Canadian Chandra Crawford wrapped up her 2011 World Championship experience in front of 80,000+ passionate Norwegian ski fans in the 30km freestyle on Saturday.
Crawford, known as a sprint specialist, skied to 42nd place, 12:06 down on winner Therese Johaug (NOR).
“Soooo awesome,” Crawford described her experience. “One of the first days of the Championships with no fog, just a gorgeous day, perfect track.”
Crawford won Olympic gold in 2006 in the skate sprint. She missed the 2009 World Championships due to injury, and last year, in the Olympics, the sprint was classic, by far Crawford’s weaker discipline.
But she was unable to re-capture the magic of 2006 in Oslo, despite the sprint switching back to freestyle. While she qualified for the heats, she was unable to advance out of the quarterfinals after getting tripped up in traffic, and finished 28th.
The 10-kilomter classic event did not go well either, costing her a spot on the sprint relay team. So she ended up going out with two distance races – a skate leg in the 4x5km relay, and the 30k.
“I am not very experienced with this whole distance race thing,” Crawford told FasterSkier. “I had so many questions last night [before the race] in our team meeting.”
With ski switching and regular feeding thrown into the need to ski hard for an hour and a half, there was plenty to think about.
“I thought it was going to be really painful and not something I’m all that good at,” Crawford said. But it was an experience of a lifetime, and the perfect thing to do for my fitness.”
She had no pretense of a top result, instead using the race as an opportunity to work on her endurance, an area that she and Canadian head coach Justin Wadsworth have identified as key to her future success.
The race itself was not as bad as she expected from the pain standpoint. She knew she had to stay just below her lactate threshold, and was easily able to recognize when she surged and crossed the line.
“I really had to ski very controlled to keep moving,” she said with a laugh. “Otherwise I am going to get rigor mortis.”
By 10k she had settled into a rhythm, and fast skis allowed her make up time on the downhills that she had lost on the climbs.
Crawford’s sprinting prowess, however, paid dividends in the start.
“Poles breaking, people falling,” Crawford described the scene out of the start. “But from sprinting I am so used to skiing small, and seeing people’s flailing limbs and getting around them.”
The event was “an experience of a lifetime” for Crawford. “The crowds were so loud out the back at Frognersetren, I couldn’t help but smile. It was just this deafening enthusiasm.
“So then I would smile and go harder, and then they would cheer harder, and then I’d go harder, and oh man I was just really gasping for air at the top.”
With the Championships kicking off with the individual sprint, Crawford’s time in Oslo did not get off to the start she was looking for, but when teammates Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey paired up for a gold medal in the team sprint, there was a shift.
“I am bummed about the sprint. I am bummed about my classic race. I’m bummed I was off the sprint relay because of my classic race. Those things were not ideal,” Crawford said.
She paused, thinking for several moments before proceeding in a more subdued manner, unusual for the usually boisterous 27-year-old from Canmore, Alberta.
“It’s a big event that I dreamed about for a long time,” she continued. “The results didn’t work out, but it has been a beautiful experience. I am stronger for it and I feel really glad that I got to be part of it.”
Her demeanor shifted again, her face lighting up as she described the feeling of watching boyfriend Kershaw and Harvey take gold.
“You really can’t beat the energy I got out of Devon’s and Alex’s huge victory,” she said. “Before that I had my rockier races, and then that happened. Since then I fall asleep smiling, I wake up smiling.”
When asked how the experience of watching the Canadian men take gold compared to her own gold medal in Torino, she described them as very similar – “Just this wild thing of disbelief.”
“We would have been as happy with bronze as with gold, and we would have been happy as we could possibly be with silver. But they got the gold!” she said.
One of the high points was watching Kershaw, who she says is very hard on himself, – “if Devon gets 12th he is just beating himself up – he wants that 11th, if he gets sixth he wants fifth” – unable to say “I wish I had…”
Crawford is now headed to Lahti to race the World Cup classic sprint, and then back to Canada to catch the last three Canadian Nationals races, a double bonus as they are held in her hometown of Canmore.
After that it is south to Spring Series/SuperTour Finals in Sun Valley.
“As much as I would like to just bomb through the powder and ski tour, I recognize that some more racing is going to be good for me,” Crawford said of the late season events in the US.
There should be plenty of good competition, with Kikkan Randall, among others expected to be in Idaho for the event.
And the next big trip? Crawford and the rest of the Canadian team are off to Hawaii at the end of June for a uniquely located training camp.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.