DUNTROON, ONT. â€” Sara Renner began her comeback to the international podium with a gold medal in the women’s 10-kilometer cross-country skiing pursuit race, while George Grey shocked the field after skiing his way to the podium for the first time this year in the men’s 20-kilometer pursuit at the Haywood NorAm Series in Duntroon, Ontario on Thursday.
The Olympic silver medalist Renner, who took last year off to have a baby daughter following an incredible competitive season in 2006 where she skied onto the international podium five times including a silver-medal victory at the Olympic Winter Games, began a long journey back to elite skiing form on Thursday by holding off a hard-charging Madeleine Williams to win the women’s pursuit race with a time of 34 minutes 25.9 seconds.
â€œIt was a good testing of the waters after a year of baby raising,â€ said Renner after her second competitive race after her one-year hiatus — her first was at a World Cup race prior to the holiday break in Switzerland. â€œI felt comfortable out there today, but I’m still looking for that upper gear which I hope will come after just getting in more races.â€
Winning the gold at the Haywood NorAm event — the premier development race series in North America — wasn’t easy for the 31-year-old Renner on a cold day in Ontario. Following the lead trail cut by Edmonton’s Madeleine Williams for most of the race, the Canadian duo pulled away from the pack half-way through the five-kilometer classic leg. Renner managed to out-duel Williams down the finishing stretch in the final sprint to the line. The pursuit race combines classic with skate-skiing. Athletes enter a transition zone between the two legs to change equipment while the clock is still running.
â€œIt was a fight today, but it is nice to be back racing again and to feel the love of the Canadian cross-country ski community,â€ said Renner. â€œIt is important for me to do more racing and I’m looking forward to competing at the World Cups in Canmore later this month.â€
Williams settled for the silver medal with a time of 34:27.0, while Tasha Betcherman, of Thunder Bay, Ont., skied into the bronze-medal position of the podium at 35:30.9.
When the dust settled in the women’s event, Canada’s top male cross-country skiers hit the start line for a 20-kilometre pursuit race and a final tune-up to the World Cups that will be staged in Canmore later this month.
George Grey, of Rossland, B.C., who struggled to find his racing legs after a busy holiday season where he tried to balance family activities with training, fought his way back to the top of the pack in the skate-skiing portion of the race to post a winning time of 1:29:05.7.
â€œThat was a big fight for me today and my legs were paying for it,â€ said Grey. â€œI got shelled off the back in the classic
Grey, who has not been satisfied with his performance so far this year on the World Cup, used the Haywood NorAm race as a training mechanism to prepare for the World Cup in Canmore.
â€œThis is a great confidence booster for me. I want to continue training hard this week and hopefully start feeling good and cruise into the World Cups and snap off some good results.â€
Grey’s World Cup teammate, Drew Goldsack of Red Deer, Alta., finished second at 1:29:06.9, while Toronto’s Gord Jewett was third (1:29.08.1).
Canada’s Under-23 and World Junior Team Trials is also being staged in conjunction with the Duntroon stop on the Haywood NorAm series. Marlis Kromm, of Calgary, and Frederic Touchette, of St-FerrÃ©ol, Que., grabbed a stride ahead of the competition in their bid to represent Canada in early February against the best junior cross-country skiers in the world, winning the women’s and men’s junior pursuit races respectively. Canada’s World Junior Team will be named following the completion of races this weekend.
The Haywood NorAm Series continues on Saturday with the Teck Cominco Sprints.
Complete Results: www.zone4.ca
Top-Five Women’s Results:
1. Sara Renner, Canmore, Alta., 34:25.9; 2. Madeleine Williams, Edmonton, 34:27.0; 3. Tasha Betcherman, Thunder Bay, Ont., 35:30.9; 4. Brooke Gosling, Calgary, 35:59.7; 5. Chandra Crawford, Canmore, Alta., 36:16.8.
Top-Five Men’s Results:
1. George Grey, Rossland, B.C., 1:29.05.7; 2. Drew Goldsack, Red Deer, Alta., 1:29.06.9; 3. Gord Jewett, Toronto, 1:29.08.1; 4. Robin McKeever, Canmore, Alta., 1:29.11.6; 5. Chris Jeffries, Chelsea, Que., 1:29:13.4.
Source: Cross-Country Canada