WHISTLER, B.C. â€” Stefan Kuhn has always had the title of best chef on Canada’s national cross-country ski team, but he can now add Canadian champion to his menu of descriptors.
Kuhn has incorporated a touch of gold to his list of ingredients this week after capturing his second victory, and first ever individual gold medal, at the Haywood Ski Nationals. The Canmore, Alta. native clocked a winning time of 27 minutes 31.1 seconds in the men’s 10-kilometer classic ski race at Whistler Olympic Park, site of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
â€œTwo for two — that’s right — bring on the Olympics now,â€ laughed Kuhn, who joined up with teammate Phil Widmer on Sunday to win the team sprint race in the first-ever national team competition at Whistler Olympic Park. â€œThis course has a really good flow which suits me perfectly with long uphills and steep downhills. It is not one of the most difficult courses in the world, but this is a start and I’m sure we’ll continue to provide feedback on what is good and what needs work,â€ said Kuhn.
What is in perfect shape right now is Kuhn’s skiing shape since returning to the national program three years ago after a six-year hiatus from competitive skiing where he took up a full-time job as a chef.
During his stint in the kitchen serving up world-leading dishes, and while traveling around the globe with his wife, Erin, Kuhn rediscovered his love for training and racing, and is now focused on achieving his Olympic dream.
Shifting his focus from the kitchen to the start line on the nation’s newest Olympic venue, it is apparent Kuhn and the world’s best cross-country skiers are going to have to master more than just the trails at Whistler Olympic Park. Mother Nature is also going to have a role to play in determining who will ski away with Olympic and Paralympic gold in 2010.
â€œThese conditions today are some of the toughest to nail down the perfect wax,â€ said Kuhn, whose best finish on the World Cup this year was a 31st-place showing in a classic sprint race. â€œWe have some of the world’s best wax technicians who nailed our skis every time this year so this is good to get some experience in these conditions, which we have to play with now because we’ll be dealing with them in two years as well.â€
Battling fresh snow, sun, and warming conditions in Whistler’s Southern Coast Mountains, wax technicians were scrambling seconds before each race to prepare Canada’s best with the proper skis.
â€œWe knew it was going to be tricky but now I know it is very, very tricky because the conditions change so fast here,â€ said Yves Bilodeau, chief wax technician, Canadian Cross-Country Ski Team. â€œThere will be a little bit of luck involved in winning here, but if you look at someone like Stefan Kuhn, he is a great technician and is able to adjust to the changing conditions very quickly and that is very important.â€
Joining Kuhn on the podium in the men’s race was Canada’s newest cross-country ski citizen, Ivan Babikov. A resident of Canmore, Alta. since gaining his citizenship in December, Babikov claimed the silver medal in his first race at the Haywood Ski Nationals as a Canadian citizen after posting a time of 27:55.4. George Grey, of Rossland, B.C., was third at 28:02.7.
Lars Flora (APUNSC) was the top American finisher, crossing the line in 4th, 13 seconds off the podium. Flora's APU teammate James SOutham was 9th, Zach Violett (Fischer/Craft) 10th, and Chris Cook (USST) 11th. US sprint star Torin Koos was 18th in an extremely deep and competitive field. All of the top Canadian skiers are comepeting, and many of the fastest Americans have made the trip to British Columbia.
With the sun peaking through the thick clouds later in the morning, waxing conditions continued to be challenging in the women's race. Kikkan Randall claimed her second victory of the week at the Haywood Ski Nationals after dominating the women’s five-kilometer race with a time of 14:57.5. Olympic gold medalist, Chandra Crawford, was the top Canuck in second spot at 15:45.4.
â€œI was coming into this really wanting to get on the podium so I think this is a great start,â€ said Crawford, of Canmore, Alta. â€œI really enjoy the course here and it is a great venue so it is going to be fun racing here the rest of the week.â€
Liz Stephen, of the US Ski Team, rounded out the women’s podium in third with a time of 15:52.6. Her USST teammate Morgan Arritola (SVSEF) was just behind, 1.1 seconds back in fourth. Canadian World Cup veteran Sara Renner was 5th, .1 seconds behind Arritola. The US women had a deep presence, taking 20 of the top 30 spots in the race. The men's race was more balanced – the top 30 consisted of 16 Canadians and 12 Americans (the final two went to Norway and Japan).
The nation’s best Para-Nordic athletes also hit the start line for their first event of the Haywood Ski Nationals. Robbie Weldon, of Thunder Bay, Ont., and her guide Brian Berry took home the gold in the women’s five-kilometer Para-Nordic standing division with a time of 21:07.9 Yoshihiro Nitta, of Japan, won the men’s standing division (17:07.6). Chris Klebl, of the United States, won the men’s five-kilometer sit-ski race (18:25.5), while Colette Bourgonje, of Saskatoon, won the women’s five-kilometer sit-ski division at 19:41.2.
â€œI really enjoyed the course. It has a really nice flow with great transitions,â€ said Bourgonje, who has four Paralympic medals to her credit. â€œIt was good to get an opportunity to try the World Cup course today, and I think it will be a great venue for us in 2010.â€
Frederic Touchette, of St-Ferreol les Neiges, Que., posted the top junior boys 10-kilometer time of the day at 29:30.3, while Tyler Parker led an American sweep in the five-kilometer junior girls after stopping the clock at 16:59.4. Kate Dolan (BSF) finished second and Lucy Garrec (Burke) took third.
Source: Cross-Country Canada