by Chris Dornan
January 11, 2014, CANMORE, Alta. (ISN) – Two of Canada’s most promising athletes in the sport of cross-country skiing, Heidi Widmer and Jesse Cockney, displayed the work they have put in over the last year by winning the Buff Sprints on Saturday, and are now ready for an opportunity to hit the start line at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
Serving as the selection races to determine the final four spots on Canada’s 2014 Olympic squad, the two young Canucks cranked up the heat on a dark, snowy and windy day blasting through the world-renowned Canmore Nordic Centre.
The 22-year-old Widmer, of Banff, Alta., completed an emotional day by handily winning the women’s sprint race, and has all but officially booked a ticket to her first ever Olympic Games.
“I have raced these trails and trained on them so many times, but this just feels so surreal,” said Widmer, while breaking into tears at the finish line. “I was on a mission for this. I didn’t want to be one of those Olympiczillas getting caught up in it all. There are so many ups and downs. I just wanted to stay focused on the process and not look back or ahead of myself. This is a dream come true, but I have only completed part one. Now the real journey and work begins.”
Three-time Olympic biathlete, Zina Kocher of Red Deer, Alta., made a charge to get her name in the mix to also compete on the Canadian Cross-Country Ski Team at the Games. Kocher finished second. Andrea Dupont, of Timmins, Ont., placed third.
While being interviewed in the finish corral, Heidi Widmer broke into tears when her older brother Phil walked past to hit the start line to secure an Olympic spot of his own.
“My inspiration is right there,” said Heidi Widmer. “I just wish I can channel some of this energy his way. He has been there for me the whole way.”
The 30-year-old Widmer, who was fighting for a return trip to the Games, was in a cage match with 24-year-old Jesse Cockney, who was looking for his first trip to the Olympics.
Lined shoulder-to-shoulder on the start line, the veteran Widmer, of Banff, Alta., took to the lead at the sound of the gun and held it around the hilly 1.7-kilometre track, which simulates the challenge athletes will face at the Nordic venue in Sochi. Cockney, of Canmore, Alta., tucked in behind Widmer until the final 100 metres where we put on a World Cup worthy sprinting display, hammering his way to the top of the pack to win the final sprint race of the trials.
“I just kept telling myself to get to the line,” said an emotional Cockney. “Phil has been so strong, and I took that outside lane for the finish. I didn’t know what else to do, but I just wanted to get to the line. It has been years of hard work. I don’t know if it is official. I did all that I can do and I just want to enjoy this moment.”
Widmer sprinted to the silver, while Patrick Stewart-Jones, of Chelsea, Que., was third.
“It was strong racing today, and it looks like we are going to have two athletes with promising futures and great personalities join our team,” said Justin Wadsworth, head coach, Canadian Cross-Country Ski Team. “Heidi really demonstrated that she clearly deserves to be selected. Jesse and Phil have put a lot of work to be ready for this, and fought it out to the finish. It was an impressive finish.”
Meanwhile, Canadian Nordic athletes were on start lines around the world. On the World Cup, Daria Gaiazova, of Banff, Alta., finished 13th in a skate-sprint race in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic.
After qualifying in 12th spot on the 1.5-kilometre track for the head-to-head heats with the top-30, Gaiazova went out hard in her quarter-final heat but faded in the charge towards the finish, and did not advance to the next round.
“It was my best result of the season today in a skate sprint. I’m feeling fitter and faster than I had at the start of the season,” said Gaiazova.
American Kikkan Randall won the women’s sprint. Canada’s Perianne Jones, of Almonte, Ont., did not qualify for the heats and finished 39th.
On the IPC World Cup racing in Vuokatti, Finland, Mark Arendz was the lone Canadian to compete in the 7.5-kilometre sprint competition.
The 23-year-old from Springton, P.E.I. missed three shots to finish seventh in the men’s standing division at 20:49.0.
“I felt I had a great race, but unfortunately I had some issues with the rifle,” said Arendz. “In a field where there was only one miss in the top-six guys, missing three is not going to cut it. It was one of those days where something small makes a huge difference. The hunt will be on for tomorrow’s pursuit race.”
Russia’s Azat Karachurin won the men’s standing division with a time of 19:13.9 (0+1).
For complete IPC World Cup results, please visit http://www.vuokattievents.fi/event_schedule
Cross Country Canada is the governing body of cross-country skiing in Canada, which is the nation’s optimal winter sport and recreational activity with more than one million Canadians participating annually. Its 58,000 members include athletes, coaches, officials and skiers of all ages and abilities, including those on Canada’s National Ski Teams and Para-Nordic Ski Teams. With the support of its valued corporate partners – Haywood Securities Inc., AltaGas,. Canadian Pacific and Statoil – along with the Government of Canada, Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee and Own the Podium, Cross Country Canada develops Olympic, Paralympic and world champions. For more information on Cross Country Canada, please visit us at www.cccski.com.
Complete Buff Sprints Olympic Trials Results: www.zone4.ca
Top-Five Women’s Results:
1. Heidi Widmer, Banff, Alta.; 2. Zina Kocher, Red Deer, Alta.; 3. Andrea Dupont, Timmins, Ont.; 4. Alysson Marshall, Salmon Arm, B.C.; 5. Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt, Quebec.
Top-Five Men’s Results:
1. Jesse Cockney, Canmore, Alta.; 2. Phil Widmer, Banff, Alta.; 3. Patrick Stewart-Jones, Chelsea, Que.; 4. Russell Kennedy, Canmore, Alta.; 5. Ezekiel Williams, Cantley, Que.