Today was our first cloudy morning at Nationals in Prince George - a perfect day for our early start in the sprint races. With the temperature not even going below zero last night, the clouds helped slow down the melting caused by the sun, letting the track stay icy for the morning's qualifying rounds in the sprint. The sprint format has each skier race an individual time trial over the 1.03 km course (shorter for Juveniles) and the top 16 skiers go into knockout heats of 4 skiers each. Our qualifying rounds were moved earlier today, to 9:30 starts, once again so the tracks would be icy. The heats, however, were scheduled to start at 1:00, a time destined to be slushy.
XC Ottawa's intrepid crew of closet sprint specialists arrived at the stadium bright and early to find a canoe sitting in the puddle in the middle of the stadium. Apparently someone on the race committee has a sense of humour. Our first task on arriving was to test wax, and check out the course layout for the sprint, in the limited time we were allowed - once again, the course was protected jealously, and stayed closed to skiers most of the morning to preserve the remaining snow. The course consisted of a mixture of flat and rolling, with some technical turns, and one good climb; it was pretty much a perfect sprint course.
Those among you who follow the team closely, for whatever reason is best left to you and your nearest and dearest, will have noted the tongue-in-cheek nature of my earlier statement. XC Ottawa is woefully short on sprint specialists; Karl is known for his prowess in long-distance races, and the brothers McCarthy have, in their past, amassed nicknames such as "slow-twitch" for their ill-fated genetic material. Hope springs eternal, however. Megan has spent the last several months perfecting her double-pole technique and strength, and Tom's training has been short and fast - perfectly suited to sprinting.
The men were the first to go, followed by the women, then the junior categories. Unfortunately, none of us have done more than one sprint race this year (and some of us have done none at all), so the seeding system dictated that we start near the end, when the track had been wiped out and parts of the course already chopped up. Dave started out for the team, soon followed by Ed and Karl. Us three speedmeisters ended up continuing our reign of the unremarkable parts of the sprint results sheet. Tom, however, finished his course like a rocket, leaving the rest of the team gaping in wonder at his marvellous transformation. His final result was 18th, frustratingly out of the heats by seven tenths of a second, and only 2 seconds out of 10th place.
Megan was the last to go, and proved that her hard work has paid off, with a 16th place - good enough for a qualifying spot! As her heat wasn't slated to go until 4:06, and her results were posted by 10:30, we had a while to wait, and headed back to our palatial suites for some food and a nap.
In 16th spot, Megan got the hardest sprint heat, having to compete against the 9th, 8th, and 1st qualifiers. Despite a hard effort, Megan ended up out of the top 2 in her heat, and kept 16th as her final result. This freed her up to watch the exciting final heats with the rest of us!
The eventual winner of the men's sprint even was Sean Crooks of Thunder Bay, followed by a tight finish between Brian McKeever and David Nighbor, with Brian coming out in second. The women's was won by Chandra Crawford, followed by Dasha Gaiazova and Christine Bisson. A special mention goes to Skeets Morel, a favoured XC Ottawa training partner, who put in a gutsy performance in the senior men to finish 6th. Notable local performances were Marita Cockburn and Katrina van Wijk of Nakkertok, who finished 3rd and 6th respectively in the Juvenile Girls; John Rennie, also of Nakkertok, who finished 3rd in Junior Boys; Kate Brennan, of Kanata Racers, who finished 4th in Junior Girls; and Perianne Jones, of Nakkertok and the Junior National Team, who won the Junior Women's sprint.