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Ottawa Sun: Ottawans conquer the hills.
By:  ALYSON BAILEY, Ottawa Sun   (2002/02/18)


Ottawans conquer the Hills Saidla, Peters capture 50- km freestyle races at Gatineau Park

Monday, February 18, 2002

A couple of Ottawa skiers struck gold yesterday in the Gatineau Hills.

Karl Saidla and Sarah Peters won the men's and women's 50-km freestyle races, respectively, in the Keskinada Loppet.

On the final day of one of the top cross-country ski events in North America, athletes from all over the world faced the gruelling 25- and 50- km freestyle races through the windy and challenging trails of Gatineau Park.

Local skiers were in abundance and Ottawa's best showed their strength and the way to the podium in the toughest race of all, the 50-km event.

Saidla, 25, skiing for the new X-C Ottawa Club, was the first to cross the finish line in two hours, 22 minutes and four seconds for his first Keskinada victory.

"It was just great," said Saidla. "There were difficult conditions over the course.

"Two years ago, I came in 13th, and four years ago sixth. This year, I did it."

Victory was also sweet for Peters, 24, who won the women's event in 2:43.57.

"It was amazing. This is huge for me," said an emotional Peters. "It's my home town and my home race.

"I won this race for my best friend, Jeff Campbell, who died eight years ago on this day. I wanted to win for him."

Both Peters and Saidla grew up in Ottawa and have skied the Gatineau Hills for many years.

They also both skied with the Nakkertok X-C Racing Club, then undertook the national team development program in Thunder Bay, but eventually returned to Ottawa.

"I've skied these hills for about 15 years, and I can say that I know this course like the back of my hand. It helps," said Saidla. "During this race, I wasn't in the lead until the last 3 km, then I went for it."

The large amount of snow that fell Saturday night turned the race into a more tactical and technical one.

"Where there were open areas, the snow was deep and that slowed everyone down," said Peters. "I saw my coach at the 30-km mark and he told me to focus on technique, which really helped.

"There was one area toward the end of the course where I had to be careful, a hill where other skiers can easily catch you up." Unfortunately for Saidla and Peters, their victories yesterday don't count for points in the national rankings, but they're looking ahead to the Canadian nationals, which will be held in Canmore, Alta., March 5-10.

"(The Keskinada Loppet) is a big race, and coaches can notice you here. The nationals are the next step for me. I would love to go as far as I can with skiing. It's such a great sport," said Saidla.

"I'm heading to the nationals and one of my long-term goals is to participate in the 2006 Olympics and to ski internationally for Canada," said Peters.

Earlier in the day, Patrice Cote of Ste- Catharine, Que., won the men's 25-km freestyle with a time of 1:25.16, while Dasha Gaiazov of Montreal captured the women's 25-km event in 1:35.58.

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