Top XC athletes vie for national titles 

Whistler athletes in the mix at Olympic Park

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOERN ROHDE, JOERNROHDE.COM - CRASH COURSE Philip Widmer gets off balance during the final sprint to the finish in the March 23 Team Sprint event at the Haywood Ski Nationals.
  • Photo by Joern Rohde, joernrohde.com
  • CRASH COURSE Philip Widmer gets off balance during the final sprint to the finish in the March 23 Team Sprint event at the Haywood Ski Nationals.

A dramatic crash mere metres from the finish line led to heartbreak in the team sprint event at Whistler Olympic Park on Saturday as the Haywood Ski Nationals got underway — the second event in the Sea to Sky Nordic Festival.

Philip Widmer of the Canmore Nordics and Jess Cockney with the Foothills Nordic Ski Club (FNSC) came into the finish straightaway on their final lap while battling for first place. The two were trying to ski the same line in the final sprint when Widmer lost his balance and fell. As Widmer got back up two other competitors passed him to claim second and third spots.

Widmer and his teammate, Russell Kennedy, claimed fourth in the race, which had a total distance of just over 7km. The fastest teams covered the distance in just over 15 minutes and 30 second.

According to Cockney, Widmer skied strong the whole race.

"I was hoping for a nice tight battle for the line but unfortunately we didn't get that today," said Cockney after the awards ceremony.

Cockney's FNSC teammate in the relay event was Brent McMurtry. He said he was pleased with the course, which was the same route used during Olympic competitions in 2010.

"It was amazing, it held up very, very well," said McMurtry. "It was quite a bit colder this morning. In the afternoon (during) the final it was getting wet but still really fast. It was perfect."

Second place went to David Greer and Knute Johnsgaard while Colin Abbott and Graham Nishikawa placed third with only tenths of seconds separating first and third.

The team of Heidi Widmer and Marlis Kromm of FNSC took the Open Women's Team Sprint. The pair finished almost 10 seconds ahead of Mary Thompson and Erin Tribe of Team Hardwood. Michaela Howie and Zoe Roy of Canmore placed third.

Saturday races also included University relay teams and younger skiers in the Challenge category.

Like the biathlon nationals the previous week, most of the national team members opted to skip the races. Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey, Lenny Valjas, Ivan Babikov and Chandra Crawford were not in the lineup for the first event, opening the event up to development and club-level skiers. World Cup skiers Perianne Jones and Daria Gaiazova joined the competition in progress on Tuesday.

In the individual start skate event on Sunday, there were over 530 skiers taking part. Brian McKeever took the men's win by close to 10 seconds, followed by Graham Nishikawa and and Graeme Killick.

Sebastian Dandurand was the top skier from the Callaghan Valley Training Centre in 32nd, followed by Dudley Coulter in 33rd, Geoffrey Richards in 35th and Bob Thompson in 36th.

In the women's race, Caitlin Gregg placed first overall, followed by Eliska Harkova and Heidi Widmer. From Whistler, Selina Meier was 32nd and Nicki Murdoch 68th.

In the Juvenile Boys race, Whistler's Austin Reith placed eighth overall out of 82 starters while Hunter Sones was 60th, Michael Murdoch 69th, Fraser Doak 71st and Ian Davies 82nd. All were racing above their age category for the experience.

In Junior Girls, Lauren Doak was 18th overall and 10th in the younger group.

Next up was Monday's interval start classic race.

Brent McMurty was back on the podium in first, followed by American Rune Male Oedegaard and David Greer. Dasha Gaiazova won the women's race by close to a minute and a half, followed by Chisa Obayashi of Japan and Perianne Jones.

Whistler's Lauren Doak was 37th overall in Junior Girls, and 18th in her specific age group.

Austin Reith was a solid ninth in Juvenile Boys, while Michael Murdoch was 64th.

The events continue this week with the classic sprints on Thursday, March 28, followed by the marathon events — 20km women and 30km men — on Saturday. For more results visit www.zone4.ca.

Results will be posted at www.piquenewsmagazine.com as they are available.

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