland training season with an overwhelming 85 percent of the reader vote for best American female World Cup skier not named Jessie Diggins, by far the highest vote total that any athlete or performance received in any of the six categories in this year’s voting.
Having an amazing season, yet still falling short of someone else’s accomplishments, is the inescapable theme of this award category. Julia Kern won a bronze in the World Championships team sprint (with Diggins). She made the heats in every single World Cup sprint last season, an American feat last accomplished by Andy Newell well over a decade ago.
She was seventh in the Sprint Cup. She was on a World Cup podium in the team sprint (with Brennan). She had seven individual top-10 World Cup finishes, six in sprint and one in distance; this distance result, combined with her apparent new role as relay anchor, augur in a stage of her career in which she is a credible distance threat as well as a sprinter.
For all of this, Kern received a whole 7 percent of the vote. This is both pretty defensible if you compare her year to Brennan’s, and also indicative of the current depth of American women’s skiing. Tough crowd out there right now.
That said, Kern is still only 25 years old. And has already logged over 100 World Cup starts. If her time hasn’t already come when she was chosen over Brennan to partner with Diggins in the Planica team sprint, it will come very soon.
Alayna Sonnesyn, Hailey Swirbul, and Sophia Laukli, in that order, each received a single-digit percentage worth of votes. They are also good skiers!
Previously in 2023 Readers’ Choice Awards:
— Gavin Kentch