NOVE MESTO, Czech Republic (Jan. 17) – Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) trudged through wet snow Saturday to finish 29th in a 15K classic race won by Estonian classic specialist Andrus Veerpalu – the 2002 Olympic champion from Soldier Hollow,Â who was more than 20 seconds ahead of Norway's Frode Estil.
With temperatures in the high 30s, Veerpalu led from start to finish and was timed in 42:27.6 for the fourth victory of his career. Freeman, the lone American racing, finished in 45:00.9. He races again Sunday in freestyle sprints in Nove Mesto.
With Veerpalu winning gold, Norway’s Frode Estil captured the silver with a time of 42:49.4, while Jaak Mae, of Estonia, rounded out the top three at 42:58.0.
Canada’s developing men’s cross-country ski team got a quick taste of reality of what it is like to race at an elite level. After a week of travel on planes, trains and automobiles, Canada’s George Grey, of Rossland, B.C., and Chris Jeffries, of Chelsea, Que., headed to the starting line for their first World Cup event in a year, and only the eighth ever in their young careers. The two Canucks, who have dominated the Haywood NorAm Canada Cup circuit at home, will spend the rest of the season gaining experience at the World Cup level.
The 24-year-old Grey and 26-year-old Jeffries, who are core to the resurging national men’s cross-country ski program, finished 56th and 65th respectively in a 15-kilometre classic event filled with the highest-calibre of cross-country ski athletes in the world. Grey posted a time of 46 minutes 35.7 seconds, while Jeffries was 48:27.6.
“The World Cup is bigger, stronger, faster and it’s a whole new world,” said Chris Jeffries. “Suddenly now we’re competing against guys we look up too, and watch on television. It is much more intense out here and official. This is great experience for us as we prepare to take the next step in our racing career.”
While the two Canadian men will continue to build on the learning experiences gained this winter in Europe, Canada’s Sara Renner is looking to step up her performance in the second half of the season. But it wasn’t Renner’s day on Saturday, the 27-year Canmore, Alta. native finished a disappointing 47th after crossing the line in the 10-kilometre women’s classic competition with a time of 34:56.2.
Italy’s Gabriella Paruzzi was the top female on the day, battling her way through the sloppy course laid out in the Czech Republic, in a time of 31:17.6. Claudia Kuenzel, of Germany, grabbed the silver with a time of 31:25.3, while Katerina Neumannova thrilled the hometown crowd solidifying the final step on the podium after striding to a time of 31:30.5.
Paruzzi moved into second place in the World Cup standings behind Kristina Smigun of Estonia, who was fifth.
“It’s been a tough week of travel and getting acquainted with the environment over here in Europe,” said Dave Wood, head coach, Canadian Cross-Country Ski Team. “We just came out flat as a pancake today, but will continue to work hard to get better.”
The top cross-country skiers in the world will suit up again on Sunday for a sprint event in Nove Mesto. Canada’s top cross-country skier, 2002 Olympic gold medallist Beckie Scott, is at home in Bend, Oregan, training for the final stretch of the World Cup season. The 29-year-old will rejoin the team next week, and begin competing when the Canadian squad heads to France in two weeks.
Sources: US Ski Team & Cross Country Canada