There’s only so much warming up one can do on a 1.8-kilometer course with more than 70 other people using it. That’s why Chandra Crawford spent part of her 45-minute prep before the WinSport Frozen Thunder Classic at the Canmore Nordic Centre dancing with Jessie Diggins.
While the first unofficial race of the season and certainly the largest sprint in North America so far tested both Canadian and U.S. national team skiers, it also brought them together.
That energy – with Canadian women’s coach Eric de Nys commentating and Heidi Widmer of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) feeding him jokes — was what Crawford thrived off. On Friday, the Canadian World Cup skier and 2006 Olympic gold medalist soaked up her surroundings on the U.S. Ski Team’s last day in Canmore, Alberta, and pulled out a 0.2-second victory at the inaugural classic sprint.
She edged teammate Perianne Jones – who won the qualifier by nearly four seconds – to do so, and couldn’t have asked for a better finish. In a phone interview after the race, Crawford said Jones was the only person she really compared herself to since they share a similar training plan and worked together throughout the offseason. With all of their race skis in Sweden (where the team will train in Östersund in early November), the two each found pair in the garage to use for Friday’s sprint.
The even playing field made their battle to the finish that much more meaningful.
“Peri has been really strong all training season and was great today,” Crawford said. “Her attack on the last climb was awesome. … Over the top I pushed really hard to close it back up and managed to sneak by her on the downhill, then she came back again right into the finish.”
The two lunged at the line, and Crawford took the win. Ida Sargent, of the U.S. Ski Team (USST) and Craftsbury Green Racing Project, started out with the duo at the start of the A-final. Racing on klister training skis, the only classic skis she brought to Canmore, Sargent took the lead early, but fell behind on the final climb when Jones and Crawford went for it.
Sargent finished third, 5.63 seconds behind Crawford, and Alysson Marshall of the AWCA/Canadian Senior Development Team was fourth (+16.22).
“I was psyched to ski with [Crawford and Jones] for a lot of the race,” Sargent wrote in an email. “It’s a confidence booster for me to have a solid race under my belt for these last couple weeks of training before we head to Europe.”
In the qualifier, Crawford finished second to Jones, Marshall was third and Sargent ranked fourth. All four won their respective quarterfinals, and Jones and Crawford came out on top of the semifinals. However, the first semifinal with Jones, Sargent, Liz Stephen and Widmer, was more than 10 seconds faster than the second.
Jones had no idea they went that fast.
“Ida was right there [behind me],” she said. “I was just kind of skiing relatively controlled and doing what I had to do to make it into the next round.”
Jones bested her qualifying time of 4:15.88 by more than two seconds in the semi (in 4:13.70), and Sargent finished 0.86 seconds back. In the second semifinal, Crawford clocked a 4:23.77 to top Marshall, one of her training partners, by 0.63 seconds.
While the sprint, in which 25 women started, doesn’t bear much weight as an October race, it did indicate to Crawford and Jones that things were going in the right direction. They didn’t compare themselves to the Americans since the U.S. team did a speed workout the day before and was wrapping up a 2 ½ week camp, but they could step back and recognize their individual gains.
“I think you’re going to see different things from the [Canadian] women this year,” Jones said. “We’ve done different training and I think more effective training than in the past, and I’m excited to see our distance results also, not just our sprint results.”
Crawford was happy to see they shook the fatigue from their final dryland camp in Park City and St. George, Utah, which ended about two weeks ago. The Americans left Park City a week later and flew straight north to get on snow at Frozen Thunder.
“The snow is amazing, it’s like mid-winter now,” Jones said. “I’d say we’re still not using great skis only because there were rocks on it earlier. I don’t think there were any rocks out there today. It’s amazing; best October skiing ever.”
The conditions, which have been getting increasingly better throughout the week with more snowfall and colder temperatures, attracted another international competitor: Australian Esther Bottomley. She finished sixth in the qualifier and sixth overall after Stephen, who won the B-final for fifth place.