Today was Day 1 of the biggest Nationals I can remember… over 700 skiers at this race, many of them the top-level guys from the USA, to check out the Olympic venue for the first time. The first weekend – Saturday, a training day, Sunday, the sprint relay day – has already created a terrific atmosphere as people discuss the courses and their various attributes. By and large, the comments are very positive – everyone likes the stridability of the classic course and the variability of the skate course.
Today’s sprint day was a shorter version of the Olympic courses – 1200 and 1000 metres for men and women respectively, vs. 1400 and 1200 in 2010. The racing started early, with the CCUNC relays starting at 9 am. Ed McCarthy (for UBC) and Zoe Braul (for Carleton) were the two XC Ottawa reps in the CCUNC relays, and Ed was gunning for the Ontario teams. Unfortunately, Coach John did not have control of Ed’s partner Elliott’s skis, and Elliott totally blew the wax, and was forced to double-pole some of the long uphills. They finished 9th. Zoe teamed up with Sarah Mamen, and they captured XC Ottawa’s first medal of the championships, with a bronze in behind Lakehead and Laurentian. I wish I could give you the minute details of that race, but I was probably asleep at the time.
The Open folks rolled in for the afternoon races, under skies threatening snow and temperatures somewhere around 0. The course had been supremely granular/slushy on the training day, but to their credit the organizers salted the course and worked it ferociously with rakes on the corners, and it held up very, very well.
Megan and Sheila cruised through the semi-final, looking very strong and in control. The final included teams such as Kikkan Randall (WC winner from December) and partner Laura Valaas (2007 U23 medallist), and the fearsome Perianne Jones/Devon Spika combination from Nakkertok. Megan and Sheila were totally primed to go up against them, but were too busy warming up to notice the blowing snow that had started mid-afternoon, and affected the wax of the day. Their skis weren’t as good as they could have been, but they still finished a strong 10th overall in a very good field, only 1:30 back from Randall/Valaas and less than 30 seconds from 3rd. A very promising start to the week.
Tom and Karl’s contention effort was over very quickly. It should be noted, at this stage in the article, that Tom and Karl have teamed up for one other sprint relay – the 2007 Nationals at the Plains of Abraham. Karl fell around a downhill corner in that 2007 semi-final, leaving Tom and Karl to scramble and... finish 6th, just out of the finals. Back to the present now, with Tom starting and pumped to sneak into the final in a fairly evenly matched semi, with the exception of the super-strong Stefan Kuhn/Phil Widmer, the eventual champions. Tom was apparently so pumped that he failed to close his binding the whole way (the possibility exists that it got popped off in the scramble), and his ski fell off on the first uphill corner on the first lap, 200 m into the race – a scrambly, crowded corner. He had to wait for everyone to go by, turn around, go catch his downhill-sliding ski, and then pursue. The unfortunate part was that Karl and Tom had good skis and a good day, skiing fairly even splits, and quite close to each other. They ended up catching up to and knocking off several teams, and finishing... 6th, two spots out of the final.
The moral of this story is both that equipment should be on very securely
at the start of a race, and that Karl and Tom need to seriously consider
whether to race with each other again.
Huge thanks to Coach John and the intrepid Justin, who got up extremely early and gave us deadly good grip. Next up is the short-distance classic race on Tuesday, and the 15cm of predicted snow tonight should be good to re-set the base – or, depending on the temperature, to make it very difficult to wax for!!
Congrats to Nakkertok on three 2nd place finishes - Challenge Boys, Challenge Girls and Open Women!