Top skiers get first taste of Nordic centre 

New Canadian Ivan Babikov beats world’s best skiers in Whistler

click to enlarge TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW: Sweden's Emil Jonsson, one of the top sprinters in the world, set the pace in the individual sprints at Whistler Olympic Park last week. Photo by David Mccolm
  • TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW: Sweden's Emil Jonsson, one of the top sprinters in the world, set the pace in the individual sprints at Whistler Olympic Park last week. Photo by David Mccolm

Despite fluctuating temperatures, weather that ranged from sunshine to blizzard, and some of the top cross-country ski racers from around the world turning up to check out the 2010 venue, Canada’s national athletes looked very good at last week’s Haywood Ski Nationals.

Most international athletes passed on the first event, the Team Classic Sprints, on March 16. In the University category, the University of Calgary placed first on the men’s side, followed by Okanagan College and Augustana.

On the women’s side Lakehead University took the top spot, followed by Laurentian University and Carleton University.

In the Junior Men’s sprint the Banff Ski Runners were first, followed by Nakkertok and Sovereign Lake. For the Junior Girls, the Foothill Nordic team was first, followed by Nakkertok and Sovereign Lake.

In Open Men, Olympic veteran Phil Widmer and Stefan Kuhn placed first overall for the Canmore Nordic Centre, followed by two teams from the Foothills Nordic club. The second team featured Robin McKeever, who guides his visually impaired brother Brian McKeever in the Paralympics.

On the women’s side, Americans Laura Valaas and Kikkan Randall were first by a long margin, followed by teams from Nakkertok and Mont Sainte Anne.

In the 5 km short course race on March 18, Kikkan Randall of the U.S. placed first for the Open Women, while Canada’s Olympic gold medalist Chandra Crawford was second. Liz Stephen of the surprising U.S. team picked up the bronze. Sara Renner, who took last season off to have a baby, placed fifth.

In Open Men, Stefan Kuhn placed first for Canada, followed by Ivan Babikov and George Grey.

Whistler’s Tyler Mosher, a member of the Canadian 2010 Team, was third in the Para-Nordic standing category, falling back from second after a fall on the descent — one of many costly falls for the Canadians last week. A Japanese skier, Yoshihiro Nitta, was first.

Things got a little more interesting on March 19 in the medium distance race. Babikov, a Russian skier living in Canmore for the past four years, at last earned his Canadian citizenship in December. He raced under the maple leaf for the first time against a strong international field in the nationals with the goal of representing Canada in the 2010 Winter Games.

“This is an important event for me for many reasons, but it is nice to be here now as a Canadian,” said Babikov, who won the race by 35 seconds. “It is the Olympic venue and I am trying to get comfortable out here so I’m ready in two years.

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