World Junior Championships Begin in Whistler: U20 Classic Sprint

Gerry FursethJanuary 29, 2023
The sun rises on the first day of World Juniors 2023 at Whistler Olympic Park. (Photo: FasterSkier)

The U20/U23 World Championships kicked off in Whistler Olympic Park with classic sprints on a bluebird day. While the finals were filled with athletes from Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Italy, it was a good day for many more nations.

Coaches from Canada, the US, Andorra, and Taiwan were agreed on one thing: U20 results won’t make or break your skiing career, but what you learn here can change your life. That said, results are what every athlete is chasing.

The 1.2km course would look very familiar to the women who raced here in 2010 and the men who raced the 2009 World Cup. A moderate climb out of the stadium, a fast drop into hairpin, and a short climb before dropping into the stadium. The air temperature rose to -1C by the heats, but the snow stayed fast and firm at -4C.

The results page on the FIS site includes the cached livestream video of the heats. Choose one of the ‘video’ events. This page also provides live timing and live video for the rest of the week.

The women skied a tactical final, won on the long, long stadium loop by Finland’s Eevi-Inkeri Tossavainen. Norway’s Milla Grosberghaugen Andreassen was second, followed by Lisa Eriksson.

“It’s been an amazing day, I can’t say anything else,” Tossavainen told FasterSkier at the finish. Many of the skiers were enjoying the day, but becoming a World Champion seems to add to the glow. She employed a tactic that worked well for some, sitting in the group until the last 200m.

“I know that the stadium was quite long and I tried to be the fastest one there,” Tossavainen explained.

Three US and two Canadian skiers qualified for the heats. Samantha Smith lead the way, 7.31 seconds back in 10th, followed by Alison Mackie in 22nd, Ava Thurston in 26th, Nina Schamberger in 27th, and Alexandra Luxmoore in 30th. Hailey Brewster, Anna Stewart, and Constance Lapointe missed the top 30.

Smith moved into the semifinal and an 8th place result. Most of the North Americans had raced a sprint here last March at Nationals.

“It felt like a pretty different course,” Smith explained. “Especially this year we got to go a bit further down the hill. Last year, for spring series, the females cut off a tiny bit. I think it’s great we are racing equal distances.”

“It was a lot firmer and faster, and the long double pole finish was a lot shorter than last year, so there was less time to be made up.”

“I didn’t have any hard expectations for today, it’s a U20 race,” Nordiq Canada’s High Performance Director Chris Jeffies explained. “U20, it’s about development, it’s about opportunities, it’s about process. I think our athletes went through all that and learned a lot today.”

For the men, Sweden’s Anton Grahn made the win look comfortable after qualifying fourth. Fellow Swede Elias Danielsson was second, followed by top qualifier Eero Rantala from Finland. The three Norwegians who animated the first two thirds of the final weren’t able to keep pace in the stadium.

Grahn was all smiles after: “I had great skis, and a great body, and I felt like today was unstoppable.”

He had a two part tactical plan: get safely around the one tricky corner and then let others lead down the drop into the stadium.

“Be first at that curve, that 180 curve,” Grahn said, pointing to the sharp hairpin left, “because I didn’t have that great of a turn technique, and then take it all on the home stretch, because I know I had a really strong finish.”

Canadian Xav McKeever, competing in his fifth (5th) U20 Championships, was the only North American to make the heats, qualifying 23rd.

“I’m happy to make the heats at World Juniors for the first time,” he said. “I’m little disappointed with the final result, but I did my best today and I’m looking forward to the distance races.”

“I knew I didn’t have to be in the front in the first climb, so I was trying to conserve energy and ski smooth. I knew I had a good line around that corner I could take and gain a few spots. It almost worked too well as I came out tied for the lead. I had to slow down to get someone else to lead the downhill.”

After moving up from 5th to 1st on the hairpin, McKeever used a slingshot to get the inside line in the lead on the backstretch, but couldn’t keep Switzerland’s Ilan Pittier from passing outside and boxing him in for the final corner.
“Overall, I skied it how I wanted to and just didn’t have enough power in the end.”

On day one of World Juniors, young skiers had good days, bad days, and learning experiences. This writer was reminded of an old coach’s favourite phrase: “The only purpose of racing as a junior is to use up your mistakes before the results matter.” Enjoy the sunshine, learn from the rest of the day.

U20 Classic SpriNT (M/W) RESULTS

Milla Grosberghaugen Andreassen brought her own fan club from Norway. (Photo: FasterSkier)

Gerry Furseth

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