Final Olympic xc criteria released for Canadian skiers

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Alex Harvey has carried the Canadian ski team through the first half of this season with a string of top-10 results and Devon Kershaw is enjoying a renaissance as a top-20 threat every weekend; however the rest of the nation’s skiers have struggled on the world cup circuit.

Len Valjas is the only other Canadian to have cracked the top 30 this season, and he’s now battling injuries that have pushed him into the middle of a deep pack of skiers.

The team hoped to have many of its athletes hitting their stride in Davos, Switzerland, which has often been a strong world cup stop for Canada. However, Canadians have struggled. Many changed plans and have decided to head home for the holidays instead of train in Europe.

“Over the past four weekends of racing, I have struggled to find any form resembling my top speed. In ‘Plan A,’ I was going to stay in Europe for Christmas and keep racing on the world cup … however, my plans have changed, disappointed with how I am currently skiing,” Beatty wrote in her blog.

Cross Country Canada released its new Olympic criteria on Tuesday (Dec. 19), revealing the path to PyeongChang. Harvey, Kershaw and Valjas have met primary qualifying criteria, along with Jess Cockney, Knute Johnsgaard, Emily Nishikawa and Dahria Beatty. Canada will take a minimum of nine athletes, and could take a maximum of 12 if they are allocated extra, unused international federation quota places from nations with no skiers.

Canada must take a minimum of four women. The final two spots will be selected at a trials race Jan. 6-10 in Mont. St. Anne, Que. Those races include a classic sprint, classic distance and a skiathlon. The top female sprinter and the top female distance skier from trials will go to the Olympics.

That leaves Graeme Killick in limbo. He needs Canada to be allocated a 10th spot at the Olympics in order to punch his ticket. Killick has struggled early to break through into the top 30, although he did so last year in Davos.

If Canada earns an 11th spot, it will go to the country’s top male sprinter. Julien Locke is the favourite for that spot, having finished 36th this year on the world cup. However, he will have a challenge at trials from athletes such as Bob Thompson, Evan Palmer-Charrette and Russell Kennedy. Locke also won the recent NorAm sprint race in Rossland, B.C.

If Canada is awarded a 12th spot, it will go to a female distance athlete. Canmore’s Annika Hicks is on the rise and will be a threat for the spot, while Zina Lawson will also be in the hunt. Lawson has dominated distance skate races domestically in a comeback attempt, but the heavy emphasis on classic races at Olympic trials will work against her. Katherine Stewart-Jones and Cendrine Browne were unable to crack the top-30 on the world cup, but will be favourites at the Quebec trials.

Many athletes have complained criteria wasn’t made clear until six weeks before the Olympic games. Cross Country Canada did not want to finalize its criteria until after December world cups in Toblach, the end of the first world cup period.

Harvey and Kershaw will be the lone Canadians competing in the Tour de Ski over the holidays. Harvey finished ninth in the pursuit race in Toblach, Italy, as his final warmup for the Tour de ski, while Kershaw was 33rd. Norway’s Johannes Klaebo won his seventh race of the season, setting a new world cup record.

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