Once again, the women led the way for the Canadian team in Liberec, Czech Republic, this time in the U23 freestyle individual-start distance races in fresh, falling snow on Thursday.
Heidi Widmer (Alberta World Cup Academy) rebounded from what she considered a disappointing result in Tuesday’s sprint to place 28th in Thursday’s 10 k.
“I am really happy for a top 30 in a distance race,” she wrote in an email after placing 34th on Tuesday. “It is a personal best for me and really encouraging.”
Widmer was 3 minutes and 5 seconds behind race winner Ragnhild Haga of Norway, who won in 27:50.4. Last season, Haga placed third in the 10 k freestyle at Canadian Nationals, well ahead of the other U23-eligible skiers present.
Widmer was a little surprised by her good day. “I had pretty low energy yesterday but after a good warmup this morning I tried to shake it all off and just focus on the moment and having the best race possible for the day,” she explained.
Widmer felt the course was in good condition, adding “there was sun in the forecast for today which I was super excited about but we got some nice fluffy snowflakes and clouds instead.”
“My skis felt really good,” she wrote. “The Canadian wax techs here are really experienced with these conditions and [with] the Liberec site so we are very lucky.”
Annika Hicks (AWCA) was the second Canadian in 37th (+3:29.3).
“I’m not too happy with my result because I know I’m capable of more,” Hicks wrote. “Unfortunately, I started feeling strong a little too late in the race, but hopefully that means good things for [Saturday's] pursuit!”
Hicks was also pleased with the course and her skis. “There was a little bit of fresh snow accumulating on the track, and we thought it’d be sunny,” she wrote. “The main race line was pretty skied in, but if you were off that you were skiing through about an inch of powder. My skis were really fast! I was passing people on the downhills (which doesn’t happen very often … I’m pretty small!). The course was great, it suits me really well. Lots of tough climbs and fast downhills.”
Andrea Lee (NDC-Thunder Bay) finished 40th (+3:45.4), nine seconds ahead of Marlis Kromm (AWCA) in 43rd.
“Today was a so-so day for me,” Kromm wrote. “I was really thinking about skiing smooth and relaxed, and skiing my own race, but felt like I was missing that top gear.”
Kromm was also happy with the work of the support team. “The conditions were good and we had awesome skis today,” she wrote. And she’s also looking forward to the pursuit. “I like the mass start races, they’re exciting and you can really get in there and fight.”
As for the Canadian men, two of the team’s stronger skate skiers – Russell Kennedy (AWCA) and Andy Shields (NDC-Thunder Bay) were unable to race because of illness, which also kept them out of the sprint. That left just two men to represent Canada on Thursday. Colin Abbott (Yukon Elite Squad) was 63rd, 4:31.4 back from Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov, who won in 35:44.1. Patrick Stewart-Jones (AWCA) was 71st (+5:16.6).
Abbott described his experience of U23 World Championships best. “It was a pretty average day for me,” he wrote, “And that just isn’t good enough against the best in the world.”
“While I wasn’t happy with how my body felt today I was happy with how I raced mentally,” he added. “I skied smart and efficient and did what I could with what my body gave me today. I’m still confident I can put together a good race for the skiathlon on Saturday.”
He echoed what other Canadians said about the venue and the skis. “The course is a challenging one with steep climbs, fast downhills and deceptively hard gradual climbs,” Abbott wrote. “Joel and Graham (the Canadian wax techs) nailed the skis today.”