Canadians Send Strong Squad to World Champs, Drammen World Cup

Kieran JonesJanuary 27, 2011

The Canadians will field an experienced 11-person roster for the World Championships in Oslo, Norway at the end of February, and all 11 will also ski the World Cup in Drammen, Norway, the week before.

The roster is almost identical to the Olympic roster from last year – 9 of the 11 skiers competed in Vancouver, and all 11 have at least one World Cup start.

Devon Kershaw during the Vancouver Olympics

According to Cross Country Canada (CCC)’s selection criteria, the team was chosen based on the projected achievement of three major goals – to collect one medal, a top 6 result in the men’s relay, and other podium and top 12 results.

In order to achieve those goals, CCC listed four clear-cut performance goals that athletes were required to meet, and other athletes would be selected in order to field the full complement of four athletes in all events but the team sprint.

The first criteria was that all skiers in the  FIS World Cup period II Red Group, which is considered to be roughly the top 30 male and top 30 female World Cup point collectors, would be selected to the team.

Second, all athletes who recorded a top 12 finish in an individual World Cup would be selected to the team.

Third, those athletes who won domestic selection races would be placed on the team. The Canadians used two separate selection weekends – the winner of NorAm skate sprint in Rossland B.C. on December 17 was automatically selected to the World Championships team. For distance selections, the men had just the NorAm 30 k pursuit on January 6, 2011 in Thunder Bay, Ontario as a qualification race. For the women, both the 15 k pursuit and the 10 k freestyle in Thunder Bay were selection races.

Fourth, if an athlete finished in the top 20 and top half in World Cup events, they could be selected to the team.

Finally, athletes who did not meet any of the other criteria could be selected to the team based on their position on the sprint and distance ranking lists, and the recommendation of Head Coach Justin Wadsworth.

Just two Canadians made the period II Red Group as of the time of selection – Devon Kershaw (Ona-Wa-Su/National Ski Team) and Dasha Gaiazova (Rocky Mountain Racers/NST). The Red Group is an ongoing list, which shows performance over a period of time.

Stefan Kuhn in action during the Rossland NorAm (Photo: Brad Jones)

It should come as no surprise that Kershaw made the distance Red Group, as he had a strong start to his season, before recording a plethora of podium finishes during the Tour de Ski. In the period that counted towards the Red Group ranking, Kershaw finished 10th during the Kuusamo mini-tour, 9th in the 15 k classic in Davos, and finally 13th in la Clusaz, earned him 22nd place on the Red Group rankings.

Gaiazova was the second to last woman selected to the sprint Red Group, as a result of her consistent qualifying over the past 8 months, including finishing 24th and 27th thus far this season. Gaiazova has also been arguably the strongest Canadian woman on the circuit this season – regardless of distance or technique.

Vancouver Olympians Ivan Babikov (Foothills Nordic/NST), Alex Harvey (Club Nordique MSA/NST) and Chandra Crawford (Canmore Nordic/NST), all recorded a top 12 finish in an individual World Cup, thus qualifying for a trip to Oslo.

Babikov used his trademark event, the climb up Alpe Cermis on the final day of the Tour de Ski to record a 6th place, while Harvey has recorded five top 12 finishes so far this season.

Crawford, still rounding back into form following an injury-filled 2009-2010 season, finished 8th in the Dusseldorf city sprint.

Vancouver Olympians dominated in the domestic selection races, as Perianne Jones (Nakkertok/NST), George Grey (Blackjack/NST), and Stefan Kuhn (Canmore Nordic/NST) were all selected based on performances in Canada.

Jones (Nakkertok/NST), who has yet to race in Europe this season, booked her ticket to Oslo by finishing as the top Canadian in the Rossland skate sprint, as well as winning the 10 k freestyle in Thunder Bay.

Kuhn and Grey both won a domestic selection race each, thus earning berths on the team. Kuhn won the skate sprint at the NorAm event in Rossland, while Grey won the recent 30 k Pursuit at the Thunder Bay NorAm.

Finally, sprinters Phil Widmer (Canmore Nordic/NDC Quebec/NST) and youngster Len Valjas (Team Hardwood/NDC Quebec/NST) also cracked the squad.

Dasha Gaiazova (L) and Perianne Jones (R) battling it out during the final of the classic sprint at the Thunder Bay NorAm (Photo: Brad Jones)

Widmer and Valjas both recorded top 20 results in the freestyle sprint World Cup in Davos, and also finished in the top half of the World Cup field, earning themselves a chance to compete at World Championships.

Finally, Brooke Gosling (Foothills Nordic/CXC) rounds out the woman’s team, giving the group four women, and therefore a relay team.

While Gosling failed to win a selection race outright, she was selected based on her strong performances at the NorAm races in Thunder Bay, where she finished second in the 15 k Pursuit to Gaiazova, and third in the 10 k skate, to Jones and Gaiazova.

According to Head Coach Justin Wadsworth, Gosling was selected based on her ranking on the Canadian distance and sprint lists as the next strongest woman in the country.

The only athletes who have not been to World Championships before are Valjas and Gosling, and all 11 have World Cup experience. The performance of the athletes is at an all-time high as well – with the exception of Gosling, every athlete has finished in the top 30 in non-Canadian international World Cup competitions.

However, the Canadians are not without problems. Of the seven men, there are five who could conceivably start the freestyle sprint in Oslo. Kershaw, Harvey, Kuhn, Valjas, and Widmer have all finished in the top 30 in World Cup sprints this season. As the maximum number of starts at World Championships is four, the Canadians are in a bind.

Therefore, the results of the World Cup freestyle sprint in Drammen, as well as previous results during the year will be used to select which of the sprinters get the start – the one left out will be considered an alternate.

The most intriguing part of the Canadian team selection could be the makeup of the various relays at World Championships. While the womens 4×5 k relay is set, as the team has only four women, the mens 4×10 k relay could see some interesting combinations.

After stating at the start of the year that the team would switch up a few of the legs, Wadsworth is now in a position where he has some additional firepower to throw in the lineup. Lenny Valjas skied a strong classic leg in the La Clusaz 4×10 k relay in Grey’s absence, and Stefan Kuhn has also proven himself to be a strong classic skier over that distance.

George Grey in action during the Rossland NorAm (Photo: Brad Jones)

While the men’s sprint relay seems to be a no-brainer – Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw finished 4th in the event at the Olympics last February, and are in even better sprint for this season – the women’s sprint relay could be interesting.

Crawford and Gaiazova have combined twice in the sprint relay this season, and have finished 3rd and 5th. However, the podium placing was in a skate event, by far Crawford’s strength, whereas the World Championships team sprint will be classic – the same event where Jones combined with Sara Renner for a sixth place finish two years ago.

Currently, the coaching staff has not set the teams in stone. “There are a lot of factors leading into those races, and nothing is ever set until the entry goes in the day before,” Wadsworth wrote in an e-mail to FasterSkier.

“Even then we can sub a person in if someone gets sick after the entry is in up to 2 hours before the race starts.”

Kieran Jones

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