VERNON, British Columbia — The NorAm youth movement continued into the second weekend of the Canadian domestic series on Saturday at the Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre, with three new athletes reaching the podium in the freestyle sprints.
In the women’s 1.275-kilometre sprint, first-year senior Maya MacIsaac-Jones of Rocky Mountain Racers (RMR) won the qualifier and her semifinal before taking a convincing victory in the A-final in 2:37.60. The 20-year-old finished 2.56 seconds ahead of her teammate, Andrea Dupont in second place, and 18-year-old junior Marie Corriveau, of the Pierre Harvey Training Centre (CNEPH) and national junior team placed third, 2.86 seconds after MacIsaac-Jones.
“It was a goal of mine this season to win a a NorAm so I’m pretty stoked to have that achieved,” MacIsaac-Jones told FasterSkier after the race. “I had a really tough sprint last week at the Canmore NorAm and I was really glad to be able to come back both mentally and physically from that and have a good race today.”
A regular podium contender in the sprints, Dupont, 25, was less excited than her teammate.
“It was pretty decent, yeah,” Dupont said. “It was a good day for the club, both Maya and myself, and Olivia [Bouffard-Nesbitt] comes from our club, too.”
Bouffard-Nesbitt, of the National Senior U23+ Development Team, placed sixth in the final after winning her quarterfinal and placing second in her semifinal behind Dupont.
“We were all tight,” Dupont said of the A-final. “I was chilling out and expecting the finishing kick would be enough to make it. Olivia and I unfortunately got tangled in the bottom of the course which put me out of the fight for the win.”
The final descent, sweeping right, and short climb into the finishing straight caused several challenges throughout the day, despite being more than 10 metres (33 feet) wide.
“I love the course,” Dupont continued. “It is a nice three-minute sprint, compared to last weekend that was almost five. As someone who really loves sprinting, the five minute [course] was just too long.”
Corriveau, a first-year junior, was excited to race with the senior women.
“It was a great challenge and really fun,” she said. “It was my first senior podium.”
The men’s 1.65 k sprint course shared the same start and final kilometre as the women’s, but had an extra loop that included two very short climbs.
Andy Shields of the Thunder Bay National Development Centre (NDC) dominated the men’s qualifier, his quarterfinal, and his semifinal on the way to A-final victory in 3:15.68. Sebastien Boehmler-Dandurand, 22, of Canmore, grabbed his first senior podium, 0.95 seconds back, and Knute Johnsgaard, of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) and U23+ Development Team, was visibly unhappy in third, another 0.28 seconds back. The Canmore NorAm sprint winner, Bob Thompson (NDC Thunder Bay) finished fourth, also 0.28 seconds behind Johnsgaard.
“I went to the lead right off the line,” Shields said, “which wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to follow [because] there’s some headwind sections in the first part of the course. When I got to the point when I wanted to make my move, I stretched it out and was able to stay pretty strong right to the end.”
Shields accelerated hard on the third last climb, with only Johnsgaard staying close. Johnsgaard allowed Shields a slight gap for the fast dip, but remained tight on Shield’s ski tails going over a narrow bridge — some 5 metres (16 feet) wide — leading into the final descent, turn and climb to the finish straight. On the final high-speed corner, Shields said he stayed clear ahead while Johnsgaard said he was impeded while trying to do an inside pass.
“I had a lot of speed and was starting to slingshot Andy,” Johnsgaard said. “He saw me coming and really shut me down on the inside.”
During Friday’s official training, Shields was seen taking one of the tightest exit lines on the corner. Shields and Johnsgaard never faced off until the final (after both won their respective quarterfinals and semifinals), and Shields likely skied his preferred-and-practice line while Johnsgaard expected him to take the more common line.
Dandurand took advantage of the tussle, carrying speed out of the second group to close the gap on Johnsgaard and edge ahead of him in the final metres for second.
“In the final, my goal was to be always in the front because I knew at the last [downhilll] turn I could slingshot past and have a good line into the finish,” Boehmler-Dandurand said.” I had confidence in the final sprint so, yeah, it worked out almost perfectly.”
He aimed to conserve energy in the quarterfinal, he explained, and finished second behind Angus Foster (NDC Thunder Bay). Boehmler-Dandurand then placed second in his semifinal after pushing “as hard as I could,” behind Shields in first. Their semifinal was slower than Johnsgaard’s (which he won) and Foster in third place did not advance.
Johnsgaard was still shaking off the emotions at the podium ceremony. “Third’s alright,” he said, “but I’ve been third and second and fourth and fifth so many times in the NorAms and I’ve never won one, so this is quite frustrating when this happens all the time.”
Waxing was not a significant issue, with -4 degrees Celsius temperatures (25 Fahrenheit) and fresh snow overnight, but no falling snow during the open categories’ races. Around 80 volunteers were on site to make the event happen.