Kocher, McMurtry top XC marathon 

Len Valjas, Daria Gaiazova drop in to win classic sprint as sea to Sky Nordic Festival winds down

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ANDREW MITCHELL - Hot cross fun Temperatures were around 16 C for the start of the women's 30km marathon last Saturday at Whistler Olympic Park.
  • Photo BY Andrew Mitchell
  • Hot cross fun Temperatures were around 16 C for the start of the women's 30km marathon last Saturday at Whistler Olympic Park.

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 even 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 for the last time 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 juvenile title and I finished behind an American, so this is a fitting way to finish, another national championship but beat by an American again!"

McMurtry said he's enjoyed his decade with the national team, and the highlight was competing for Canada in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. During his tenure he's seen the sport grow in numbers and popularity, and feels he's leaving a program that's in great hands.

"It's been motivating to see all the excitement and the strength of the guys on the World Cup team," he said. "I feel the momentum growing and the popularity of the sport. I live in Canmore, and if you go to the Canmore Nordic Centre on any weekend there are thousands and thousands of people. The parking lots are full, and it's really, really cool. More people are becoming aware of our sport and seeing how much fun it can be. It's a great workout and an amazing sport.

"That's why it's bittersweet to leave it. I love it, and I know I'll definitely be a skier for the rest of my life."

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.

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