So far this year, Drew Goldsack has been tearing it up on the NorAm sprint circuit.
Goldsack, a member of Canada’s senior development team, had won every sprint he entered coming into this weekend’s mini-tour in Rossland, British Columbia. But while he had proven that he was the North American not on the World Cup circuit, he hadn’t had the chance to test himself against his teammates in Europe.
On Friday, Goldsack was joined by fellow senior development team members Phil Widmer and Stefan Kuhn, fresh off the plane from Europe, as well as senior World Cup team member George Grey.
And in the end, Goldsack wasn’t able to keep his win streak alive. It was Kuhn, instead, who won both the qualifying round and the final, continuing a string of strong performances which included a top-30 result in the World Cup sprint in Kuusamo, Finland.
In qualifying, Kuhn led a Canadian sweep of the top five places. He was followed by Widmer, Goldsack, Grey, and Team Hardwood’s Harry Seaton. Mikey Sinnott of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) was the top American in the early round, finishing 6th.
Seaton was the only one of those men who didn’t make the final. He ended up 30th, replaced instead by Alaska Pacific University’s Lars Flora.
Over the course of the heats, Kuhn developed a strategy which he used to great effect in the final: after sitting tight on the minute-long uphill which began the course, he used some of the downhills as a slingshot and flew by his competitors into the finishing stretch.
“I thought, well, that worked perfectly, so I’ll just try to use it again in the final,” Kuhn told FasterSkier in an interview.
And once again, it worked perfectly. Goldsack finished second, followed by Grey, Flora, Widmer, and Sinnott.
For Kuhn, the victory had two bonuses attached to it. The first was 60 bonus seconds in the overall tour, which continues with a 10 k skate on Saturday before concluding with a 15 k classic pursuit on Sunday.
“I’m not a big distance skater, so I’ll see what happens tomorrow,” he told FasterSkier in an interview. “I like my chances in the 15 k classic. It’s a distance that I’m pretty good at. But one of our distance skiers had a good sprint day, George Grey, he was third – so I didn’t gain a whole lot of seconds on him.”
The second bonus is that today’s sprint was being used as a winner-takes-all selector for Canada’s World Championship team. There are multiple criteria being used to pick the team, but one of them is a victory either here today or in Thunder Bay on January 6th. Since Kuhn won’t be in the World Cup red group and didn’t ski to a top-20 result in Europe, which are two of the other qualification criteria, his win here punched his ticket to Oslo in February.
Kuhn expressed his excitement on Twitter, saying, “Exciting day here in Rossland… with this I get to head to Oslo! Pretty pumped!”
While the selections are far from official, several other Canadians have achieved the qualifying criteria. Chandra Crawford, Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey, Lenny Valjas, and Phil Widmer have all skied to top-20 results on the World Cup so far, and Perianne Jones was the top Canadian in the women’s race today.
While Kuhn has the lead in the mini-tour right now, tomorrow should change the standings quite a bit. As he said, he only gained eight bonus seconds over George Grey, traditionally a distance specialist, and Lars Flora, another distance skier, only gained four fewer bonus seconds than Grey.
In addition, Kuhn said that the Americans, who weren’t as much of a force today, would be stronger tomorrow.
“They’re really good skaters,” he told FasterSkier. “I definitely see some of them pushing the top five, and maybe the podium. After seeing last week, the Americans are skating really well, so they’re definitely a threat to the top.
“It would be nice to see a Canadian on top of the podium,” he concluded.