Crawford back in the hunt 

Canadian sprint teams in top 10 in German world cup races

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The Canadian Cross-Country team is still without a podium this season, but it's only a matter of time. In the past two weeks five athletes have placed in the top 10, and three have placed in the top five.

The big news from Dusseldorf, Germany is the return of Chandra Crawford to race form. Crawford won gold in the women's Olympic sprint in 2006, but has been slow to return to form since injuring her ankle in 2008. She managed to race in the 2010 Winter Games, but missed more than a season of racing and wasn't in top form. Since then she's struggled to get her stride back while continuing to work on her ankle, which was diagnosed with frictional bursitis.

In the women's sprint at Dusseldorf, Crawford came within a fraction of a second of her first podium since her injury, posting her best result in three years by finishing fourth behind Kikkan Randall of the U.S. Natalia Matveeva of Russia and Laurien Va Der Graaf of Swtzerland.

"I've trained better than ever this summer and I'm happy to be one-third of the way to my goal of making all three sprint finals this month," said the 28-year-old Canmore resident. "I've never been fourth before and sure thought I had the podium, but got a bit stiff in the final metres and the Swiss girl zipped by me. Hey, my first final in three years — I'll take it."

Perianne Jones couldn't advance past the qualifier and finished 32nd. Daria Gaiazova, who was Canada's best skier at the World Cup opener the previous weekend, was 46th.

While the Canadian men have been the highlight of the national program for the last few years, Devon Kershaw was the top Canadian in the sprint in 18th place. The top men in the squad, including Kershaw, came into the weekend with the flu.

In the team sprints the next day, Perianne Jones and Crawford managed a seventh place finish — a promising start for both athletes in the discipline.

On the men's side, Canada's top team of Kershaw and Alex Harvey spent the day on the sidelines. It was just as well, with veteran Drew Goldsack and teammate Len Valjas placing fifth in the race. It was Valjas's second top five result in as many weeks after a career-best fifth place result the previous week.

"Things haven't been going well so far this year, but today is a sign that things are turning around for me," said Goldsack. "I was definitely feeling better than I have been over the last few weeks. Len and I make a good duo. Len is dangerous down the stretch, and I am able to start well and make moves in the later laps. Our strengths really complement each other."

The next races are this weekend in Davos, Switzerland.

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