PYEONGCHANG, Kor.—Canada’s Len Valjas missed climbing onto the World Cup podium for the third time this year by the toe of his ski boot on Friday.
The 28-year-old Toronto native finished fourth in the classic-sprint race on the 2018 Olympic cross-country ski course in Pyeongchang, Korea.
“I have mixed feelings about today. It is tough to be that close and come up short,” said Valjas. “On the bright side, I learned so much on how to ski the Olympic course. It’s a very tough course. The climbs are the perfect grade for striding. I had fun racing today, even though I fell an inch short of the podium. I am still very happy with how things ended up.”
Qualifying for the round of 30 head-to-head heats with the second-fastest time, Valjas used his towering frame to power through the heats and into his first final of the season. Hanging at the back of the pack in fifth spot for most of the final 1.5-kilometre trek around the course, the seven-time World Cup medallist hammered the pace while rounding the last corner into the finishing stretch where he double poled relentlessly to the finish line.
Eyeing down a spot on the podium, Valjas gained huge ground in his charge to the line, but ran out of real estate after extending his boot at the finish, missing the podium by an inch in a photo finish.
“The shape is there right now and I am feeling good coming into World Championships. I ran into some trouble here with the food this week and I could feel my energy getting lower and lower today. It might have been my inability to eat well or the jet lag flying in here two days ago,” said Valjas who has a peanut and fish allergy and was reacting throughout the week.
Russia’s Gleb Retivykh won the race. Norway’s Sondre Turvoll Fossli claimed the silver, while Andrey Parfenov, also of Russia, edged out Valjas for the bronze.
It was also a stellar showing for Jesse Cockney, of Canmore, Alta., who finished 10th.
“This was a great result for me. To have a long striding course like this for the Olympics really suits my strengths,” said Cockney, who also has a ninth and 10th-place finish in his career. “Hopefully I can come back next year and race this course again at the Olympics.”
Simon Lapointe, of Gatineau, Que., was 27th, while Bob Thompson, of Woodstock, Ont., placed 31st.
Annika Hicks, Canmore, Alta., and Sadie White, of Thunder Bay, Ont., were the lone two Canadians in the women’s sprint race, placing 32nd and 34th respectively.
Slovenia’s Anamarija Lampic won the women’s event.
It is the first ever World Cup race being held in Korea – a test event for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang.
“Racing at night with all the lights was really cool. I had to wear dark lenses because it was actually brighter than a sunny day. I hope I can use the valuable info I learned tonight to my advantage when I race here next winter in the Olympic sprint,” said Valjas.