Cendrine Browne of the Pierre-Harvey Training Centre (CNEPH) is celebrating a lot of firsts this season. First year on the Canadian National Junior Ski Team, first race trip to Europe, first age category win in a NorAm race. On Wednesday, she added her first top 15 at the Junior World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic, to the list.
Racers came to Liberec with different goals. Not many will do a better job of reaching them than Browne. “When I crossed the finish line, I was exhausted but really proud of myself,” she wrote in an email.
Browne, who is a relative newcomer at this level, is in her fourth season as a ski racer, having come into the sport from swimming by way of triathlon. The achievement had begun to sink in a few hours after the race.
“I was so excited!!!” she wrote. “It’s the first time I have accomplished something this big! 15th at Worlds! What an accomplishment for me!”
For the juniors, these races are often about gaining experience. “At my first race here (sprints), I was so nervous! I was a little too impressed by the others and by the event, so my race didn’t go that well,” Browne wrote. “But today, I was more confident and I felt more relaxed. I told myself that this race was a race like any other.”
With one more day’s experience, Browne had a better approach to the race. “I had a clear mind and I stayed focused, which really helped me throughout the race,” she wrote.
As tiredness set in on the final climb, she held that focus, saying to herself, “Everyone has tired legs here, so you better push as hard as you can till the finish line!”
Her finish time of 13:15.6 for the 5 k freestyle individual start was 40 seconds behind the winner, Victoria Carl, who represented Germany in the Tour de Ski.
Frédérique Vézina (CNEPH) was the second Canadian woman in 50th in 13:59.2. A distance specialist, she has one more year of JW eligibility.
Anne-Marie Comeau (CNEPH) placed 53rd, five seconds behind Vezina. Comeau wrote in an email that she prefers distance as well. While she wasn’t pleased with her race, her focus is on the future.
“I will try to forget this one and focus on Friday’s [skiathlon] race,” she wrote.
Comeau has a lot of future to focus on; she has three more years of eligibility for Junior Worlds.
Katherine Stewart-Jones (Nakkertok) was 58th of 76 finishers, a five more seconds back.
“It is my first time at world juniors so I shouldn’t be too hard on myself but I was definitely a bit disappointed,” she wrote, before finding the positive. “I still have tons of chances to make it up!”
She also commented on the experience, saying, “It is actually a lot like skiing at home except there is way more competition so the times are extremely close.”
For the men, a familiar name topped the list of Canadians, with Raphaël Couturier (CNEPH) placing 24th in 24:57.7, just 21 seconds out of the top 15.
“The course was really hard on the legs, but it was a great day,” Couturier told Cross Country Canada. “I had high expectations coming into these Championships so I’m satisfied with today. I’m looking forward to the pursuit.”
David Palmer (Black Jack) got his first start at Junior Worlds, finishing 32nd in 25:10.9.
“I had a decent race today, felt good, and conditions were great for skiing,” Palmer wrote. “I found that the race course is one of the most challenging ones I’ve done with some very sharp and icy corners, steep hills and fast downhills.”
The experience wasn’t what he was expecting. “At first I was gearing up for things to be different than racing at home,” he explained. “But I’ve actually found that everything including the start procedure is very easy and much the same as any other race. … On the result list I was down at 32nd, but being 1:40 off the lead is encouraging. I feel optimistic about tomorrow now that I’m more familiar with the competition and the set up here.”
Zeke Williams (Nakkertok) was a 38 seconds farther back in 53rd.
“I felt like I pushed hard, which is nice, but I went out harder than I should’ve,” he wrote. “I’m really disappointed with the result. I’m sure if I had been able to pace things better I could’ve ended up in the top 30, which was my goal.”
Williams may not be happy with the result, but he is happy with the experience. “Racing here at World Champs is cool since the competition isn’t too far below that of a world cup race,” he wrote. “It’s really awesome, and really motivational, to get to compete against the top Juniors in the world.”
Scott Hill (NDC-Thunder Bay), in his second Junior World start, rounded out the Canadian effort in 62nd (26:05.8) of 98 finishers. Hill was less than a second ahead of the next three finishers from Belarus, Ukraine and Japan.