(Note: This recap has been updated with comments from Heidi Widmer.)
Tuesday didn’t go exactly as the Canadians at the FIS Nordic U23 World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic, had planned. Starting the week off with classic sprints, many had hoped to make the rounds. Out of five, none did.
But several were close. Canadian team leader Lisa Patterson told Cross Country Canada that it wasn’t their best day of racing – but they were also going against the best in the world.
“At the Under-23 World Championships you can’t get away with an average day,” Patterson said in the press release. “We are looking for some better results over the next two days when we hit the short distance freestyle events.”
One of the team’s highlights, Marlis Kromm, 22, of the Alberta World Cup Academy finished 32nd in the women’s 1.3-kilometer sprint qualifier, just 1.06 seconds outside qualifying in the top 30. Kromm could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Not far behind, teammate Heidi Widmer (AWCA) was 34th, 1.74 seconds from qualifying and 18.75 seconds behind top qualifier Elena Soboleva of Russia, who went on to win her quarterfinal, semifinal and final. Last year, Widmer qualified in 16th in the freestyle sprint at U23 World Championships in Erzurum, Turkey. She ended up 27th overall (while Kromm was 36th).
“I definitely expected to qualify and had a goal of a top 12 result, so angry and confused are my first reactions,” Widmer wrote in an email. “I know that I am capable of these results and believe in my ability, so when it doesn’t pan out the way I had hoped, it is hard to understand why. I felt I skied the course the way I had intended and did everything in my power to have a good race, but I just didn’t have the fitness to back it up today.”
Less than three weeks ago, Widmer, 21, suffered a mild concussion in the NorAm Junior World/U23 trials classic sprint. Her head was fine Tuesday, she explained.
“I had better energy [while training] in Austria, but maybe that was more to do with the sunlight!” she wrote. “We had really good preparation leading into today’s competition and although I didn’t feel like I had my top form, I thought that I put together the best I was capable of, but came up short.”
Andrea Lee, 22, of the Thunder Bay National Development Centre (NDC) placed 47th (+29.28) in her U23 debut.
Of the Canadian men, Patrick Stewart-Jones (AWCA) posted the best result in 39th. He was 12.97 seconds behind top qualifier and eventual winner Frederico Pellegrino of Italy, and about five seconds out of qualifying.
One of two Canadian men to race, Stewart-Jones, 21, wrote in an email that he was fortunate to avoid various ailments that have been affecting his team. Andy Shields (NDC-Thunder Bay) was unable to start because of sickness, and Russell Kennedy (AWCA) was also ill, according to Colin Abbott (Yukon Elite Squad), who was 47th on Tuesday.
“Andy has either food poisoning or gastroenteritis,” Abbott explained. “He hasn’t eaten much in the last two days. Russell has been in bed for most of the past 4 days with a fever, cough and upset stomach.”
“Despite being healthy I felt like I missing a couple of gears and just couldn’t get in the right zone for racing,” Stewart-Jones wrote. “I felt flat warming up and hoped I would feel better racing but unfortunately I didn’t.”
With a mix of manmade and natural snow, the conditions were good and course suited him, he explained.
“Unfortunately the sprint was the race I was really looking forward to,” Stewart-Jones added. “Now I’ll just try to prepare the best I can for the next two races. I suppose the pursuit is my best chance left for a good result.”
Abbott, 22, who was 16.86 seconds behind the leader, explained in an email that he lost time in the final stretch.
“I felt snappy and strong up the first big climb, unfortunately my body let me down in the last 300 meters,” he wrote. “While I was hoping to qualify today, this is my first European race experience and I’m trying to keep expectations on results to a minimum. I really have no idea where a good race would put me in the standings so I’m focusing on trying to have good races and figuring out what a ‘good result’ is later.
“The 30km pursuit is the race I’m most looking forward to,” Abbott added. “I’m excited to race head to head with this field!”
That said, he feels for his teammates.
“It’s been hard seeing two of my team-mates unable to race here so far due to illness,” Abbott wrote. “Andy and Russell worked their butts off to make it here and I know that no matter how hard a race hurts, it always hurts more to not be able to race.”