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Widmer, Dupont Dominate Qualifier & Heats to Take NorAm Classic Sprint

Michael Somppi (second closest) edges three Alberta World Cup Academy teammates in a lunge to the line of Saturday’s NorAm classic sprint semifinal in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Jesse Cockney (closest) took second, Graham Nishikawa (third closest) was third, and Brent McMurtry was fourth by 0.06 seconds. (Zone4 photo)

The focus at the NorAm World Junior/U23 Trials hosted by Lappe Nordic shifted to classic sprinting today with a shift in the top of the podiums to match. The pressure was rising for athletes chasing a limited number of spots on the U23 and World Junior races in Liberec, Czech Republic, while older athletes tried to accumulate points toward a trip to the World Championships in Val di Fiemme.

Phil Widmer of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) won the men’s qualifier and each of his heats with only teammate Graeme Killick getting close to beating him in the quarterfinal. Widmer described the course and his plan in an email: “With the first half of the race being very easy and the second half being very hard, it meant the race really started at the halfway point. I wanted to be up in the top 3 starting at the midway point and be ready to fight to the finish.”

The second semifinal had four skiers finish within 0.06 seconds. Hometown boy Michael Somppi (AWCA), who won the fastest heat of the day, finished in 3:28.81, just edging teammate Jess Cockney by 0.03 seconds for both to advance to the final. Graham Nishikawa (AWCA) tied Cockney on time, 0.03 seconds ahead of fourth-place finisher Brent McMurtry (AWCA). After a finish that tight, it was suitable that both Nishikawa and McMurtry advanced as lucky losers, putting five AWCA athletes in the A-final.

In the final, Somppi started well and led the group into the long climb. “Unfortunately my legs didn’t have much left and I struggled up the climb,” he wrote. “Phil skied the final tactically very well. He was right behind me starting the climb and took the lead when I faltered. He continued to ski strong to the line.”

Widmer won the 1.4-kilometer final with a clear lead in 32:29.7. Patrick Stewart-Jones (AWCA) finished second 1.6 seconds behind.

“The final was a hard fight,” Stewart-Jones wrote.  “I didn’t have a great start and was always skiing in the outside track trying to move up. In the end Phil was just too strong today, but I’m really happy with my second place!”

Cockney, who was ninth in the Canmore World Cup sprint in December, settled for third, just 0.13 seconds behind Stewart-Jones.

Brian McKeever won the B-final in 3:34.81, well ahead of Killick. Junior Raphael Couturier of the Pierre-Harvey Training Centre (CNEPH) was fifth after moving up to the senior race once he knew Thursday’s skiathlon guaranteed his spot in Liberec.

Couturier saw this as a learning opportunity. “It’s a really good opportunity to improve my strategies and to have a better idea of what WJ will look like,” he wrote.

In the Junior Men’s field, Alexis Turgeon (CNEPH) emulated Widmer, winning the qualifier and then all of his heats. In the final, he finished in 3:36.73, more than a second ahead of Ezekial Williams (Nakkertok) and another second ahead of Dominique Moncion-Groulx (Nakkertok).

In the women’s 1.2 k sprint, Andrea Dupont (Rocky Mountain Racers) led the way, winning all her heats after Emily Nishikawa (AWCA) won the qualifier.  Alysson Marshall (AWCA) was second in the A-final, finishing 0.16 seconds behind Dupont’s time of 3:18.10 and almost four seconds in front of third place Nishikawa.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had won the qualifier, and the heats went fairly well,” Nishikawa wrote in an email. “I struggled a bit with kick on the climb, but overall I felt pretty good.”

“In the final, Alysson and I were still together coming over the top of the hill,” Dupont wrote. “She was able to get a bit of a draft in a dip before the finishing double pole stretch. She had more momentum than myself coming through the final corner to the double pole finish. So, I had a bit of ground to make up in the finishing stretch. Fortunately double poling is a strength for me and I was able to recover enough and out lunge her at the line.”

“I felt pretty good today,” Marshall wrote. “I had a rough start to the season and this was one of the first races that I’ve felt my normal speed come back. It was disappointing to miss the win in a lunge, but I was happy to feel strong again. I managed to stay out of trouble in the quarters and semis and made it into the final. In the final I was mid-pack at the bottom of the course but jumped in a lane behind Andrea and stuck with her up the climb. We got a bit of a gap over the other girls and had a double pole battle to the finish.”

Kate Brennan (AWCA) was fourth, over a second ahead of teammate Marlis Kromm who earned a trip to U23’s with her effort. Local favourite Erin Tribe (NDC Thunder Bay) rounded out the A-final in sixth.

In the Junior Women’s event, Maya MacIsaac-Jones (RMR), following a trend for the day, won the qualifier and all her heats. Katherine Stewart-Jones (Nakkertok) was second, two seconds behind MacIsaac-Jones’ winning time of 3:22.28.  Alannah MacLean (NDC Thunder Bay) grabbed the final podium place for local pride, ahead of Cendrine Browne (CNEPH), Dahria Beatty (AWCA), and Frederique Vezina (CNEPH).

Full results are at zone4.ca, along with heat brackets.

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