Italy's Paruzzi, Finland's Manninen selected as SR international nordic skiers

Italy’s Paruzzi, Finland’s Manninen selected as SR international nordic skiers{mosimage}Italian cross-country skier Gabriella Paruzzi made a statement in advance of the Olympic Games in Turin, and Finland’s Hannu Manninen jumped and ran away with the nordic combined World Cup title. Both earned Ski Racing awards for their work.

International Nordic Skiers of the Year
Age: 34
Hometown: Tarvisio, Italy
Skis/Boots/Bindings/Poles: Rossignol/Rossignol/Rotefella/Swix

Norwegian sprint specialist Marit Bjoergen and all-rounder Gabriella Paruzzi of Italy were in a tight race for the overall throughout the season — and the voting for this award was just as close. Bjoergen won a stunning seven straight World Cup sprints, but that wasn’t enough to keep Paruzzi from clinching the globe. The Italian phenom won the season-opening sprint and added two distance victories, in a 10km classic race at Nove Mesto in the Czech Republic and the 70km Marcialonga, which runs from Moena to Cavalese in Italy. She seized the World Cup lead for good with a month left in the season. For years, Paruzzi was strong in skating but barely marginal in classic technique. Then she won the Olympic 30km classic race at Soldier Hollow in 2002 and has shown two-way strength ever since. Paruzzi, frustrated after not setting foot on a podium when Italy hosted the 2003 World Championships, is intent on medaling at the 2006 Olympics in Turin and nothing will sidetrack her focus. She showed that this past season.

Age: 26
Hometown: Rovaniemi, Finland
Skis/Boots/Bindings/Poles: Madshus skis for skiing, Elan for jumping/Salomon/Salomon/Exel

German cross-country skier Rene Sommerfeldt had an outstanding winter, but nordic-combined master Hannu Manninen gets the nod as International Nordic Skier of the Year for his relentless excellence: In 19 events, he took seven wins and seven other podiums to take his discipline’s title by nearly 250 points. At his size (a whisker under 6′ 4″ and a hefty 180), jumping is a challenge, but this season there was no stopping Manninen on course. No matter where he finished after jumping, he would come barreling out of the pack to motor into one of the top spots. “You knew Hannu’d be coming by,” says American Todd Lodwick, “and you just wanted to be able to stay with him as long as you could, because you knew he’d pull you to the front.”

U.S. Nordic Skiers of the Year
Age: 27
Hometown: Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Skis/Boots/Bindings/Poles: Rossignol/Rossignol (Jalas boots for jumping)/Rossignol/Swix

Cross-country powerhouse Kris Freeman had two notable results early in the season, the best by a U.S. skier since 1984, but he faded during the second half of the season. So even though combined has fewer athletes and a lower profile, our voting panel felt Todd Lodwick’s consistent nordic combined record of achievement this season made him deserving of the nordic award. Lodwick won the sixth nordic combined World Cup of his career, turned in three other podiums, finished in the top 10 of the final standings for the seventh straight season, had 13 straight top-10s during one stretch of the season and was champion of the three-meet German Grand Prix. Proving he has what it takes to power through a World Cup season and then some, Lodwick returned home at season’s end to sweep all three gold medals at the Chevrolet U.S. Championships for jumping and combined.

Age: 23
Hometown: Gunnison, Colorado
Skis/Boots/Bindings/Poles: Fischer/Salomon/Salomon/Toko

As a junior, Rebecca (Quinn) Dussault was one of the nation’s most promising cross-country racers. By the time she was 19, she’d raced in a World Championships (1999) and a few World Junior Championships (’98, ’99, ’00) and won her first U.S. title (in 2000). But then Quinn, still just 19, decided to put ski racing on hold in 2000 to marry her sweetheart, Sharbel Dussault, and start a family in Gunnison, Colorado, where they lived. She returned to racing at the end of the 2003 season, encouraged by what she’d done in the Colorado spring races. In her first year back on the national circuit, Dussault tore through domestic events, winning 10 SuperTour races, adding a couple more national titles to her résumé. She earned a ticket to the final three weeks of the World Cup, and skied well enough in the 15km skate race in Pragelato, Italy, to earn her first World Cup points. Not bad for a comeback year.

U.S. Nordic Juniors of the Year
Age: 19
Hometown: Park City, Utah
Skis/Boots/Bindings: Fischer/adidas/Silvretta

For several years, little Lindsey Van was the face of women’s ski jumping in the United States. With Karla Keck all but retired, Van was not only the present but the future. She was 12, then 13, then (well, you can do the math) … and she was tangling with older and bigger girls. She tore a knee ligament a few years ago, and Jessica Jerome stepped up. But Van, who turns 20 in November, returned to form this winter, enjoying her best season. She took bronze in the women’s jumping event at the World Junior Championships in Norway, and then she reclaimed both titles (from Jerome) at the women’s U.S. championships. She won one of the Women’s Grand Prix events (as did Jerome) and, with three second-place finishes to go with her victory, finished the four-meet schedule in Europe in second place overall. She’s no longer little, but she’s definitely still as determined to be best in her world.

Age: 19
Hometown: Park City, Utah
Skis/Boots/Bindings/Poles: Fischer/Fischer/Salomon/Toko

Finishing fifth in the 2004 World Junior Championships earned Eric Camerota, who also was ninth in the World Juniors sprint, a start spot on the nordic combined World Cup tour next season. He may not get to use that start very often because, as even Camerota would concede, the World Cup is beyond his grasp at this point. But not for long: It’s not a question of if but when he’ll make his big-league breakthrough, as he proved at nationals, where he finished third. Camerota and his twin brother Brett are two of the country’s most promising up-and-comers and the first skiers out of the National Sports Foundation program at Utah Olympic Park to bubble up to the U.S. Ski Team. They won’t be the last.

Canadian Nordic Skier of the Year
Age: 29
Hometown: Vermilion, Alberta
Skis/Boots/Bindings/Poles: Madshus/Salomon/Salomon/Swix

Beckie Scott is not only a great skier, she’s a determined competitor and gracious winner. Her determination to improve after the 1998 Olympics in Japan became contagious, and her teammates — Sara Renner, the Fortier sisters (Amanda and Jaime) and Milaine Theriault — began to score World Cup points. Make no mistake: Scott, who officially was recognized by the International Olympic Committee in December as the gold medalist from the pursuit event at the 2002 Winter Games, remains the team leader. This season, despite World Cup absences to promote cross-country skiing in Canada, Scott continued her relentless assault on podiums. She was second in the final sprint of the season and again finished in the top 20 overall of the World Cup standings even though she missed 10 races. Scott, who lifted the Canadian program onto her shoulder when — after Nagano’s 1998 Olympics — she said, “I didn’t want to be mediocre any longer,” continues to epitomize grace, talent, determination and speed on skinny skis.

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