The Canadian cross-country team is still looking for its first medal of the season after getting stumped at two home events in Quebec and Canmore.
While the team would have been happy to be in the top five and top 10 a few years ago, several athletes have emerged as solid World Cup contenders and are expecting more than points on the World Cup circuit.
The Canmore World Cup races opened up with the classic mass start race. In the men's 15km event the top Canadian was Alex Harvey in 11th, followed by Devon Kershaw in 17th, Ivan Babikov in 20th and Len Valjas in 24th. The win went to Germany's Tim Tscharnke, followed by Sjur Roethe of Norway and Tobias Angerer of Germany.
In the women's 10km event, the top Canadian was Brittany Webster in 38th as members of the senior team saved themselves for the sprint.
Justyna Kowaczyk of Poland won the women's event by almost 14 seconds, followed by Anne Kylloenen of Finland and Maiken Caspersen Falla of Norway.
In the sprint, Chandra Crawford came close to the podium after making the finals and ranking sixth in a race where athletes were separated by fractions of a second. "I wanted to do so well at home," said Crawford. "My heart was racing and I only slept like three hours last night. I don't remember ever being hit by a wall of nervousness as I did today in the finals. I just wanted to throw down a good ski race because it is such a treat to race here."
Perianne Jones was 11th and Daria Gaiazova 20th.
Maiken Caspersen Falla took the gold medal, followed by American Kikkan Randall and Celine Brun-Lie of Norway.
On the men's side, the only Canadian to make the finals in the top eight was Len Valjas, who finished his day in seventh place. Jesse Cockney nearly came out of nowhere to make the finals but was relegated to the small finals after a photo finish put him fifth in his semi-final race. He finished his day ninth. Philip Widmer was 15th while other members of the senior team finished well back in the 50s or later.
"It was like a roller derby out there with lots of pushing and shoving," said Valjas, who towers over the other athletes with his six-foot-six frame. "I'm not sure that my tactics were right. I really tried to attack on the top of the hill, but didn't plan to get in front. I looked back and realized everyone was still drafting me and (I) didn't have a big enough gap. I am super happy with this result though."
Emil Joensson of Sweden took the gold, followed by Anders Gloeersen of Norway and Nikita Kriukov of Russia.
The last event was the skiathlon, an event where athletes race the first half on classic skis and then switch to skate skis for the second half. Maurice Manificat of France took the win in the 30km men's race, followed by Roland Clara of Italy and Sjur Roethe of Norway. Ivan Babikov led the Canadians in 12th, followed by Graham Nishikawa in 15th.
In the women's 15km race, Justyna Kowalczyk picked up her second gold of the weekend, followed by Anne Kylloenen of Finland and Vibeke Skofterud of Norway.
While Quebec and Canmore wrap up the North American leg of the World Cup tour, there's still one big event to come in Canada. From Mar. 15 to 30, Whistler Olympic Park will host the Sea to Sky Nordic Festival, which includes the national championships for all four Nordic disciplines — cross-country, biathlon, ski jumping and Nordic combined. Over 500 volunteers are needed. For more on the events or to volunteer, visit www.seatoskynordicfestival.com.
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