While the athletes at the US Senior Nationals were nearly undone by balmy weather last week, the racers vying for spots on the Canadian World Championship team were struggling to keep their bodies warm and their skis moving in Thunder Bay. Temperatures plummeting toward the negative 20 C made for gritty snow and tough racing.
“It was a little cold today, but I think we all survived,” Dasha Gaiazova of Banff, Alberta, said to FasterSkier after winning the women’s 15K pursuit.
Despite the cold snow, Gaiazova said her skis had amazing glide, and found herself pulling away from the field just out of the gate. She thinks that was a big contributor to the overall success.
“My teammate Perianne Jones and I had a gap on the field already a few hundred meters from the start, which was pretty surprising. I kind of expected everyone to be together on the downhill from the start. But we definitely had good boards today,” Gaiazova said.
Gaiazova polished off the 7.5K+7.5K pursuit course in 48:31.6. That left a gap of almost 10 seconds down to Brooke Gosling (Calgary) in second place (48:41.0), while Jones (Almonte, Ontario) finished third in 48:46.
Gaiazova, who considers herself a sprint specialist, was happy to snag one of the berths to the distance races at the upcoming 2011 World Championships in Oslo. The distance events are her biggest challenge.
“The biggest challenge was pacing myself for 15K. It was definitely a long one for me,” said Gaiazova, who is looking forward to Saturday’s sprint race. “I know how to pace myself for 1K,” she said.
And while Gaiazova was stoked to secure a spot on the Worlds team, the 27-year-old also excited to race on Canadian soil.
“I was looking forward to doing some racing in Canada. It was good. It’s nice to race in Canada once in a while. It’s nice to come home, see old teammates and race in a friendly relaxing atmosphere for a change,” she said, noting that she spent most of the early race season in Europe and is headed back across the pond after this weekend.
Thriller from start to finish
In the men’s 30K pursuit, George Grey of Rossland, British Columbia, snagged the top of the podium by a photo finish margin.
Grey entered the transition in seventh place, but fought his way up to the front of the pack and duked it out with Graham Nishikawa (Whitehorse, BC) to the bitter end. But experience before youth, and the 31-year-old Grey was a hair faster, nailing the win in 1:18:41.0 while Nishikawa logged 1:18:41.4.
“It was awfully tight and very technical out there today,” Grey said in a press release after the race. “I don’t really have my shape but I think my experience put me in the front in the end.”
Drew Goldsack of Red Deer, Alberta, was claimed the last spot on the podium, clocking in at 1:18:44.7.
Excited to get the Tour skiers back
Grey explained that his fitness is not where he wants to be, and that it has been challenging to get workouts done lately. Now, with the ticket to Oslo taken care of, Grey is looking forward to preparing for the Championships in the end of February. He is excited to have Alex Harvey, Devon Kershaw and the rest of the Canadians back from the Tour de Ski, and welcomes the opportunity to train with them leading up to the Worlds. However, they have a job to finish in Central Europe, and Grey still has a couple of races on the dock in Thunder Bay before then.
Saturday, the Nor-Ams continue with sprints, while Sunday features distance skate events.
U23 and World Juniors trials
Thursday’s races also served as trials for the Canadian U23 World Championship team and the Junior World Championship team. Kevin Sandau, of Canmore, Alta., was the top under-23 male, while Emily Nishikawa was the fastest under-23 woman. Heidi Widmer, of Banff, Alta., won the junior women’s 10-kilometer pursuit race with a time of 32:38.8. Andy Shields, of Thunder Bay, Ont., won the junior men’s 20-kilometer pursuit with a time of 55:15.1.
Complete women’s results here:
Complete men’s results here:
Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.