Readers’ Choice Awards: Best Ben Ogden Performance


The legend of Benjamin Ogden already contains a remarkable number of chapters for someone born in the year 2000. There was the time he went full Prefontaine Mode on Klæbo, opening perhaps the biggest gap the Norwegian superstar has ever experienced in a classic sprint. There was the time he notched the best World Cup distance result this century by any American man not named Kris Freeman. There was the time he claimed the best Tour de Ski finish by any American man of any name in any century. There was the time he left Europe in the middle of a hugely successful World Cup season to head back home to Vermont for a few weeks, sweeping four NCAA races in two weekends and doling out fried meats from a monstrous franken-barbecue welded to the back of a truck.

Okay, so all of these things happened within just a few weeks last season.

Ben Ogden is already larger than life. He can seem more concerned with his prowess at Kendama than with his race results. His mustache is legend. He travels the European circuit with a Toyota engine repair manual as light reading. He is fiercely, proudly a Vermonter; he learned to ski at Wild Wings XC, and literally has Cabot Creamery as his headwear sponsor. He visited Alaska for summer training, once, but may never leave Vermont again; the Alaskans understand and respect this. He is by any measure the best American male currently racing on the World Cup, and probably also the least affected and the most approachable. He is the Sara Lee of skiers; nobody doesn’t like Ben Ogden.

And by the way, he won the green bib for the top U23 skier in the 2022/2023 season going away, the first American, man or woman, ever to do so. Ogden was first in the U23 standings, by a hefty margin; second-place finisher William Poromaa of Sweden was closer to Friedrich Moch in fourth place than he was to Ogden in first. Ogden was eighth in the World Cup overall standings. Tenth in the sprint standings, one point out of ninth. First in the unofficial “make Klæbo gulp” standings. Pretty heady stuff for someone who ended the season still officially enrolled at the University of Vermont.

All of which is to say that Ben Ogden’s garnering the green bib, for top under-23 skier on the World Cup last season, ranked first in readers’ minds for his top performance or accomplishment last season, garnering 36 percent of the overall voting. Second place in the voting (23 percent) was his eighth in the overall World Cup standings, the highest finish here for an American man since fellow Vermonter Bill Koch was first in 1981/1982 and third in 1982/1983. That’s a long time ago!

First and second in the readers’ choice voting are both season-long awards, which is both a painfully obvious truism and yet also worth emphasizing. You can have some off days if you want to finish top-ten in the overall World Cup standings, but not many. You can have even fewer if you are going to leave the circuit for a few weeks in January to travel back home and contest NCAA races. Like this is a hugely important thing to do to feed one’s soul and find balance and fulfillment, but it doesn’t bring with it any World Cup points, and the math there can be pretty unforgiving.

Ogden spent most of the season in Europe, and he mostly raced well when he was over there, and sometimes he raced very well indeed (eight top-13 finishes in sprints; sixth in a distance race; 13th in a distance race), and when it was all said and done there he was sitting firmly at eighth in the World Cup overall standings, the first American man in the top ten in forty years. 

This is difficult for anyone to do when they are 22 years old at the start of the season, and when they finished 57th overall in the World Cup the season prior. It is perhaps particularly difficult to do if one is starting from America, rather than from central Europe, and has to choose between living out of a suitcase for months on end and investing the time and money to evade Covid while flying back across the pond.

Ogden did this, and did it well, and shook off the bad days, and showed up ready for more good days, and after four months of this, the scoreboard reflected it. Top U23 male, eighth in the World Cup overall standings. And he’s still only 23 years old. (The U23 category includes athletes who were 22 on December 31, 2022, which Ogden was.)

Ogden leads Klæbo. Yeah that’s right. (photo: broadcast screenshot)

The next three vote-getters were not season-long accomplishments. Third place, with 15 percent of the vote was (in my phrasing when I wrote the poll), “Went out in L6 to throw down against Klæbo in the Tour de Ski classic sprint.” Fourth place, with 12 percent of the vote, was, “Went back home to New England mid-season, entered four NCAA races at Bates and St. Michael’s carnivals, won all four of them; effected a grill on the back of a pickup truck.” And fifth place, getting six percent of the vote, was, “Placed sixth in the 10km classic in Oberstdorf, the best World Cup distance result for an American man since Kris Freeman.”

You should read Ryan Sederquist’s article, on that epochal classic sprint in Val di Fiemme in stage five of the Tour de Ski, in full here. Here’s the money quote:

“You just go crazy hard and all you gotta be is top four and get in that final, which is like, my goal,” Ogden said regarding his fearless tactics.

“They were kind of slow in the beginning and I was just like, ‘Alright, I’m just going to do it, I’m going to try’… and I tried. And I went as hard as I could, got to the top of the hill and looked back and it was just me and the king, and I was like, ‘maybe this can work.’”

If you’re reading this article, you probably know already that Ogden’s stratagem did not, in fact, work, at least not in the sense of “winning the heat” or even “placing top-four in the heat so as to make the final.” We are, ultimately, valorizing a ninth-place finish here (though Ogden was also less than two-tenths of a second out of claiming a lucky loser spot in what he ensured was a fast semifinal heat and making the final).

But it did work, in the sense that, for the first time in a long time, an athlete in a classic sprint did something other than sit back, defer, and let Klæbo ski the way he wanted to en route to a dominant win. Klæbo respected the move, fistbumping the American at the end. Calle Halfvarsson told him, “You’re crazy.” Sindre Bjørnestad Skar analogized the tactic to an attempted bank robbery, “Except he forgot the money.”

Was Ogden offended by this characterization? Hardly.

“I like that you know, because I think that describes it pretty well,” Ogden laughed in contemporary race audio.

Much as with Jessie Diggins, races that for other athletes would be career highlights are for Ben Ogden down here at the bottom as near-footnotes. You can read more about his sixth-place finish in a distance race in Oberstdorf (photo above) here. You can read more about his return to the U.S. for January EISA racing here.

As for the legend of Ben Ogden? Four percent of votes went to “Mastered Kendama”; the man has many skills. There was one write-in vote for “Jiffy pop beanie wearer!,” and another for the related “Master at jiffy pop beanie.” There was one write-in apiece for “Went so hard in the end of season Cochran’s Nordic Cross that he tore the sole off a boot and DNFed” and for “Fastest time at the Cochran’s NordicX race by 16 seconds [in the qual], skied out of the final due to ripping his toe piece out of his boot.” Ben Ogden, the people love you.

*   *   *

Previously in 2023 Readers’ Choice Awards:

Best American Male Domestic Skier

Best American Female Domestic Skier

Best American Male World Cup Skier, Non–Ben Ogden Division

Best American Female World Cup Skier, Non–Jessie Diggins Division

Best Jessie Diggins Performance

— Gavin Kentch

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