Three Canadian cross-country skiers, Katherine Stewart-Jones, Cendrine Browne and Russell Kennedy all skied into the points with the top-30 athletes in their return to World Cup racing on Saturday in Lahti, Finland.
Stewart-Jones (Chelsea, Que.) had the race of her life while skiing to 24th spot with a time of 41:08.6 in the women’s 15 kilometre skiathlon. Browne (Saint-Jérôme, Que.) also enjoyed her best-ever skiathlon result, finishing 27th at 41:30.0.
“It was good to get the first race of the season done, and I’m also very happy to get a new personal best result,” said the 25-year-old Stewart-Jones, who has only one other top-30 result in her young career.
Saturday’s skiathlon, which combines 7.5 kilometres of classic skiing followed by 7.5 additional kilometres of skate skiing, was the first World Cup start in nearly 10 months for the Canucks who trained at home for the first half of the World Cup season due to international travel risks associated with COVID-19.
“I wanted to ski as relaxed as possible in the classic part and get myself in good position. My legs started to feel heavy in the skate, so I just held on to the skiers around me. The wax techs did an incredible job with the skis today. They were very fast.”
Cendrine Browne shook off the first-race jitters and getting tangled up in an early crash, to ski into the points with the elite group of 30 for just the fourth time of her career. Skiing conservatively in the first three laps around the wet and fast 2.5-kilometre loop, the 27-year-old was poised to make her mark in the skate-ski portion of the race where she steadily progressed through the pack.
“I was a little nervous to see if I was in good shape or not. The plan was to hang on in the classic and then power through the skate and get in better position,” said Browne, whose best-ever World Cup result was 25th last year. Her first top-30 finish also came in Lahti, Finland at the 2017 World Championships.
“There was a big fall in the first kilometre of the race that I couldn’t avoid and ended up nearly last. I had to be very strong mentally, be patient and trust myself for the rest of the race.”
It was the first time two Canadian women have finished in the top-30 on the World Cup since 2014.
“I’m so happy to see that we have two women in the points in our first World Cup,” added Browne. “Getting a (race) bib on today felt so amazing. After 10 months without competing, today’s race was a nice reward for being patient.”
The Norwegian women also made a triumphant return to World Cup cross-country skiing, grabbing the top-three spots in the race. Therese Johaug was first across the finish line, stopping the clock at 37:45.1. Helene Marie Fosssesholm skied to the silver medal at 38:13.2, while Heidi Weng clocked-in at 38:14.7 to complete the Norwegian sweep of the podium.
Laura Leclair, of Chelsea, Que., skied to 44th place in her first ever World Cup start. Leclair posted a time of 44:26.8.
The personal best results continued into the men’s race for the Canadian squad. Russell Kennedy, of Canmore, Alta., skied into the World Cup points for the first time ever in a distance race.
The 30-year-old Olympian, who also shared guiding duties for Brian McKeever at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, took advantage of the fast conditions to clock a 29th-place time of 1:12:59.2 in the men’s 30-kilometre skiathlon.
“I am pumped up. That was a sweet first race to start the season off,” beamed Kennedy. “It’s a hard way to get into the World Cup season but it was so nice to finally race again.”
Kennedy skied a steady classic-ski portion of the race, before climbing to as high as 23rd position in the skate until he was not able to match strides with his small pack of four skiers, and dropped six spots in the final lap.
“The wax techs killed the classic skis today. I kept it pretty chill and tried to hang in there for the skate but just couldn’t quite make the split when my group pushed,” said Kennedy, who credited an awesome year of focused training for his strong start.
Kennedy’s best World Cup finish came in 2019 when he finished 12th in a sprint race.
“It is super good to know the training has worked and I also know I have a little bit more in me to give.”
The Norwegians also swept the men’s medals. Emil Iverson skied to the gold with a time of 1:10:18.4. Sjur Roethe settled for second in a photo finish at 1:10:18.8. Paal Golberg was 6.6 seconds off the leading pace in third at 1:10:25.0.
Antoine Cyr, of Gatineau, Que., skied to 37th spot at 1:14:08.5. Philippe Boucher, of Levis, Que., was 47th (1:15:52.6), and Remi Drolet (Rossland, B.C.) finished 49th (1:16:48.5).
The World Cup continues on Sunday in Lahti with the relay races. Katherine Stewart-Jones, Dahria Beatty, Cendrine Browne and Maya MacIsaac-Jones will suit up for the Canadian women. Graham Ritchie, Antoine Cyr, Philippe Boucher and Russell Kennedy will hit the start line in the men’s race.
Complete Women’s Results: https://www.fis-ski.com/DB/general/results.html?sectorcode=CC&raceid=36435
Complete Men’s Results: https://www.fis-ski.com/DB/general/results.html?sectorcode=CC&raceid=36436