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Team Canada’s U23 mixed team relay squad 6th at Nordic World Juniors

Jasmine Lyons, Liliane Gagnon, Sasha Masson and B.C. Olympian Rémi Drolet end their Whistler experience on a high note

Much like their junior-aged peers, Nordiq Canada’s U23 cross-country skiers raced to a sixth-place finish in the mixed team relay on Feb. 4 to conclude their involvement in the 2023 Nordic Ski World Juniors. Jasmine Lyons, Rémi Drolet, Liliane Gagnon and Sasha Masson joined forces to perform the four-leg race in 51 minutes and 40 seconds.

They were just 32 seconds short of a bronze medal in Whistler. 

“I think it was really good for us,” said Gagnon, who is 20 years old, after the race. “We were not feeling too good [Saturday] morning, but honestly, we crushed it.” 

France and Sweden fought to the bitter end for gold, with the French ultimately prevailing in a time of 51:05—one second ahead of their Swedish opponents. Switzerland celebrated third at 51:08, rounding out a tightly-contested podium.

A bounce-back effort 

All four relay members were coming off a difficult day on Feb. 3, as none managed to crack the top 16 in the 10-kilometre individual start. It didn’t take them long to regroup on Saturday, giving themselves—and each other—a fighting chance.

Lyons was up first. The Ottawa, Ont. native was coming off a 13th-place result in the 20-kilometre mass start and managed to keep up with race leaders stride for stride through the first of two classic-technique ski legs. 

“It was definitely hard. I did everything I could to stick with them,” said the 20-year-old in a press release. “I wanted to maintain as much contact as possible to set Rémi up with a good leg. I’m happy with how it went overall.”

One NCAA Division I student-athlete gave way to another as Lyons, a University of New Hampshire Wildcat, handed off in seventh spot to Drolet, a member of the Harvard Crimson. The 22-year-old Ivy Leaguer from Rossland, B.C. propelled his team into podium contention with a strong leg before Gagnon took over.

“I felt really good out there today, and I'm really happy with how I skied,” Drolet said. “I also want to mention that our skis were absolutely amazing today. The wax techs did an amazing job, and I think they were a big part of our performance today.” 

Gagnon skied to 12th place in the mass start, less than eight seconds ahead of Lyons that day, but unfortunately fell during her skate-ski portion of the relay. Canada dropped to 22 seconds off of the lead pace, but the athlete from Quebec City, Que. rallied to keep Masson—the anchor-leg racer—within striking distance. 

Masson brought it home. “Liliane [Gagnon] did good work to get us back into a top spot. I spent a bit too much energy trying to get back to the [leaders],” said the 20-year-old from Whitehorse, Yukon. “It was a great race and we held off a lot of really good teams. The team really worked well together and it was great to finish off strong.

“It's definitely nerve-wracking when you get tagged off in such a [vital] position, but it was so fun to come into the finish with everyone cheering.” 

Looking ahead

It’s not every day that Canadian cross-country skiers get to perform for friends, family and fans on home snow, but the U23 contingent was grateful for the love. They were also impressed by how well staff and volunteers from Whistler Olympic Park (WOP) and the Black Tusk Nordic Events Society (BTNES) brought everything together.

“It was one of the best-organized World Juniors I've been to, and I've been to quite a few at this point,” said Drolet. “Everything was really good, like, everything from the core setup to the food to the organization, commentary and broadcast. Everything was really, really good.”

“It’s also really special having a home crowd cheering for us,” added Lyons. “A lot of people knew our names out there, and our [technicians] really know how to work with the snow. [Canadian] Nationals were hosted here last year, so you could tell from the skis that people were comfortable here.” 

More hard work lies ahead. The senior-level FIS Nordic Ski World Championships will take place Feb. 21 to March 5 in Planica, Slovenia, while Lyons, Drolet and Masson will also return to collegiate competition for New Hampshire, Harvard and Laval University, respectively. The Canadians, of course, hope to peak in 2026 for the Milano Cortina Winter Olympics.

“I think as a country, it's really important to build each other up, and events like these [World Juniors] and days when we can really be there as a country really gives us a lot of inspiration to keep fighting,” said Drolet. “We know that we can be with the best. We know that in three years, we’ll be there [in Italy], fighting.”

Full results are available on the Nordic Ski World Juniors website.