Three months may not seem like a long time, but Alysson Marshall couldn’t wait much longer. Since her first race of the season on Nov. 13, the Alberta World Cup Academy and Canadian Senior Development Team member had aimed for the top spot on the podium.
Maybe she didn’t expect it in Europe, especially at World Cup races in Kuusamo, Finland, and Düsseldorf, Germany, but she wanted it at home.
In six of eight NorAm races this season, Marshall finished either second or third. She was the runner-up in five of them, including every NorAm sprint before Saturday’s 1.2 k freestyle final at the Western Canadian Championships.
There in Canmore, Alberta, she initiated change.
Aware of her teammates’ racing styles, she hung on to one in particular: Heidi Widmer (AWCA). The second-fastest woman in the qualifier after Andrea Dupont (Rocky Mountain Racers), Widmer won her quarterfinal and semifinal, and Marshall knew she’d be a good person to follow in the final.
As Widmer led once again, Marshall remained close behind, waiting for the slingshot she knew was coming on the last downhill into the stadium. On the last turn, Marshall said she took a better line and made her move. Widmer couldn’t recover and Marshall won the A-final by 1.01 seconds in 2:36.56. Widmer placed second and Marlis Kromm was third, completing the AWCA podium sweep.
“It was very exciting to cross the finish line and not have one or two people in front of me,” Marshall said in a phone interview. “I was in second until the final turn and sort of ended up in front.”
That was easier said that done, as Marshall found out last weekend at the NorAm races in Whistler, British Columbia. There, Widmer took the lead from the start and created a big enough gap on her contenders to seal the win in the 1.4 k freestyle sprint.
Despite missing another victory by a second, Widmer said she was satisfied with her result.
“My goal today was to be the top U23, so I pulled that off,” Widmer said. “It’s great that we have three Academy [women] on the podium [and] four of us in the final.”
After DuPont, who placed fourth, Emily Nishikawa rounded out the AWCA podium crew in fifth. Heather Mehain (Sovereign Lake) was sixth in the A-final.
Widmer said having teammates in the final helped in several ways. When she led in the semifinal with Marshall and Nishikawa right behind her, Marshall lightly pushed on Widmer’s poles to keep her distance and Widmer’s momentum going. In that way, they could ski tightly together with ease.
“It adds a level of comfort, but also a level of we know where we can push each other,” Widmer said. “We know each other’s strengths and each other’s weaknesses.”
Widmer said she tried to catch Marshall’s draft after she passed her in the final, but it didn’t work. Regardless, she said the race was a good test and affirmation of her fitness.
Kromm was also excited about placing third in a photo finish with Widmer. It was the second open podium of Kromm’s career after the 21-year-old placed third in last weekend’s sprint at Whistler.
Sitting in fifth before the final descent on Saturday, Kromm said it wasn’t a bad position to be in.
“I also didn’t panic too much,” she said. “From that corner, it’s kind of a short tuck into a free skate then a two skate into the finish. … I felt quite good in both my quarter and semi; I had just enough to keep it together on that downhill.”
Heading into Sunday’s 10 k freestyle pursuit, Marshall looks to be the woman to beat with a 15-second head start on Nishikawa, who ranks second, according to Western Canadian Championships standings on Zone4.ca.
“I’m just going to have to go out as hard as I can and see if I can hold the other girls off tomorrow,” Marshall said. “I’m sure it’s going to be tight.”