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Whistler XC athletes off to Junior Worlds

Peiffer, Murdoch to compete in Germany from Feb. 28 to March 8
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Benita Peiffer, at right, placed second in the U20 women s sprints at the Haywood NorAm World Junior Trials in Quebec over the weekend, helping her qualify for Junior Worlds in Germany. Photo submitted

Whistler will be well represented at the FIS Nordic Junior World Championships later this month.

Two Whistler Nordics grads, Michael Murdoch and Benita Peiffer, discovered that they had cracked the team when it was officially released on Feb. 3. The championships will take place in Oberwiesenthal, Germany from Feb. 28 to March 8.

Another Whistler Nordics athlete, Joe Davies, was named as an alternate while Zoe Pekos, who was part of the Whistler Nordic Development Centre in the 2018-19 season, made Canada's U23 team.

The team was announced after the Haywood NorAm World Junior/U23 Trials at Mont-Sainte-Anne, Que., held from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2.

For her part, Peiffer placed second in U20 in the sprint, fourth in the five-km classic and 12th (fifth among U20) in the mass start.

"I was over the moon. It was my biggest goal all season and probably for the last four years," she said. "I'm super stoked, especially because it's my last year of juniors."

Because she hadn't had a heavy volume of races so far this season, Peiffer wasn't feeling entirely secure with where she sat in the junior hierarchy coming into the trials. However, knowing her training was going well and that she was feeling strong allowed her to tip the mental scales in her favour in a stressful situation.

"It was definitely a lot of pressure. This whole training season has been a build-up towards this weekend. I was super happy with the way I was able to perform this weekend and it's definitely a lot of pressure knowing that you're not super strong in every race and there are select races that you're going to be able to perform better in than others," she said. "Mine is the sprint race, which is definitely a riskier race to count on to qualify.

"Anything can happen in a sprint, but everything worked out perfectly."

Four years ago, Peiffer spent a winter in Germany training and testing herself against European competition. While she was based in Freiburg in the southwest, this competition is in eastern Germany near the Czech border, but she will appreciate the chance to return to the country.

"I feel like I'll have fun racing there. It's always a new experience whenever you go over to Europe," she said. "I've done it before, so it's not going to be new to me, but it's going to be fun."

Acknowledging it'll be difficult to achieve, Peiffer has her eyes on a top-30 finish in the sprint with the goal of qualifying for a World Cup start in either Canmore or Quebec City.

"If I'm feeling strong and everything is going according to plan, I think I can do it," she said. "Obviously, it's another new experience and racing at that level, I'm not sure when I'm going to be able to do it again so I'll be learning from the best when I'm there."

Peiffer also has international experience as a biathlete, having competed in the IBU Junior World Championships in Estonia in 2018.

As for Murdoch, after a 25th-place finish (ninth in U20) in the NorAm 1.4-km sprint, seventh-place finish in the Junior 10-km classic and a 14th-place showing (fourth in U20) in the NorAm 30-km mass start, Murdoch wasn't exactly sure where he stood and was thrilled to receive a call from national team coach Erik Braten to confirm his spot.

"It was obviously intense because it was between a lot of friends and other racers that I've been racing for a long time, but in the end, it was pretty awesome to hear the news," he said. "It was nice hearing it from someone high up in the ski world. It meant a lot."

Racing in ideal conditions, with fast snow and mild temperatures, Murdoch was for the most part pleased with how he raced.

"I had an awesome qualification, so I was really excited. I didn't have the exact sprint I wanted, but going into the distance races, I could just feel myself getting stronger and mentally prepared for the last race and knew that if I could do it, everything would work out," he said.

Murdoch, who is also attending UBC, will continue working with provincial team coach Chris Manhard while coordinating with Braten leading into the training camp in Austria before the championships. Murdoch credited Manhard and his parents for helping him get to the point he's achieved. Murdoch will compete in local races such as the Coast Cup to keep his fitness at the ideal level heading onto the world's top stage.

"I don't want to completely rest off because I'd lose the fitness that I'd gained from this past weekend. I want to keep maintaining and growing going forward into Germany," he said.

The race calendar in Germany isn't entirely set, though Murdoch will race the 30-km mass start. Ultimately, he hopes to finish in the top-30 with an eye toward landing a World Cup start in Canmore, Alta. in March.

"Racing the World Cup in Canmore would be unbelievable," he said.

Davies, meanwhile, was 32nd in the sprint (seventh in U20), sixth in the classic and 18th (fifth in U20) in the mass start.