Top results expected from national team
Forget the red carpet, Canada’s road to Sochi Olympic gold is frozen and white.
Two kilometres of newly-laid snow at the Canmore Nordic Centre will once again power Canadian athletes to World Cup success, thanks to a partnership between the Nordic sports, Winsport and Own the Podium.
But behind the pomp and circumstance of Frozen Thunder’s third year of autumn skiing, Canada’s national cross-country ski team has never looked more prepared.
“Twenty podiums is a reachable goal for us,” said head coach Justin Wadsworth. “The women are capable of achieving some big gains and the men have even more confidence.”
Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey, Len Valjas and Ivan Babikov will again lead Canada’s men’s charge, while Chandra Crawford, Dasha Gaiazova and Perianne Jones represent Canada’s fastest women on skis. Kevin Sandau will also join the team early in the season after winning the NorAm title last year, as will Alysson Marshall.
“This is a big year for us. We’ve built a very resilient team,” said Wadsworth.
Big season indeed. Canada has four events circled on its calender: the Quebec and Canmore World Cup stops in December, Tour de Ski also in December, the first look at the Sochi course in March and the World Championships in Italy, also in March.
The team is expecting top results at each of these races.
“Lenny handled training well and Ivan is in a better place than he was last year at this time,” Wadsworth said. “Also, Alex and Devon are more fit than ever.”
Kershaw said increased emphasis on strength and interval training has him feeling fit and he’s poised to improve on last season, where he was ranked second overall in the world. The team’s unofficial captain says the program has never been this strong.
“It’s staggering to see how much things have changed. I was with the team when we were at the bottom and there were no expectations. Now we’re competing for podiums and overall titles,” Kershaw said.
This year, the men’s and women’s teams were split up, as Wadsworth worked with the men and Eric De Nys worked with the women’s team. Team members said that allowed them to receive more focused coaching time on a team that is spread out. Crawford, Jones, Kershaw and Babikov train in Canmore, while Harvey, Valjas and Gaiazova spent more time training in Quebec.
“It took a while to adjust, but I think it made us a stronger team,” Kershaw said.
“We divided and conqured a little bit, but we’ll all be back together in Europe. It allowed us each to focus on what we needed to focus on and everything has shown it’s working,” said Jones.
Crawford also saw a return to form last year and has spent much of the summer working with Jones to improve her VO2 max (maximum oxygen consumption). Canadian women have proven they can sprint, however, they’d like better results in other distances as well. Crawford especially wants to win at the Canmore World Cup.
“I feel it’s not too complicated to perform when it counts,” Crawford said. “Our women’s group is amazing, no matter where we’re skiing, amazing things can happen.”
Crawford and Jones spent a large chunk of their summer training with the U.S. team in Alaska and Utah, and hope to mirror the American success.
“Sprinting is our main focus, but to become a better sprinter, you have to become a better distance racer, so I think our results will be better in those races,” Jones said. She wants to win in Quebec, which is close to her hometown near Ottawa.
“The more experience you get, the more you want to be on the podium. I’m definitely hungary for more.”
Bow Valley residents will have a chance to see the team race on Friday (Oct. 26) during the Frozen Thunder Classic, where the Canadians will face off against the U.S. and other nations on the two-kilometre loop. Heats will begin at 10 a.m.
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