Dasha Gaiazova and Ivan Babikov won the season-opening Haywood NorAm cross-country skiing race series at the Sovereign Lake Nordic Club near Vernon, B.C. on Saturday afternoon.
The 23-year-old Gaiazova, who was a rookie on the World Cup circuit last year, overcame cold and windy conditions to complete the women’s 10-kilometer skate-ski race in a time of 31 minutes 16.7 seconds.
â€œI appreciate these races so much more and having an opportunity to compete for podium now that I’ve had a taste of the World Cup last year,â€ said Gaiazova, who hails from Montreal. â€œIt was tough out there today with the cold weather. It is really hard on your lungs, and when the weather is cold the snow is much slower to ski on so it is tougher.â€
Gaiazova was joined on the women’s podium by Edmonton’s Madeleine Williams, who finished 26 seconds off the pace in second (31:40.5). Tasha Betcherman, of Thunder Bay, Ont., was third at 31:42.4.
Morgan Arritola of the US Ski Team finished 4th, 40 seconds back with teammates Linsdey Dehlin and Lindsey Williams in 7th and 8th respectively.
Ivan Babikov, who relocated to Canada from Russia, grabbed the first gold medal of the season on Canada’s premiere development ski circuit. Babikov powered his way up the steep hills and around the 15-kilometer Sovereign Lake track with a time of 38:18.6.
David Nighbor, of North Bay, Ont., finished in second spot at 39:23.1, while Chris Butler, of Thunder Bay, Ont. rounded out the podium in third with a time of 39:39.6.
The top American was Noah Hoffman of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation in 11th. Ben True, Adam Swank (Fischer/Craft) and Mike Sinnott (Factory Team) placed 21st, 23rd, and 24th respectively. True finished 3rd in the 15cm classic SuperTour in West Yellowstone and Sinnott 5th.
Racing continued on Sunday with a classic sprint. Canada’s David Nighbor sprinted his way into the winner’s circle at Sovereign Lake.
The 23-year-old Nighbor, who is known more for his strength as a distance skier, had a different strategy heading into the classic sprint race. With fresh snow hovering over the 1.1-kilometer Sovereign Lake track, Nighbor used skate-ski equipment, put his head down and double-poled like mad to capture the first Teck Cominco Sprint title of the season.
â€œI just felt with the snow conditions that if I double-poled well I could muscle out the victory and I was able to do that,â€ said Nighbor, who pulled away from the pack down the final descent into the stadium. â€œBecause I am usually better in distance races, I think it is important to get on the podium in the sprint races for sure.â€
Nighbor and his Canadian teammate, Phil Widmer, of Banff, Alta., both easily qualified for the top-30 heats, which has six athletes racing head-to-head. The top-two athletes in each race move onto the next round. The twin Canadian towers cruised their way through the heats until meeting head-to-head in the final. With Widmer lurking from behind, Nighbor controlled the final heat from start-to-finish holding off the final charge from his countryman to solidify the top spot on the podium.
â€œDave raced really well today and did a great job double-poling,â€ said the 24-year-old Widmer. â€œFor me, not being on the World Cup team right now, I just want to continue keeping in race shape and have good quality races. My next major goal is to race at the World Cup in Canmore, so I’ll continue working hard to achieve that.â€
The American men fared much better in the sprint. Colin Rodgers (Fischer/Craft) took the final podium spot, with Mike Sinnott (Factory Team) right behind in 4th. Reid Pletcher (SVSEF) was 9th.
Meanwhile, Sarah Daitch, of Fort Smith, N.W.T., was sandwiched between two Americans on the women’s podium of the Teck Cominico sprints.
Lindsay Williams (USST) won the dash to the line in a hard-fought women’s battle for gold. With Daitch finishing second, Williams’ teammate, Lindsey Dehlin, rounded out the podium in third. Nicole De Yong (SVSEF) finished 8th.
The Haywood NorAm Series, now moves east to the Canmore Nordic Centre — home to Cross Country Canada and the 2008 Cross Country World Cup. Many of the nation’s best cross-country ski athletes from coast-to-coast will compete in a series of races December 6-9, 2007.
Contributing Source: Cross-Country Canada