LAHTI, Fin.—A group of young cross-country ski Canucks took another major step forward in their continued development into elite skiers with a 10th-place finish in the women’s 4×5 kilometre relay on Thursday in Lahti, Finland.
Emily Nishikawa (Whitehorse), Cendrine Browne (Saint-Jérôme, Que.), Dahria Beatty (Whitehorse), and Katherine-Stewart Jones (Chelsea, Que.) joined forces to post the third-best Canadian women’s relay result in the history of the program after clocking a time of 56 minutes 37.7 seconds.
“We’ve been looking forward to this as a group. This is the first time we’ve fielded a World Championship relay team in a long time so it is super motivating and we are going to move forward from here,” said the lone Olympian in the group – 27-year-old Emily Nishikawa. “I really think this is just the beginning of something pretty special for our women’s program.”
It was just the fourth time in the last decade that Canada has fielded a women’s relay team at the premiere race outside the Olympic Winter Games. Canada’s best women’s relay finish came in 2001 when they were sixth at the World Championships. A Canadian team also cracked the top-10 in Lahti, Finalnd back in 1989 when they were eighth.
Nishikawa took the hand off in eighth spot after a strong classic-skiing opening leg from the 21-year-old Katherine Stewart-Jones.
“It was really good. The pace was so fast off the start,” said Stewart-Jones. “I got a bit of a gap off the front people, and was a little worried of falling behind, but people started getting tired on the second lap and I was able to catch up. I decided to run the hills on the second lap, and my skis were so fast that I was able to catch up on the downhills.”
With the classic skiing in the books, Cendrine Browne continued her solid World Championship showing by starting the first skate-ski leg in ninth place. The 23 year old dropped one more spot before handing off to Dahria Beatty who held the 10th spot while bringing the Canadians home to the finish.
“I was really proud of the team,” said Browne. “We knew we could do something great. We had great confidence coming into the race and are really proud of how we performed. We all skied really strong today.”
With the men’s program leading the charge over the last Olympic quadrennial, Cross Country Ski de Fond Canada has been focused on developing the next generation of elite women. One doesn’t need to look further than the 22-year-old Beatty to see the effort is starting to pay off.
“It was an awesome day. We talked about our strategy together, and put a team in that we could stay in the mix as long as possible,” said Beatty, who has skied into the elite group of 30 a handful of times this year and had a career-best 15th-place sprint result at last year’s World Cup Finals in Canmore, Alta.
“Our plan was to be in contention the whole race with the other teams and we did that. It was fun to be in the mix and ski strong as a group.”
The Norwegian women helped their country reach a milestone of their own – winning the 100th World Championship title for the dominant Nordic program. The Norwegian women posted a golden time of 52:21.5. Sweden was second at 53:23.1, while the host country Finland won the race for the bronze with a time of 53:23.6.
The men’s relay is set for Friday in Finland.