Canadians Chandra Crawford and Perianne Jones teamed up to place third in the World Cup team sprint in Milan, Italy on Sunday, joining Americans Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins on the podium. The event marked the first time Canadians and Americans have shared a World Cup podium in cross-country skiing.
Crawford has enjoyed a resurgence this year, re-establishing herself as one of the top sprinters in the world. The 2006 Olympic champion in the freestyle sprint struggled through several years marred by injury while trying to adapt to changes in the format.
Jones, a veteran of the Canadian National Team, climbed onto the podium for the first time in her career, and now is a threat to advance out of the quarterfinals in individual sprints.
FasterSkier talked with Crawford immediately following Sunday’s race in Milan.
Chandra Crawford: It’s all about the training group!
FasterSkier: All about the training group?
CC: Yaa…that’s the whole deal for my season this year, I just got inspired by my American friends to really go for it. I trained harder, I trained more, raced more, ran more, and so my year’s been going better than ever. Top-10 in the last four sprints, that’s an unprecedented run of consistency, so I’m pumped.
FS: And you think this is just all the work paying off?
CC: Yeah. I never trained a ton and I always kind of rode the fast twitch and the snow feel, and things worked out. But sprints got longer and girls got fitter and I got injured, and this has been a long process of rebuilding to this point and then surpassing.
FS: It must feel pretty good to see it all paying off?
CC: It’s good, yeah! It’s funny how much fear I had around hard training. I had one or two friends overtrain, and think well I don’t want to do that, that looks horrible! It can make us conservative.
FS: And what about today? It looked pretty intense out there, to say the least.
CC: It was, but it was SO FUN! I love skiing in a group, I love icy fast snow, I love Italy!
Thank goodness we made it through. Peri and I had the last time.
FS: I know, the only lucky loser out of your heat.
CC: Snuck in there! Thank goodness! I really was gunning…I was going to be happy with anything 5th or better. So that was really cool, and our coaches, they really believe in us. Eric [DeNys] was like, “we’re going to that flower ceremony!”
And we’re also lucky we have a three-person sprint relay team, so whenever there is a sprint relay, we can draw from Peri, Dasha and I. I’m only on it half the time, because we have a good group of girls.
FS: And what happened in the last lap there? Can you take me through that? It looked like throughout the race, you guys were always right there, but moving around quite a bit in the pack.
CC: We’re really focused on staying smooth and relaxed and out of trouble, and kicking when it counts. That was our whole strategy…
FS: Basically meaning that if you were going to do something, do it 100%?
CC: Attacking at the right time is so key. And through the last few months I’ve attacked too early and too late and not at all. So today, just kept working to get those attacks right.
FS: So going into the race, did you know where you wanted to do that, or was it more just adjusting to what was going on?
CC: It was really more in the moment. I was able to choose good lanes, and a bit of luck, because sometimes the girls scramble all over the lanes and you can’t get a good one and then BOOM it’s over.
So today, I employed a strategy I’ve been working on since December, which was follow Kikkan—she’s going to get to the front! So luckily a Swedish girl even moved out of my way and I had a clear path in [to the finish].
FS: So you waited for that key moment?
CC: Yeah, that patience, where everyone attacks and then somehow got a good lane…so exciting!
FS: And pretty exciting to team with Perianne for her first World Cup podium.
CC: Yeah! We were talking a lot about how these used to feel—going all out the whole time. I remember the semi final [in the past] and feeling like we were going all out the whole time. And now we’re a little fitter, so now we can chill, and sprint at the end.
FS: Pace it and control things a little more…
CC: Exactly. Relax in the pack instead of being redlined in the pack, which we definitely used to be.
FS: Is that just a matter of having the fitness and the experience?
CC: Yup. Good boatload of training in there. It’s exciting.
FS: What’s it like to stand on the podium with the Americans?
CC: PERFECT! It’s perfect. Newell and I were on a podium, but I guess that doesn’t count. We did not stand on the same podium, we took turns. [American sprinter Andy Newell and Crawford both finished on the podium in 2008 in Lahti, Finland—Crawford won the women’s freestyle sprint, while Newell was second in the men’s event.]
It’s so cool! That’s my dream. Speaks so much for the power of training group. And Flora [APU head coach Erik Flora], he finds there’s so much value in making training group. It’s inconvenient and it’s difficult to organize logistically but it’s so worth it. Makes the hard days better and the good days better.
FS: It seems even more important in North America, where the highest level has been relatively small for some time, so you guys need to get together.
CC: We’re not going to antagonize each other like Sweden and Norway! We do it totally different. We’re going to join forces!
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.