Xavier McKeever Sprints to 16th in FIS Nordic Junior World Ski Championships Opener at Whistler Olympic Park
WHISTLER, B.C.—Xavier McKeever took another stride forward in his development into an elite cross-country skier, qualifying for the head-to-head sprint heats for the first time in his five appearances at the Nordic Junior/U23 World Ski Championships on a blue bird Saturday at Whistler Olympic Park.
Returning to the trails where he was inspired as a young boy to chase an Olympic dream in the sport while watching his father, Robin, guide his uncle Brian to three victories at the Paralympic Winter Games, the 19-year-old Xavier McKeever put up a strong fight in a 16th-place finish.
“It was a bit of a mixed bag today. I didn’t know what to expect coming in and I have mixed emotions today,” said the young McKeever, whose mom Milaine Thériault also skied for Canada at three Olympic Winter Games.
“I wanted to do a bit better, but at the same time, it is my first time making it ito the heats at the World Juniors in five tries so at least we accomplished that.”
All eyes were on the hot prospect from Canmore, Alta., who was the lone Canadian male to earn a ticket to the quarter-final round of the heats after posting the 23rd-fastest time in his 1.2-kilometre qualifying spin around Whistler Olympic Park.
Calm and steady, McKeever settled into the pack heading up the long climb that winds out of the stadium. He made his move charging into a hairpin turn out of the first downhill.
“It’s a course where the draft is really important. I wasn’t stressed not being at the front for the first climb. I was scoping lines that might work on that hairpin yesterday,” said McKeever, who was part of Canada’s silver-medal winning junior relay team at the 2020 World Championships, “I took that corner almost too good.”
McKeever shot to the front of his heat before the final plunge back down to the stadium.
“Nobody wants to lead into the last downhill so that is why we saw everyone slowing down and standing up because everyone knows it’s a big risk,” said McKeever. “I was able to fight the way I wanted, but I didn’t have the power in the end. It’s not a bad day considering everything.”
McKeever crossed the line third. Only the top-two athletes in each heat, along with the next two fastest athletes overall, advance to the next round.
Sweden’s Anton Grahn was crowned World Champion. Elias Danielsson, also of Sweden, skied to the silver medal. Finland’s Eero Rantala claimed the bronze.
Two Canadian women –Alison Mackie (Edmonton) and Alexandra Luxmoore (Revelstoke, B.C.) – qualified for the heats.
One of the youngest members of the Canadian team, 17-year-old Alison Mackie, scrapped her way up the first hill while matching strides with the world’s best, but could’t maintain pace with the double-poling madness for the medals down into the horseshoe finish. Mackie finished 23rd overall in the classic-ski sprint.
“I really surprised myself. This is my first World Juniors so I’m really happy to get into the heats,” said Mackie, who qualified for the round of 30 in 22nd spot. “I had a good start and line. I just couldn’t catch up at the end. I really like this course. There are technical sections and it was a lot of fun.”
Alexandra Luxmoore got her second trip to the World Juniors off to a strong start. Earning the final qualifying spot into the women’s heats, the 19-year-old also matched strides with the next generation of elite cross-country skiers, but faded to the back of the pack as the heat progressed. Luxmoore crossed the line sixth to take 30th place overall.
“It was such a great experience, especially to have two Canadians in the heats,” said Luxmoore. “This course is so familiar because we had Nationals here so I felt comfortable. We have so much support here. It was so awesome to see all of the Canadian flags and to have everyone screaming for us.”
Finland’s Eevi-Inkeri Tossavainen sprinted to the first women’s World Championship title. Norway’s Miila Andreassen skied to the silver medal, while Sweden’s Lisa Eriksson locked up the bronze.
The world’s best athletes under the age of 23 will take centre stage on Sunday in a classic-ski sprint race.
More than 500 athletes – ages 16-23 – representing 37 countries are compete on Whistler’s ski trails and jumping towers over the next 10 days. It is just the third time Canada has played host to the Nordic Junior/U23 World Ski Championships. The Canmore Nordic Centre welcomed the next generation of Olympians in 1997. The World Juniors for ski jumping and Nordic combined were also held in Mont-Sainte Anne, Que. in 1979. It will be the first major international event at Whistler Olympic Park since the 2010 Games.
Race Schedule: The race schedule can be viewed here
Event spectator tickets are $5/person for a 1-day event ticket, or $25 for access on all event days. Kids ages 6 & under get free access! Those who have a regular Whistler Olympic Park day ticket or season pass for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing can spectate for free. Purchase tickets online here, or at the gate at Whistler Olympic Park.
The majority of the events are being livestreamed. More livestream information here
Photo by Ben Puskas