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Ottawa Citizen: Ottawa skiers dominate cross-country races
By:  Kris Westwood   (2002/02/18)


Ottawa skiers dominate cross-country races
Sarah Peters, Karl Saidla post career-best victories


Kris Westwood
The Ottawa Citizen

Monday, February 18, 2002

Two Ottawa-area cross-country skiers scored career-best victories yesterday in the men's and women's 50-kilometre freestyle races of the Keskinada loppet in Gatineau Park.

"I can't believe it," Sarah Peters of Navan said with a gasp after crossing the finish line in two hours, 43 minutes and 57 seconds, nearly five minutes ahead of the second-placed woman. "This is huge, this is amazing."

Peters, 24, gave a dominant performance, leading the last 45 kilometres of the race in conditions made difficult by strong winds blowing 10 centimetres of fresh snow across the course.

Peters had been part of the national development team, based in Thunder Bay, but lost her spot two years ago because of illness. She decided to return to Ottawa and race as an independent, financing her comeback with part-time work in a bakery and sponsorship from a ski company.

Her best previous result was seventh in the North American Cup.

"Winning a world loppet is so much better than that," she said.

Sandy Tetreault of Old Forge, New York, finished second in 2:48:41. Gabrielle Nadeau of Cap Rouge, Que., was third in 2:49:10.

The men's race was much closer.

Robin McKeever of Canmore, Alta., and Jean Paquet of Val Belair, Que., started fast and opened a two-minute lead on their pursuers, but the tough conditions took them, allowing Ottawa's Karl Saidla and Lee Churchill to work together to close the gap.

Paquet and Churchill fell back late in the race, but Saidla caught and passed McKeever with seven kilometres to go and went on to win in 2:22:04.

William Fitzgerald of Thunder Bay also overtook McKeever, finishing second, 16 seconds behind Saidla. McKeever ended up third in 2:22:49, with Paquet fourth and Churchill eighth.

Like Peters, Saidla, 24, is also a former Thunder Bay development athlete who recently returned to Ottawa, partly to join the newly formed XC Ottawa club.

Saidla acknowledged the sacrifice that Churchill, his teammate, made to help him win.

"We decided to do a team effort," Saidla said. "We do a lot of training together. It's a really good atmosphere."

The 25-kilometre race, held at the same time as the 50-kilometre event, featured a surprise performance by Montreal's Dasha Gaiazov, who was not only the fastest woman, but also ninth overall out of 396 finishers.

Gaiazov, 18, emigrated from Russia with her parents three years ago. This year, she won virtually every race she entered, and she was selected to represent Canada in the junior world championships in Germany, but couldn't go because she won't become a Canadian citizen until summer.

Patrice Côté of Chicoutimi was the men's 25-kilometre champion with a time of 1:25:16.

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