A very young group of eight Canadian cross-country skiers soaked in the international stage at the opening day of the Nordic Junior World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland on Sunday where British Columbia’s Remi Drolet emerged as the man of the day.
The 18-year-old Drolet was the lone Canuck to qualify for the head-to-head heats in the testy classic cross-country ski sprint race that gave the next generation of Nordic stars all they can handle with a difficult 1.6-kilometre track. Drolet, of Rossland, B.C., finished in 25th spot.
“I was pretty happy with the race. I thought my technique was good and executed well,” said Drolet, who is making his second trip to the junior international dance. “I wanted to have a little better result, but this was a good start and I’m excited to see what I can do the rest of the week.”
Drolet punched his ticket for the head-to-head heats with the top 30 skiers in the qualifying round when he clocked the 28th-fastest time. The top-two skiers in each heat, along with the next two fastest times overall, advance to the next round.
Drolet held his own on a course with little double poling and puts a premium on striding, but he was forced to the sidelines when he crossed the line fifth in his opening-round quarter-final heat on a chilly day in Finland.
“Remi was our man of the day,” said Erik Braten, Junior National Team Coach, Cross Country Ski de fond Canada. “This is a heavy course for these athletes. It is long and is a capacity course. Remi had great technique, skied strong, but dropped back on the last hill.”
Russia’s Alexander Terentev won the men’s race. Two Norwegian skiers snagged the final two spots on the podium. Ansgar Evensen was second, while Haakon Skaanes crossed the line in the bronze-medal position.
The youngest athlete at the Junior World Championships, Canada’s 15-year-old Xavier McKeever, introduced himself to the world by posting the 52nd fastest time in a field of more than 100 athletes.
“That is an insane result for someone Xavier’s age,” boasted Braten of the Canmore, Alta. resident. “He is very young, and he showed great technique today. This is very good.”
Calgary’s Thomas Stephen skied strong for the first half of the qualifying round, but ran out of gas coming down the stretch, putting him into 59th place. Pierrick Sarthou, of Longueuil, Que., rounded out the Canadian men in 67th spot.
Four Canadians toed the line for the women’s 1.4-kilometre sprint race. Calgary’s Anna Pryce finished just outside of qualifying for the heats, clocking a 42nd place time. Molly Miller, of Kimberly, B.C., finished in the middle of the pack in 52nd, while Isobel Hendry, of Canmore, Alta., skied to 69th position.
Anne-Marie Petitclerc, of Beaupre, Que., was first out of the gate for the Canucks, but skied into some bad luck when her binding broke after taking her first strides.
Norway’s Kristine Stavaas Skistad captured the first international crown for the junior women. She was joined on the podium by Poland’s Monika Skinder in second spot and Finland’s Anita Korva, who claimed the bronze.
It’s a whole new world exploding in the faces of Canada’s developing cross-country skiers, who are taking in all they can at the international Nordic showcase.
“The entire team stuck around to watch the complete races today. Normally that is not good for saving energy, but I think this is very good for this young group,” added Coach Braten. “They are seeing how things look close up, and will bring that back home with them to their training. They are watching everything and getting a real feel for what the level is like out here.”
The Under-23 athletes will have a sprint race on Monday. The juniors will face their next test Tuesday with a 5- and 10-kilometre race.