Kocher, McMurtry top last day of Sea to Sky Nordic Festival 

click to enlarge Bettina Gruber (pink shirt) of Switzerland dressed down for the Haywood Ski Nationals marathon on Saturday, winning the women's 30km race. The top Canadian was biathlete Zine Kocher in second.
  • Bettina Gruber (pink shirt) of Switzerland dressed down for the Haywood Ski Nationals marathon on Saturday, winning the women's 30km race. The top Canadian was biathlete Zine Kocher in second.

Usually heatstroke isn't something that cross-country athletes have to worry about, but on the final day of the Haywood Ski Nationals at Whistler Olympic Park, with temperatures of 16 degrees - though it felt hotter in the sun - heat was a very real issue for athletes.

The men's 50km marathon got underway when it was still reasonably cool out, but the temperature kept rising and by the time the lead group came into the stadium it was definitely on the warm side. American Torin Koos, racing in a tank top, had the right idea and won the final sprint to the finish in 2:04:55.2.

The top Canadian, less than a ski length back, was Canada's Brent McMurty in 2:04:55.6. Kevin Sandau and Paralympian Brian McKeever were third and fourth by a matter of seconds.

McMurtry, a long-standing member of the national team, was racing in his last event. He's retiring from the sport of skiing, and will pursue an engineering degree in the fall.

"I had a feeling it was going to come down to the last sprint, so I just tried to stay behind (the leaders)," he said. "Torin got a little bit of a gap over me at the top of the hill... I didn't quite have the gas to get around him so I just tried to stay behind him.

"In my first year of nationals I won the title and I finished behind an American, so this is a fitting way to finish, another national championship but beat by an American again!"

In the women's 30km race, Biathlon Canada's Zina Kocher was the top Canadian, finishing second behind Bettina Gruber of Switzerland. It was the first time that Kocher has raced that distance, and her first time winning a national championship in cross country.

"I'm so excited to do this," she said. "I decided to take some time after the World Cup and then do this, and it was pretty fun.

Kocher, wearing a tank top and bicycle shorts, said she struggles in the heat for whatever reason, and dumped every glass of water handed to her over her head to cool down. Some of those cups happened to contain sports drinks unfortunately, making for a sticky finish.

"I tried to make a move on the first first (of the last lap), and I'm usually pretty strong in the last five kilometres of a race, so I decided to try and start that from the beginning (of the last 7.5km laps). And it worked in the beginning, I got out front, but (Bettina) caught back up to me and made a move on me on the last big hill in the woods. She went ahead and I couldn't keep up with her."

Kocher said she still prefers biathlon over cross-country, but appreciated the opportunity. "It's definitely a different kind of racing than biathlon, but it's a lot of fun. I think I prefer biathlon, but this is great training."

As well as the final event in the Haywood Ski Nationals, Saturday also marked the second and final day of the Aviva Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Nationals. With temperatures warming up and the ski jump landing area getting softer, the organizers bumped all of the competitions ahead to keep the event safe.

The top Canadians in the long jump were Eric Mitchell on the men's side and Atsuko Tanaka for the women.

Results from the cross-country races are available at www.zone4.ca. More results to come.

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