Whistler skiers reflect on Junior Worlds 

Peiffer had qualified for first World Cup

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF TONY PEIFFER - Benita Peiffer at the FIS Junior World Ski Championships in Oberwiesenthal, Germany.
  • Photo courtesy of Tony Peiffer
  • Benita Peiffer at the FIS Junior World Ski Championships in Oberwiesenthal, Germany.

Over the last several days, the world changed really quickly and forced pretty much everyone to adapt.

Some of those alterations were major, and proportionally, some were a little more minor.

In the span of just a few days, Whistler cross-country skier Benita Peiffer went from the joys of qualifying to make her FIS World Cup debut, to discovering that the Canadian team was pulling itself from the Quebec City race to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19, to the contest ultimately being cancelled for the same reason.

Competing at the FIS Junior World Ski Championships at Oberwiesenthal, Germany, the 19-year-old finished 25th in the sprint race on Feb. 29 to lock in her spot at the Quebec World Cup, which was scheduled for March 13 to 15.

"It was incredible to get top-30 at World Juniors and finish in 25th," she said. "That was one of my goals going into World Juniors, and I wouldn't have been disappointed if I hadn't accomplished that, but it was definitely one of my biggest goals and I'm really happy that I was able to place top 30."

Peiffer said the qualification unfortunately will not carry over for when racing resumes in the future, but while self-isolating in Calgary, she said it's the least of her concerns at this time.

"We won't have any World Cups in Canada next year, so that won't even be possible, but I'm sure there'll be another opportunity like that in my future," she said. "I'm not too worried."

Peiffer said that a gap still exists, generally, between Canadian skiers and those from the top countries, but she and her teammates are eager to train and try to narrow that void.

"It's a reality check to see where we are as Canadians and where we can place in such a large field. Sprint is my best race, so I was definitely counting on that if I was going to qualify for the World Cup, so there was definitely a little more pressure on that race," she said. "In those circumstances where the competition is so tough, you just have to focus on what you can do."

Peiffer acknowledged that she was lucky to have made the sprint finals as she qualified in 30th, just on the cutoff line. Though she didn't advance from her first heat, she was glad to at least have risen a few spots.

"My first heat was very challenging and I was up against some of the best girls in the world," she said. "I did make up a few spots, but it was definitely very intimidating to race against such fast skiers. In Canada, we're definitely not used to that tough level of competition. It was different race tactics, a lot more aggressive. I just had to learn how to ski behind some of those faster girls.

"As soon as I finished, I just wanted to do it again because I'm just not used to racing against that level of competition."

Peiffer placed 49th in both of her other events, the five-km classic and 15-km mass start.

Meanwhile, fellow Whistlerite Michael Murdoch competed in just one race, the 30-km mass start on March 4, finishing 45th.

While he enjoyed being at the championships and taking on the world, the format was admittedly a little frustrating for Murdoch, as he watched his teammates line up while he had to wait and warm up for his lone shot.

"I wasn't super excited on my performance. I don't really know why I didn't have a great race, but I know that that just isn't what I'm used to, especially in comparison to some of the other Canadian guys who were there, who I'm normally competing with," he said. "It was a little hard. There was a lot of time leading up to it and I hit one race and that was it.

"I didn't get much prep for the actual racing scene. I had a lot of training time, but just not a lot of race prep."

Murdoch said it was initially difficult to plan what distances they were going to race, as there were low-snow conditions in the region. However, Ullr stepped up and provided 15 centimetres before the first race and the championships proceeded as normal.

Murdoch, 20, also appreciated having extra support from the Canadian national team, such as a wax tech, in attendance.

The big encouraging moment for the Canadians was seeing the junior boys' team of Xavier McKeever, Olivier Leveille, Thomas Stephen and Remi Drolet come away with the silver medal in the 4-by-5-km relay on March 6.

While Murdoch would have loved to have been part of the quartet that was chosen to race, he was proud to see what the crew accomplished.

"We always talk about the American team [which won], how you watch them go and it seems like they're about to die for their country on the ski trails and we always wished that Canada had that," he said. "Watching those guys ski out there, it looked exactly like the Americans."

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