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North America’s top cross-country athletes converge on Whistler Olympic Park

Hundreds of athletes from Canada and the U.S. compete in cross-country championships and US Super Tour finals from March 20 to 27
Ethan Hess
Paralympic cross-country sit skier and Pemberton local Ethan Hess shown here competing at the 2022 Canadian Ski Championships at Whistler Olympic Park.

Hundreds of North America’s best cross-country athletes were on hand at Whistler Olympic Park last week for the 2022 Canadian Ski Championships and US Super Tour Finals.

Among the top competitors at the week-long event spanning March 20 to 27 were a handful of Olympians, including Americans Jessie Diggins and Julia Kern—who led the pack in most of their events—as well as Canada’s Cendrine Browne and Katherine Stewart-Jones.

Some of Canada’s best young athletes were also in attendance, including Jasmine and Remi Drolet and Tom Stephen, who will be looking to return in January when the World Junior Championships and U23 Championships come to WOP.

While the event didn’t go quite as well as local cross-country athlete Michael Murdoch had hoped, he said having the stiffer competition with the addition of the US Super Tour race added more excitement and fun to the racing, and gave him a clearer picture of where his skiing needs to be to qualify for the U23 Championships in January.

“It’s nice to see how everyone’s doing around North America. See where you are with that group. It’s a motivating scene. Seeing these fast guys in front of you makes you want to train a little harder,” he said. “It definitely makes you [want] to step up your game and get training ASAP. I’ve been looking forward to the [U23 Championships] for a while and I know it’s going to be hard to qualify, but this event will be good motivation for the summer and fall training. It should be a really exciting event because I think the last international event that we’ve had here was probably the Olympics.”

Like Murdoch, things didn’t go as planned for 2022 Paralympian and Pemberton local Ethan Hess. After competing in the men’s sitting five-kilometre free technique on the first day of competition, Hess tested positive for COVID-19, prematurely bringing his season to an end.

And while this competition was more so a fun way to cap off the year as opposed to a hyper-competitive event for Hess, he said it was still a little disappointing not being able to go head-to-head in the sprint events with Collin Cameron—one of Canada’s top cross-country sit skiers.

“At a World Cup, the top 12 qualify [in sprint events] and unfortunately at the Games, I wasn’t able to qualify. And I’d never gone head-to-head with him in a heat,” said Hess.

“So I was really looking forward to that. Sprint is just such a fun day to be on site and watch the other races as well, so it was really disappointing, but the main thing was making it to the Games COVID free. So it wasn’t the worst timing in the world.”

Despite only competing in one race, Hess said he is thankful for the opportunity to help show off what para sports are all about at such a big event and bring more attention to just how good para athletes can be.

“I think it’s awesome. I think it’s really important that para sports try to have at least a possible podium at major competitions like nationals,” said Hess. “I think that will go a long way to increasing the visibility and people thinking about and talking about para-skiing, especially when you have a guy who is as good as Collin. I think that that raises the awareness when they see how incredibly fast some of these guys are.”

Aside from the continuously changing conditions that the athletes had to deal with, the competition went off without a hitch, according to Norm Laube, chair of host organization Black Tusk Nordic Events.

“For an event that spans over an entire week, you’re going to get some different weather and conditions really changed dramatically every day. We had some wet, rainy days, but then we had some crisp, cold mornings that allowed the snow to be nice and firm … it was a little bit of everything,” he said.

“But it was exciting. It’s really the biggest event that’s happened since the 2010 Olympics. We had a really strong group of folks that knew that we could collectively handle an event like this, and we’re just really happy that everything flowed smoothly from folks getting into the venue, to parking, to having food and beverage service at the venue. Logistically, it all came together.”

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