WHISTLER, B.C. â€” Canadian Olympians Sara Renner and Ivan Babikov won the ultimate endurance tests — the women’s and men’s 30- and 50-kilometer classic cross-country ski races which officially put a close to the 81st Haywood Ski Nationals.
The 31-year-old Renner completed a grueling comeback season on the national team, after taking last year off to have a baby, by stomping the field in the women’s 30-kilometer classic with a time of one hour 36 minutes 9.7 seconds.
â€œIt’s been an interesting journey over the last year and I’m running on fumes at these nationals,â€ said Renner. â€œHaving a baby, losing all the weight and racing competitively again I’d say I’m pleasantly surprised (with the season) because I didn’t have a lot of expectations this year.â€
Renner skied with the pack of the nation’s best women for the first of four laps on the 7.5-kilometer loop at Whistler Olympic Park before pulling away and skiing to her first outright national title of the week.
â€œI don’t take anything for granted here,â€ said Renner in the finish area after battling the challenging course, which was made more difficult due to blizzard conditions at the start that switched to sunny skies and sticky snow by the completion of the race. â€œOur wax technicians definitely have an advantage here now as they are really getting to know these conditions. They did a great job in preparing our skis this week.â€
Olympic gold medallist, Chandra Crawford, made huge strides in the distance race against the best in the country. The short-distance specialist stuck on Renner’s heels for the first lap and held on to finish second with a time of 1:37:18.7.
â€œI’ve really been working on my endurance this year to help me in the sprinting events,â€ said Crawford. â€œIt has been a great week out here and the organizers and volunteers have done a great job in this first event on the Olympic venue. We are all looking forward to racing here in 2010.â€
Montreal’s Dasha Gaiazova rounded out the women’s podium with a time of 1:38:53.1.
Americans Lindsay Williams and Lindsey Dehlin, both member of the US B team, took places 4 and 5, +3:41 and 3:52 respectively. Sun Valley junior Mali Noyes posted an impressive 9th place finish as the third American.
Meanwhile, Canada’s newest citizen Ivan Babikov won his second gold medal of the week at the Haywood Ski Nationals after battling US sprinter Torin Koos for the entire race.
The 27-year-old Babikov, who has been living in Canmore, Alta. after emigrating from Russia, officially received his Canadian citizenship in mid-January. The new Canuck persevered through the unique snow conditions on Canada’s west coast to grab the top spot on the podium with a time of 2:22:02.6.
â€œIt was definitely challenging out there today. I was really slow on the downhills but made up time on the climbs,â€ said Babikov, who also won the men’s 15-kilometer skate-ski race on Wednesday. â€œThis is an Olympic venue and I think it is one of the best in the world. It’s nice to compete at nationals as an official Canadian.â€
A pack of 10 skiers stayed together through the fourth of seven laps. But Babikov and Koos broke things apart, and by the end of the fifth lap, only eventual third place finished Robin McKeever (CAN) was still with the top two.
â€œI knew Ivan is the man to beat out here and I tried to break him early,â€ said McKeever, who has guided his brother Brian to seven Paralympic medals in cross-country skiing. â€œThe last 15 kilometers was really survival for me after pushing Ivan, and I just tried to hang on. I’ll definitely take it.â€
McKeever dropped 20 seconds in the 6th lap, and nearly a minute in the last loop, finishing 1:16 behind Babikov.
Koos was able to maintain the pace until the end – he finished +14.7 seconds in an impressive performance for a skier who focuses mainly on sprinting.
Zach Violett (Fischer/Craft) was the second American, finishing in 13th, +9:04.7.
In the junior men’s 30-kilometer race it was FrÃ©dÃ©ric Touchette, of St-FerrÃ©ol-les-Neiges, Que., striding onto the top of the podium. The second-year member of the Canadian Junior Team set the time to beat at 1:26:28.8.
â€œThe snow was very different throughout the course and that made it tough,â€ said Touchette. â€œYou have to be mentally strong out there to deal with these conditions especially after a long season where we are all really tired.â€
Catherine Auclair, of Mont Ste Anne, Que., won the junior women’s 15-kilometer race with a time of 53:02.4.
Contributing Source: Cross-Country Canada