Russell Kennedy had the World Cup race of his life with a 12th-place finish in a cross-country skate-ski sprint in Cologne, Italy on Saturday.
“It was awesome. That was crazy today,” laughed Kennedy. “I thought I could do a top-30 but definitely finishing 12th was a surprise. I’m just psyched.”
The 27-year-old Olympian, who also shared guiding duties for Brian McKeever at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, took advantage of hard and fast conditions along with a glorious blue bird day to earn a spot into the head-to-head heats with the top-30 athletes after posting the 12th-fastest qualifying time around 1.6-kilomtre track.
“After my qualifier, I crossed the line and in my head I thought that was a sick race regardless of the result. Then I saw the result, so I was pretty excited,” added Kennedy, whose previous best World Cup finish was 36th in Quebec City.
Picking a spot in what he thought would be a fast quarter-final heat paid off for the Canuck. Taking advantage of a crash that took out two skiers in his opening round jaunt around challenging Italian track, Kennedy crossed the line in fourth spot.
The top-two athletes in each heat move on to the next round along with the next two fastest skiers overall. Kennedy punched his ticket into the semis by securing one of those two lucky loser positions.
“I had little expectations, but I knew that my heat would be fast,” said Kennedy. “I’m not the greatest skier in the heats, but I was just trying to stay close. It was fast. I got a bit lucky, but that’s the way it goes, and I’ll take it.”
Moving on to the semis, Kennedy darted to a big lead out of the gate where he led the pack for the first half skiing up and down the rolling terrain that made for a hard course. The lone Canadian in the heats faded while working his way through the middle part of the course towards the uphill finish. Kennedy’s day came to an end after finishing at the back of six-man pack, securing him 12th spot overall.
“I think coming off of elevation training I do pretty well, and the course today was at elevation as well,” said Kennedy, who is anxious for what may be ahead at World Nordic Ski Championships beginning next week. “I was smart with my training over the last week – knowing when to volume and intensity.
My form is super good and usually when I get a form like this it holds for a couple of weeks. I’ll try to recover for the sprint in Seefeld.”
The Italians finished one-two in the men’s race. Federico Pellegrino thrilled the Italian crowd with the gold, while Francesco De Fabiani locked up the silver medal. Lucas Chanavat, of France, claimed the bronze medal in men’s racing.
Alex Harvey, of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., qualified in 48th. Evan Palmer-Charrette, of Thunder Bay, Ont., was 59th.
None of the Canadian women qualified for the heats. Dahria Beatty, of Whitehorse, was the top Canuck in 38th. Cendrine Browne, of St-Jérôme, Que., was 48th, while Maya Macisaac-Jones, of Athabasca, Alta., was 49th, and Katherine Stewart-Jones, of Chelsea, Que., finished 51st.
American Jessica Diggins led the world’s best women around the sprint course, winning the gold medal. Germany’s Sandra Ringwald was second, while Sweden’s Johanna Hagstroem rounded out the podium in third.