It wasn’t the dramatic splash Canada dreams of one day celebrating with its female cross-country skiers after the national women’s program showed marginal gains in its first race at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Cendrine Browne made her Olympic debut as the top Canadian in the women’s 15-km skiathlon, as she finished 33rd Saturday (Feb. 10) to open The Games in PyeongChang.
The Canadians wanted to put as many athletes in the top-40 as possible in the skiathlon, however Browne was the lone athlete to accomplish the feat. The Barrie, ON native finished 3.17 seconds back of the leader. Canmore’s Emily Nishikawa finished 44th, Anne-Marie Comeau 48th and Dahria Beatty was 52nd.
Browne’s result was an improvement from 2014, where Canada’s best female distance result was a 40th place finish from Canmore’s Brittany Webster.
“Here I can really use my power, because there are a lot of gradual sections,” Browne said.
The young skier is not putting pressure on herself in PyeongChang, and wants to simply improve.
“I was really calm. I was more stressed for trials. Now that I’m here, I want to enjoy racing,” Browne said.
Nishikawa battled in the top 25 for the classic portion of the race, but a critical ski selection error cost her too much energy. She believes her shape is there to compete, but needs everything to come together.
“It was an amazing atmosphere and I was so excited and happy to be racing here,” Nishikawa said. “I had a good start, but unfortunately struggled with slow classic skis. I made an error in ski selection and it forced me to work so much harder in the classic portion, using up a lot of my energy. I gave it my all in the skate and pushed hard. I know I am capable of much better performances, so I am excited for some more opportunities coming up.”
This is Nishikawa’s second Olympic Games, although she said the ski conditions are much better in PyeongChang than they were in Sochi.
“It definitely has a different feel. The venue is great and it has easier ski conditions, but it’s still similar in that it has the Olympic atmosphere,” Nishikawa said.
The race was also the Olympic debut for Beatty.
Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla dropped the field on the final two climbs to win gold with a time of 40:44.9, 7.8 seconds ahead of Norway’s Marit Bjoergen and 10.1 seconds ahead of Krista Parmakoski of Finland. It was the 11th Olympic medal of Bjoergen’s career.
Bjoergen was a workhorse, leading much of the classic portion thanks in part to incredibly fast skis. The 37-year-old fended off attacks from several young skiers, however Kalla managed to break away on the penultimate climb of the course.
The chase pack was unable to respond, allowing the Swede to cruise to the third gold medal of her Olympic career. Kalla won silver in the skiathlon in Sochi.
The biggest surprise of the race came from the Norwegians. Heidi Weng and Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg were ranked first and second in the world respectively heading into the Olympics. However the duo finished ninth and 11th respectively.
The men’s skiathlon began Feb. 10 at 11:15 p.m.