WHISTLER, B.C.â€”Ivan Babikov put a golden stamp on his Canadian citizenship after winning the men’s 15-kilometer cross-country ski skate race at the Haywood Ski Nationals being contested at Whistler Olympic Park on Wednesday.
The 27-year-old, who finally received his Canadian citizenship in December, won his first national title as a Canadian with a time of 37 minutes 28.1 seconds.
â€œThis is an important event to me for many reasons, but it is nice to be here now as a Canadian,â€ said Babikov, who hopes to race with the national program next season. â€œIt is the Olympic venue and I am trying to get comfortable out here so I’m ready in two years.â€
Being comfortable has not been the norm for Canada’s newest citizen over the last several years. Receiving his official immigration documentation earlier this winter concluded a frustrating four-year process that saw Babikov splitting time between Canada and his family’s hometown in Syktyvkar in the north of Russia.
Babikov, who now resides in Canmore, Alta., with his wife Svetlana and young son, Sergey, immigrated to Canada with his mother in May, 2003, following his sister and brother-in-law who made the official jaunt in 1998.
â€œThis is my home now and I’ve loved it since the first day,â€ said Babikov following Tuesday’s silver-medal performance in the 10-kilometer classic race.
Babikov also loves the new Olympic trails in the Callaghan Valley near Whistler, B.C.
â€œThe heavy snow makes these conditions really tough,â€ said Babikov. â€œIt is hard to plant your poles in the fresh snow, but I do find the course challenging with good climbs and I think that is one of my strengths.â€
Babikov was joined on the podium in the men’s race by Graham Nishikawa, of Whitehorse, Yukon, who stormed his way into second spot at 38:03.2, while Lars Flora, of the United States, locked up third place at 38:09.3.
Leif Zimmermann (USST) posted the second best finish for the Americans, finishing 6th, only two seconds out of fourth, and 52 behind Babikov. Andy Newell (USST) was right behind in 7th. Newell was 2.1 seconds behind Zimmermann in his first 15km skate race in at least two years. Chris Cook (USST), Mike Sinnott, Tim Reynolds (Middlebury), and Colin Rodgers (FIscher/Craft) took places 9 through 12.
After the first three days of competition, the early favorite for owning the podium at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games is Mother Nature. Developing a strategy to battle the heavy wet snow dancing its way through the Southern Coast Mountains, along with extremely slick conditions due to changing temperatures, has also made its way into the game plan for the nation’s top athletes competing at Whistler Olympic Park.
â€œYou need to have an amphibious mindset here because it is wet with lots of precipitation,â€ said Sara Renner, who is wrapping up a successful season in her first full season back with the national team after taking last year off to have her daughter, Aria. â€œIt can be challenging here because it is really different from a lot of World Cup sites. The weather here is like no other.â€
The Olympic silver medalist, Renner, continued to build what she hopes will be a golden strategy at the Olympic venue en route to finishing as the top Canadian in the women’s 10-kilometer skate-ski race. One of nation’s top role models in the sport, a persistent Renner led the next generation of Canadian heroes around the 3.3-kilometer loop three times to post a third-place time of 26:57.7.
â€œIt is really good to be here at nationals because it feels like home,â€ said Renner following the medals ceremony where she spent time meeting with the Nordic community and young Canadian skiers. â€œBeing at Whistler is also special because there is already an Olympic spirit that is starting here.â€
Two Americans stole the top steps on the women’s podium, Liz Stephen was the fastest skier of the day after clocking a time of 26:19.3, while Kikkan Randall continued her podium streak with a second-place finish at 26:41.3. Randall won both the sprint relay and the 5km classic race earlier in the week, while Stephen finished third in the 5km classic. Morgan Arritola (SVSEF/USST) was 5th and Tazlina Mannix (APUNSC/USST), 6th.
FrÃ©dÃ©ric Touchette, of St-Ferreol les Neiges, Que., won his second consecutive junior men’s title of the week after posting a winning time of 39:04.2. Lucy Garrec (Burke), of the United States, won the junior women’s category with a time of 29:42.4, with Kate Dolan (BSF) in second. Sarah Murphy, of Canmore, Alta., was the top junior Canadian woman in third (30:29.5).
The feature event of the Haywood Ski Nationals — skate-ski spring — is set for Friday at 9 a.m. The 2006 Olympic men’s and women’s champions, Sweden’s Bjoern Lind, and Canada’s Chandra Crawford, will hit the start line against some of the top skate-sprinters in the world.