CANMORE, Alberta – It was four years ago, but the memory’s still pretty fresh for 29-year-old Canadian National Team member Chandra Crawford.
She had been cruising into the stadium at the Canmore Nordic Centre and saw the sun beating down on the final flat. Beyond that, she glanced at the Three Sisters mountains, an iconic range in her hometown.
Then she won gold in the World Cup skate sprint. It had been a great moment, one she’d never forget, but it wasn’t the end-all.
The night before Saturday’s 1.3-kilometer freestyle sprint, Crawford said she didn’t sleep much. Her heart raced thinking about the sprints and what she wanted to achieve. Without an individual top 30 on the World Cup yet this season, she had a big hill to climb – and at Canmore, that’s literal.
Crawford attacked the challenging course from the qualifier, completing the up-and-down loop with the third fastest time of the morning behind her friend Kikkan Randall of the U.S. and Laurien van der Graaff of Switzerland. Randall won the qualifier in 2:55.48, and Crawford was just 2.94 seconds slower.
The crowd went wild. Born in Canmore, Crawford was the top Canadian qualifier – female or male – on the day. What’s more, she went on to advance as a lucky loser twice in the quarterfinals and semifinals. She had been third in her quarterfinal by 0.5 seconds to winner Celine Brun-Lie (NOR) and runner-up Ida Sargent (USA), then placed fourth in a fast heat behind Denise Herrmann (GER), Randall and Maiken Caspersen Falla (NOR), respectively.
Her dad, Glen, a cameraman for the Canadian Broadcasting Company, first told Crawford she made the final. Just like in 2008, he was the first person she saw at the finish.
“I’m just really lucky I can cross the finish line and look up and see my dad,” she told the Canadian Press after winning in Canmore four years ago. “It’s pretty unique on a World Cup I think.”
Yet it happened again on Saturday, and this time, it might have been a bit more dramatic.
“I stumbled out of that tent like, ‘Oh, that was a hell of a day,’ and he’s like, ‘You’re gonna be in the final!’ ” she recalled. As soon as the spectators found out, they were ecstatic, too.
In the final, Crawford finished sixth behind Falla, Randall, Brun-Lie, Herrmann and Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg, respectively. She had been in contention for a podium, following Randall in fourth up the climb. Randall moved from third to first, but Crawford couldn’t answer her push. Randall and Falla skied away from the field, and the remaining four battled for third.
“I got gapped over the top by Maiken and Kikkan, not enough K’s in my name probably,” Crawford said. “And then I thought, ‘OK, get third. You gotta beat, like, Herrmann or something.’ That was all going pretty well, but everyone had a little more jam than me coming down the homestretch. Being a double lucky loser I think I took it pretty far.”
Smiling at the finish, Crawford talked about the cowboy-hat-wearing crowd that fueled her.
“That’s definitely where I got a lot of the positivity from today,” she said. “I was really forcing it this last week to get my mind around some belief and some confidence. It’s been a little bit tricky.”
At the same time, her form was coming around and the Canmore course suited her, Crawford said. It was drastically harder than the one she won on previously, but the conditions combined with her fast skis and high energy made for her season-best result.
Not far behind in 11th, teammate Perianne Jones notched a World Cup individual best after qualifying in 14th, taking second in the quarterfinal and sixth in the semi.
A Canmore resident when she’s not traveling the world, Jones showed her knowledge of the course, sitting back in the quarterfinal and catching the slingshot draft on the last hill. She jetted into the stadium and advanced in second behind Falla. In the semifinal, she couldn’t quite hold on and skied alone into the finish.
“My legs were full of lactic acid and I was working really hard to go up that hill,” Jones said. “I didn’t have it in me. I lost a lot of time over the top. …. I really wanted to be in there in that last heat, and I’m pretty bummed about that, but I was really happy with the way I skied my quarterfinal so that’s the positive thing.”
Jones has also been dealing with illness since notching her previous best of 12th three weeks ago in Kuusamo, Finland. Last weekend, like Crawford, she failed to make the top 30 at the Quebec World Cup and advance in the sprint.
“It’s been slow to start. I’ve had to really listen to my body and respect my body,” Jones said. “I’ve had to sit out a lot of races, which is hard when all I want to do is race, but it’s coming around and I think after Christmas I’ll be even stronger.”
The third woman on Canada’s World Cup team, Dasha Gaiazova placed 20th after narrowly qualifying in 29th. Upset after her run ended in the quarterfinals, where she was fifth, she talked about what the race meant to her, especially so close to her home in Banff.
“Every sprint, every race is so precious, especially Canmore, it’s so cool,” Gaiazova said. “I think as a team, we all feel like we’re in good shape, just as good as last year, but we just need some results to prove it, I guess. I think everybody’s just getting a little impatient, maybe. I’m sure it’s gonna come. Every little detail out on the race course is so important to execute well.”
She simply didn’t have enough left at the end.
“When I first started climbing I felt like, I can push harder,” she said. “And [I said], ‘Screw this I’m going to the front and I can do this.’ I felt like, this is great, this is exactly what I want to be doing, so I kept pushing all the way. At the end, I don’t know, the finishing stretch is a little uphill so you really need to push hard through that and I just ran out of gas.
“It’s unfortunate,” she added. “I’ll try next time.”
Regardless, it was an improvement since her last World Cup skate sprint in Canmore. Back in 2008 when she was struggling with Celiac disease, she placed 42nd.
Just outside of the top 30 on Saturday, Heidi Widmer of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) placed 34th for her best individual World Cup result. Born in Banff, she’s lived in Canmore for the last five years.
“I was really rooting for a qualification in my backyard, but it’s also motivating at the same time,” Widmer said.
Andrea Dupont (Rocky Mountain Racers) finished 41st, Alysson Marshall (AWCA/NST) was 43rd, Kate Brennan (AWCA) placed 47th and Emily Nishikawa (AWCA/NST) was 48th.
Also racing for Canada, Dahria Beatty (Yukon Ski Team) was 55th, Marlis Kromm (AWCA) 57th, Alana Thomas (AWCA) 61st, Rebecca Reid (AWCA) 62nd, Maya McIsaac-Jones (RMR) was 63rd, Erin Tribe (Thunder Bay) 65th and Zoe Roy (RMR) 67th.
– Gerry Furseth contributed reporting