February 27, 2013, Val Di Fiemme, Ita (ISN) – Canada’s Ivan Babikov put down the race of his life with a historic fourth-place finish at the Nordic World Ski Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy on Wednesday.
Battling sickness for most of the week, the relentless 32-year-old, of Canmore, Alta., posted the best-ever result by a Canadian in the men’s 15-kilometre individual start skate-ski race after clocking a time of 35 minutes, 30.7 seconds. The previous record was 16th set by Pierre Harvey in 1982.
“It isn’t a medal, but I’m pretty happy for sure,” said Babikov, who has enjoyed the best season of his career – crediting his strong results to a new training program set out by himself and Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth last summer.
“I have not been feeling great last week, and was pretty down after the pursuit. To get my body and legs back is really good. Our team worked amazingly well today. My skis were awesome, and it was really important for my confidence to have this race today.”
Willing his way to the finish line, Babikov’s named flashed on the big screen at the Val di Fiemme stadium with some of the top names in the sport.
“I could hear the splits on the course, and was feeling so good,” said the two-time Olympian. “When I realized I was staying with the leaders I was getting more psyched and pushed even harder. Who knows what could have happened if I had a little porridge for breakfast this morning, but I am still so psyched.”
Babikov pushed the medallists to empty their tanks. Norway’s Petter Northug collapsed at the finish line after clocking a golden time of 34:37.1 Sweden’s Johan Olsson was second at 34:48.9, while Norway’s Tord Asle Gjerdalen skied to the bronze medal with a time of 34:59.4.
Canada’s Devon Kershaw placed 33rd at 37:31.1, while Graham Nishikawa, of Whitehorse, finished 39th (37:40.7).
Nicknamed by his teammates as the Bulldog, Babikov is a two-time World Cup medallist – both coming in Val di Fiemme on the final daunting stage of the Tour de Ski – a nine-kilometre skate-ski pursuit with the final three kilometres straight up Alpe Cermis which boasts a 28 per cent hill grade. Babikov won a gold (January 2009) and silver medal (January 2012) in the unique race format.
On Wednesday he was at it again. The scrappy Canuck made the towering climbs on the 15-kilometre skate-ski course nestled in the picturesque Italian Dolomite Mountains look like flats while fighting his way to the finish line.
“I have no idea why I’m good at the climbing,” said Babikov earlier this year. “Where I grew up there were no hills. Everyone feels the pain at some point on the hills. Maybe I am able to cope with the pain a little better than others. People always ask me why I’m good at it and I don’t know. I just love climbing and I just go with it.”
Babikov’s story off the trails has been equally as special as his performance inside the race fences.
Raised in the Russian city of Syktyvkar nearly 1,500 kilometres northeast of Moscow near the Arctic Circle, Babikov immigrated to Canada in 2003 with his wife Svetlana. Finally receiving their Canadian citizenship in 2008, the Babikov’s and their two children are proud Canadians who now have their roots established in Canmore, Alberta.
Patiently waiting to complete the citizenship process, Babikov raced for Russia at the 2006 Olympics. The Olympic experience paid off for the Canadians as Babikov posted three top-10 results during a historic men’s cross-country ski performance at the 2010 Games when he finally had the opportunity to compete in Canadian colours.
With his family at home, Babikov will continue chasing medals for Canada on the Nordic highways around the world. Next on the slate is a 4×10-kilometre relay on Friday at the World Championships that Babikov will compete in with three of his closest friends, and teammates – Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey and Len Valjas.
“It was really important for me to have a great race today to get the confidence that I need for the relay and the rest of the season,” said Babikov. “I’m so happy to be feeling better, and really looking forward to racing that with the guys.”
Canada’s women’s 4×5 kilometre relay team of Daria Gaiazova, Perianne Jones, Brittany Webster and Emily Nishikawa, will hit the start line on Thursday.
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Complete Results: http://www.fis-ski.com/uk/604/1228.html?cal_suchsector=CC&event_id=31936
Top-5 Men and Canadian Results:
1. Petter Northug, NOR, 34:37.1; 2. Johan Olsson, SWE, 34:48.9; 3. Tord Asle Gjerdalen, NOR, 34:59.4; 4. Ivan Babikov, Canmore, Alta., CAN, 35:30.7; 5. Sjur Roeth,e, NOR, 35:40.1.
Other Canadian Results:
33. Devon Kershaw, Sudbury, Ont., 37:31.1; 39. Graham Nishikawa, Whitehorse, 37:40.7.