WHISTLER, B.C. — Whistler Olympic Park delivered the first warm and slow day of Canadian Nationals for Tuesday’s classic individual starts. The younger skiers got fast snow in the morning and open categories got sticky, transformed snow in the afternoon. By the time the final starter, World Cup Team member Ivan Babikov, hit the line, the temperature had reached 9 degrees Celsius and the very fast conditions of the first two races were a memory.
World Cup sprint specialist Dasha Gaiazova, also of Rocky Mountain Racers, who arrived just sixteen hours earlier from Sweden, showed no signs of jet lag as she destroyed the field, winning the women’s 10-kilometer race in 34:04.2. Clocking the fastest splits throughout the three-lap race, it was apparent that Gaiazova was the strongest from the start.
“I just got off the plane from Sweden last night,” she said. “It was a long flight and I’m feeling pretty jet lagged, but it was a surprisingly good day for me.”
“At this time of the season we have been racing for five months and it is easy to just shut it down mentally and not push to the maximum,” she said. “Today I really wanted to do a really good job of giving it my all.”
Gaiazova’s all was too much for the rest of the field. Japan’s Chisa Obayashi finished 1:23.5 minutes back in second. After racing three days earlier at Japan’s nationals, Obayashi flew to Canada in search of FIS points and the possibility of earning a start at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Obayashi said she struggled with her technique and the effects of jet lag, but moved up from eighth in the first lap past competitors that were slowing down in the softening snow. Asked about Thursday’s classic sprint, the distance specialist replied, “I like long distance.”
Another Canadian World Cup Team member, Perianne Jones (Nakkertok) returned to Canmore, Alberta, a week earlier than her teammates, who qualified for World Cup Finals. She finished third on Tuesday, 11.7 seconds behind Obayashi, and collected the silver as second Canadian.
“It was really fun to be out here,” Jones said. “It’s a beautiful day and seeing the whole Canadian ski community and everyone from my club and everyone who has been supporting us all year, but [the race] was tough.”
“I am looking forward to the sprint on Thursday,” Jones added. “One k is more my thing than 10.”
Alysson Marshall of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) continued to finish her season strong, taking fourth (+1:42.5) to collect her second bronze of the week.
Eliska Hajkova (University of Colorado-Boulder) was the top non-Canadian in seventh. American Caitlin Gregg (Central Cross Country), and Anne-Marie Comeau (Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre) was the top junior in 11th overall.
Second No More, McMurtry Claims Gold
In the men’s 15 k classic interval start, Brent McMurtry (AWCA) collected his first individual Canadian title with a solid performance in slower, deeper snow of the afternoon, winning in 41:26.9.
“It feels pretty good [to be national champion],” McMurtry said. “I’ve been second many, many times and I am happy to finally get a win.”
While almost every skier had a slower second lap in the softening conditions, McMurtry lost less than most to set the fastest second lap time, moving up from second place after the first of two 7.5 k laps.
Norwegian Rune Ødegärd, a sophomore at the University of Colorado, faded after a commanding first lap to take silver, 22.8 seconds behind.
“It was so nice out there, really warm, really slow, really tough for every one,” Ødegärd said. “It’s fun racing, spring skiing.”
After missing his warmup because he was waxing his own skis, Ødegärd thought he had started his first lap too slowly, but soon discovered that it was actually too fast. Leading after the first lap, he was fourth fastest the second time around to hang onto second place.
“I had really good skis,” he said, crediting help from the team in the neighboring wax cabin and personal klister expertise from growing up in a coastal town in Norway.
David Greer of the Yukon Elite Squad (YES) finished in third to take the Canadian silver, 44.3 seconds behind McMurtry.
“[I had] good glide, good grip and I felt super-strong on the first lap,” Greer said. “On the second lap, I started to hurt pretty bad, but I was able to keep it under control.”
In the first season of the Elite Squad, his achievement marked the team’s first individual nationals podium.
Graham Nishikawa (AWCA) topped off a great day for Whitehorse, taking fourth place 8.9 seconds behind Greer, his club-mate.
“Today was pretty tough,” Nishikawa said, “I had no power out there, but I was just focusing on skiing fast and smooth.”
Nishikawa’s bronze medal matches the one he got on Saturday’s team sprint with Colin Abbott. That day, Greer took silver with Knute Johnsgaard.
“I think our team had amazing skis,” Nishikawa said. “Alain [Masson] did a great job [along] with the whole staff here.”
The Yukon staff is feeling the love; the YES team baked beavertails for the support team during Monday’s rest day.
Sylvan Ellefson (SSCV/Team HomeGrown) took fifth place for the U.S., and Kevin Sandau (AWCA) edged pre-race favourite Graeme Killick (AWCA) for sixth. David Palmer (Blackjack) was the top junior man in 12th, 2:57.5 behind the winner.
The rest of the Canada’s World Cup team flew back from Sweden on Monday. Emily Nishikawa (AWCA) and Ivan Babikov (NST) shook off the travel to arrive at the start line and hear the appreciative crowd. Both looked visibly tired on the first climb out of the stadium, with snap and power absent, possibly lost in somewhere over the Atlantic. Emily Nishikawa finished the race, while Babikov dropped out partway through the second lap.
The crowd roared each time the stadium announcer mentioned one of the four World Cup Team members who made the effort to race on home snow after a long season in Europe.
Lenny Valjas was a surprise non-starter for his favoured 15 k classic event, while Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw had earlier announced that they wouldn’t be racing.