Devon Kershaw Sprints to Eighth in Olympic Dress Rehearsal

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February 1, 2013, SOCHI, Rus. (ISN) – Canada’s Devon Kershaw had his best result of the season with an eighth-place finish in the skate-ski sprint race, and his first test, on the 2014 Olympic venue in Sochi, Russia on Friday.

The 30-year-old Kershaw was one of four Canadians, including two men and two women, to earn a spot in the head-to-head heats with the top-30 athletes following the qualifying trip around the 1.3 kilometre women’s course and 1.8 kilometres of trail for the men laid out near the Black Sea.

The Sudbury, Ont., native finished third in his quarter-final round, but advanced into the semis after being one of two luck losers. While showcasing some of his top form that led him to finishing second in the overall World Cup standings one year ago, Kershaw’s quest for his first podium of the year came to halt in the semifinals where he crossed the line in fourth.

“Today was a step in the right direction and I am happy with it, but I still can’t seem to react to that big pace change which has traditionally been my strength,” said Kershaw. “This has been a great dress rehearsal for us. It is another World Cup, but the whole vibe is at a different level. Everyone is very diligent because the next time we are here it is the big show. We have one week to dial it in and I’m thrilled to be here.”

Toronto’s Len Valjas, who has two podiums under his belt this year, qualified 15th to lead the Canadian men into the knockout rounds. The 24-year-old Valjas avoided trouble skiing near the back of the pack and was not able to mount a serious charge to the finish line after getting boxed out in the last turn into the stadium, forcing him into 20th place.

Norway’s Petter Northug won the men’s race. Dario Cologna, of Switzerland, sprinted to the silver medal, while Italy’s David Hofer grabbed the bronze medal.

Canada’s Alex Harvey injured his shoulder during a fall in training this week and did not race.

It was another solid outing for Canada’s Daria Gaiazova and Perianne Jones, who both qualified for the round of 30.

Coming off one of her best ever World Cup finishes where she was fourth two weeks ago in Liberec, Czech Republic, the 29-year-old Gaiazova finished 12th.

The Banff, Alta.-based Olympian secured her ticket into the fast-paced semifinals after avoiding getting tangled up in a crash in the opening round. With eventual race winner, Kikkan Randall of the United States, hammering the pace, Gaiazova was not able to respond and crossed the line fourth in her semifinal heat to add another solid result to the best World Cup season of her career.

“I think the change I made in training this summer to focus on sprints rather than distance was exactly what I needed,” said Gaiazova. “It was tough to adjust at first, but it is nice to see it coming together. I really like the course here. It is short, but tricky with a hard hill. I’m really looking forward to the Olympics here next year.”

After qualifying 16th, Perianne Jones of Almonte, Ont., could not respond to the pace on the challenging women’s Olympic course. The 27-year-old Jones crossed the line fourth in her opening heat to finish 18th overall.

Kikkan Randall, of the United States, dominated the field to win the women’s gold. Aurore Jean, of France, claimed the silver medal, while Norway’s Celine Brun-Lie rounded out the podium in third.

Chandra Crawford, of Canmore, Alta., has been battling a cold all week and did not qualify for the heats after finishing 51st.

The World Cup continues on Saturday in Sochi with the skiathlon races.

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Complete Results:

Top-5 Men and Canadian Results:

1. Petter Northug, NOR; 2. Dario Cologna, SUI; 3. David Hofer, ITA; 4. Sergey Ustiugov, RUS; 5. Nikita Kriukov, RUS.

Canadian Results:

8. Devon Kershaw, Sudbury, Ont.; 20. Len Valjas, Toronto

Top-5 Women and Canadian Results:

1. Kikkan Randall, USA; 2. Aurore Jean, FRA; 3. Celine Brun-Lie, NOR; 4. Astrid Uhrenholdt, NOR; 5. Mari Laukkanen, FIN

Canadian Results:

12. Daria Gaiazova, Banff, Alta.; 18. Perianne Jones, Almonte, Ont.; 51. Chandra Crawford, Canmore, Alta.