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SOCHI, Russia — This time last year, the Canadian women didn’t finish the women’s 4 x 5-kilometer relay at World Championships. They couldn’t — they didn’t have a fourth skier.
Brittany Webster had come down sick during the championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy. It was unfortunate but it was also a glaring reminder that the Canadians lack depth in female distance skiers.
This year, Canada brought a total of seven women to the Olympics, nearly half of its 13-athlete squad. It would undoubtedly field a four-person women’s relay, just like in the 2010 Olympics and 2011 World Championships.
Starting in bib 14 of 14 teams based on their DNF at 2013 World Championships, the goal was to move up on Saturday.
In her second Olympics, Perianne Jones scrambled for the relay, which consisted of Dasha Gaiazova, Emily Nishikawa, and Webster. Despite starting in the last row of the mass start, the soon to be 29-year-old Jones (on Feb. 18) stuck with the pack up the first climb.
Halfway through the first 2.5 k loop, she was in 14th, but within 5.3 seconds off the leaders and a second of Ukraine’s Tetyana Antypenko in 13th.
“My goal today was to stick with the group for as long as I could and it didn’t end up being as long as I wanted it to be,” Jones said after the race. “I kind of blew up out there. … I felt good warming up, and I thought that I’d be able to hang on for at least 3, 4 k, if not more.
“I guess I was a little more optimistic than my body was,” she said with a laugh.
Jones tagged Gaiazova, also in her second Olympics, in 14th, 1:45.4 behind Russia in first.
“It’s tough for the other girls when I start off and hand off in the position I did,” Jones said. “It’s just a mental battle from there on in because they were skiing on their own and that’s rough.”
Gaiazova, 30, skied the 11th fastest second classic leg, but it wasn’t enough to catch 13th. With 54.4 seconds separating her from the next skier ahead of her, Nishikawa raced alone in 14th, handing off to Webster in the same position, about 1:20 back from 13th. Webster finished the race out for the Canadians in 14th, 6:10.9 behind the Swedish winners.
“We don’t have a good relay history in Canada so I think we were all hoping for a little better than that, but we have nowhere to go other than up,” Jones said. “Our last few years have been pretty dismal and we need to work on the strength of our women’s team, especially in distance because we’re just not there and it’s not quite a sprint race. Five k is a little bit longer than I’m used to. We really have to work on that.”
Managing a smile afterward and with a “bedazzled sticker” sporting Canadian Olympic logo still on her cheek, Jones said the team got in the spirit before the race, decorating their faces.
“I guess that wasn’t enough,” she said. “We’re looking forward to the team sprint and hopefully it’ll go a little better.”
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.