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Pre-Olympic Groomer's Report #6
By:  Claudia Van Wijk   (2009/01/18)


Woke up to clear skies and crisp mountain air for a third straight day this morning – the Europeans believe this is normal for Whistler in January….I think they’ll be in for a surprise in 2010.

Men raced first today in the 30 km Pursuit (4 laps of 3.75km classic, 4 laps of 3.75 skate). The BC Team opened the venue in synchronized fashion as forerunners – with the women skating the blue course and the men classic on the red. At 9:15 the gun went off and the pack of 38 men raced across the stadium and up the first hill, where I was standing trying to marshal the mad-house of coaches with spare poles, to stay to one side and not block the promo banners for TV cameras to capture. They then scrambled down the steep hillside to the tracks below to provide feeds on the return section handing out baby bottles full of ‘special’ liquids. The Italians were the pushy ones – but their athletes proved to deserve it, as they finished 1st and 3rd, sandwiching a French skier in 2nd.

Canadian men skied very well. Devon Kershaw was in the lead group right off the start. He even lead two full laps of the classic component. On the skate he gradually slid to the back of the lead group and couldn’t quite hold on to the fast pace when Italian skier, Pietro Piller Cottrer broke away on the final lap to win the race. Devon came in 9th. Ivan Babicov skied the four classic laps in the second pack, had a good transition and caught the lead pack at the end of the first skate lap. He held this position waiting for the right time to make his move, which came in the finish stretch coming from behind to get 6th place. Alex Harvey skied well today. His father was announcing the race, which may have provided extra energy from within as Alex held on to the end of the lead pack through all four classic laps. He skied technically well in the skate race, but more or less on his own – finishing in 12th position just 1:15 min behind Devon Kershaw.

Also in the top 20 were the pack that skied the whole race together – Chris Bulter, Dan Roycroft (Zone 4 creator), Brent McMurtry and George Grey.

In the break between the men and the womens Pursuit (3 laps of the 2.5km red classic and 3 laps of 2.5km blue skate) most spectators walked over to watch the jumping for the Nordic Combined competition. I instead snuck out for a ski on my favourite trail – the Norwegian Woods Trail. I was surprised to see so many skiers out. The Whistler Nordic Centre was fully open to the public – with recreational skiers using the Biathalon Centre as their hub. The predicted 2000 spectators must have come true on this glorious day of sun and –1 degree temperatures…as the parking lots were all full, and shuttle buses were continuously transferring people from the new lots a couple of kms down the road.

Back for the Women’s Pursuit which beat out the Men’s race in attendance once again…with 42 athletes lining up for the mass start. Sara Renner really showed Canada how well she has come back from her year off and having a baby. Skiing the classic portion in the lead pack, then sticking with a German skier in the third of three top groups….Sara held this place right throught to the finish coming in 6th. To round off the top 20, three Canadians skied strongly – Shayla Swanson, Brittany Webster and Dasha Gaiazova. Madelaine Williams, Brooke Goslin and Perrianne Jones finished in the top 30 – all receiving the valuable F!S points.

At the end of the day, a hot tub for the parents and ‘wife-of’, a nap for groomer Dirk, a few snack by the fire and it was soon time for Big D to head back up the Valley for his final grooming night. A fun and skilled team – Dirk has really enjoyed this new challenge. He looks forward to March when he returns for the Para Nordic World Cup…and of course next year for the Olympic Games.

Sunday’s ski race report will have to come from Brad Jones, as we fly home early in the morning – back to a less freezing Ottawa we are told. I think we timed this one just right.

Look forward to skiing my ultimate favourite ski trail…the North to South Nakkerloppet - next Sunday.

Cheers, Claudia

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