Junior Canadian Men Battle to Fourth at Nordic World Ski Championships
Canadian women team up for seventh spot in 4 x 3.3 km relay
LYGNA, Nor.—The next generation of Canadian cross-country skiers finished just shy of the podium in the relay events at the Nordic Junior World Ski Championships on Wednesday. The men’s team combined for a fourth-place finish, while the Canadian women placed seventh in Lygna, Norway.
Four Canadian teenagers – Félix Olivier-Moreau (Mont St. Anne, Que.), Xavier McKeever (Canmore, Alta.); Sasha Masson (Whitehorse), and Tom Stephen (Calgary) combined to rock the four, five-kilometre legs of the men’s relay in a time of 50:10.5.
“It’s definitely a bittersweet day but we have to remember this is Canada’s second-best ever result in the relay at the World Juniors so that is something we really need to be proud of,” said McKeever, who along with Tom Stephen was part of Canada’s historic silver-medal squad at the 2020 World Championships.
“I think being fourth, and saying it is bittersweet, really shows how far our program has come. We all did our part today.”
The relay consists of each athlete skiing one five-kilometre leg in the men’s event, while the women complete a 3.3-kilometre leg each. The first two athletes ski classic-ski format followed by the final two members of the team taking on the skate-skiing legs.
Moreau took to the start line to kick things off for the Canucks, battling his way up and down the rolling terrain. Moreau skied steady in the middle of the pack before handing off to McKeever in eighth spot, just 16 seconds off the leading pace.
Competing in his third World Championships, the 18-year-old McKeever hammered the pace, making up 12 seconds on the leaders and jumping the Canadians into third spot while skiing aggressively in a group of five countries.
“I got tagged and just wanted to get in contact with the group ahead of me and work with them,”
said McKeever, who was fifth in Tuesday’s 30-kiometre race.
“Lucky enough, I closed the gap quickly and started picking them off one-by-one. I was super happy with my leg and my effort, especially after having the 30k yesterday.”
With the Russians, Norwegians and Americans pushing the pace in the opening leg of the free technique, Sasha Masson dug deep to try and hold onto the tail end of a surge by the leaders. Skiing in fourth spot and the Swede’s fading behind him, Masson tagged off to Tom Stephen for the anchor leg.
“Xav tagged me with the American and we skied a lap and a bit with the Russian (and Norwegian). The Russian pushed on the one-skate hill. The American and Norwegian were able to go with him, but I just didn’t have the legs to hang on today,” said the 19-year-old Masson. “We are all quite satisfied being in fourth, but then also disappointed that we weren’t on the podium. I’m just super proud of the entire Canadian team.”
Stephen tried to put the pedal down but was not able to respond to the surge by the top-three nations who pulled away in a fight for the podium.
The Russians celebrated the gold medal with a time of 49:16.4. Norway finished 21.8 seconds back in the silver-medal position, while the Americans topped the Canadians for the bronze medal with a time of 49:38.8.
In the women’s event, Canada’s Jasmine Drolet (Rossland, B.C.), Sarah Cullinan (Thunder Bay, Ont.), Jasmine Lyons (Ottawa), and Liliane Gagnon (Shawinigan-Sud, Que.) combined for a seventh-place finish and a time of 38:38.0.
The 19-year-old Drolet, who is competing in her fourth Junior World Championships, rocketed out of the gate for the Canucks in the opening leg.
Drolet skied at the front of the pack throughout her classic ski lap and handed off to Sarah Cullinan in first spot.
“I’m really happy with my leg and really proud of the girls,” said Drolet. “I wanted to start fresh from yesterday. Classic is my style. It was a hilly course which is good for me, and I just wanted to give it my all which I did.”
Competing in her first-ever international race, Cullinan continued to battle in medal position until midway through her 3.3-kilometre dash when she began to drop off the leading pace. Jasmine Lyons began her journey in eighth spot and held the spot for Liliane Gagnon in the anchor position. Gagnon gained one more place on the field before crossing the finish line in seventh place.
The Norwegians won the women’s relay with a time of 36:52.3, topping the Russians in a photo finish (36:52.4). The Germans claimed the bronze medal with a time of 37:27.7.
“That was a really strong day for our entire team,” said Eric de Nys Nordiq Canada’s NextGen Coach, who added this is the strongest all-around squads that Canada has ever sent to the start line of the World Junior and Under-23 Ski Championships. “With Xavier and Tom having been a part of that relay medal before, and the other athletes being around them, there is a belief here. They all know it is possible.
“Our girls also need to be very proud. They raced ahead of their bib number from last year and they showed they want to fight for it on the world’s biggest stage for junior skiers.”
The Under-23 10- and 15-kilometre classic-ski races are slated to take place on Thursday in Norway.
Complete Results: https://bit.ly/3BHkZyX