World Cup and World Junior Championships Otepaa, Estonia

5km skate race Photo Cred: FasterSkier

There’s nothing like a long travel day to get some thinking done. I’m on my way back to Canada after being in Finland and Estonia for my fourth and final year at the World Junior Championships. It was all over before I knew it. I still don’t have a uniform emotion about the whole experience. I was happy with some moments, and devastated by others. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.

Russell Kennedy, Andy Shields, Patrick Stewart-Jones, Erin Tribe, Annika Hicks, Janelle Greer, Canada flag, Jordan Cascagnette and myself at the Opening Ceremonies

Since my last post, there’s been a lot of racing action. I’ll try and keep it brief but I always have trouble with that! After leaving Vierumaki, Finland on January 20th, we had two days to study the course and get used to the Esto way before I put my World Cup bib on for the classic sprint. All systems were a go once I got out of the gate as bib 44, but I just didn’t have the fire to light up that course. Ok, 52nd, not pumped bout dat. Weighing the pros and cons of the day, drawing from the experience and looking to the week ahead was my best, and only, option.

The Canadian Team for the Otepaa World Cup weekend. A happy, happy crew

Checking out the course layout while playing tourist in Otepaa, pre-pre-sprint day.

The first day of World Championships competition was a 5km freestyle event on January 25th. The 2.5km course climbs steadily from the stadium out to an open field for some more gradual climbing, then pulls a 180 degree turn into a long downhill. There’s a quicky of an uphill, down and back into the stadium. My distance racing has really come leaps and bounds since last season and I’ve been feeling stronger in my skate distance than classic. Of the past Championships that I’ve been to, I had the most confidence coming into these races. I skied the first 2.5km lap of the 5km with snap, power and a pace that I knew I would have to maintain if I wanted to achieve anything significant. Fist lap, check. Second lap? Ouch. The guy racers always joke about how short and ‘easy’ a 5km race is, but it’s a hard distance to get into the right gear for. Go out too hard, and you end up in 45th place like I did. Pace it too slow, and well, you’re not doing yourself any favours either. Positives - first lap felt great and technique good. Negatives - the fatigue in my legs that I couldn’t shake.

Climbing section in the 5km skate race Photo Cred: FasterSkier

The home base for the Junior/U23 Champs week in Arula, 15 minute drive from the site

Day two of competition was a 10/15km skate for the U23 racers and arest day for the Juniors. It proved to be a great day for the Canucks. Top results posted by the Academy’s own, Kevin Sandau in 5th and Emily Nishikawa in 16th. Other top results by Canadians Michael Somppi in 14th, Jess Cockney in 27th and Graeme Killick in 32nd. On the Women's side Alysson Marshall was the next top Canadian in 25th, then Sara Hewitt in 28th and Erin Tribe finishing 36th. Live broadcasting on the local Estonian channel made the fan experience lazy but exciting.

Day three of competition, sprint day. The anticipated day that pushed me to my limit in hard intensities and kept my head in the moment during rough patches of training. Needless to say, I’ve dreamed about this day. A sprint qualifier goes by so quickly, it’s sometimes hard to know if it was fast enough right when you cross the line. However, that day I knew that I wasn’t reaching my potential. My qualifier was the 27th fastest of the day, and starting the day ranked with bib 8, I was choked that I hadn’t managed better. Always looking forward, at least I had qualified for the heats. Gun goes off, skiers start flailing, and I’m doing my best to hang onto the pack. C’mon body. The gear shifter was seriously lacking today. My body was tense and short and could only manage to finish the day in 28th, knocked out in the quarterfinal.

Quarter final cornering with a french chicka. Photo Cred: Jordan Cascagnette

It’s sometimes risky to go into an event fixated on wanting a particular number beside your name on the final results page, but I honestly thought I was capable of a top-12 finish today. However, there’s a difference between giving everything you’ve got on a particular day and reaching your potential. The stars weren’t aligned for me on sprint day, but I know the world keeps turning.

Everything looks better here when the sun comes out. The flags at the Tehvandi site.

The fourth day into World Junior/U23 Championships. Another rest day for the juniors, but not as relaxing as you may think. Watching the U23 Canadians sprint day on TV from the hotel was amazing. We watched Len Valjas qualify 2nd, Jess Cockney 30th, Alysson Marshall 14th, Emily Nishikawa 19th and Sara Hewitt 30th. This was awesome. The action continued in the afternoon heats with lots of sprinting drama, disqualifications and dark horses. It was thrilling to watch my teammates do so well, especially when I’ve seen the work they put into their skiing. It makes it all the more meaningful. Jess Cockney astounded us all, finishing 6th, Len Valjas an impressive 7th place finish and Alysson finishing off a strong day in 12th.

On the fifth day of the event, and my third race, I suited up for a 10km Pursuit. I was excited to be productive with my energy and focus it towards having a good pursuit result. I’ve never witnessed a tornado or a hurricane or any sort of wind related storm, but I feel the wind on the pursuit day was storm warning worthy. My cheeks were pushed back to my ears and my poles hard to plant at times, fun stuff. The classic leg was quite fun, trying to avoid all the mass start carnage, and the skate leg felt pretty good. Not the best race of the season by any means, ended up 47th, but there were some glimpses of good fitness in today’s race.

It’s the last day of competition already? It was the 4x3.3km relay day (2x classic leg and 2x skate leg). The Canadian girls finished 13th last year and it’s always a goal to improve on your bib number. It hit me in the morning that old age was looming on the horizon. Maybe not grey-hair and wrinkles old, but this would be my last race at a World Junior Championships event! Janelle Greer, who has been racing strong all week and posting PB’s left and right, started the team off with the first classic leg. After a tangle up on a long climb, Janelle regained some contact with the main group and tagged to Heather Mehain for the second leg. Heather had a great classic leg, feeling the best she’s felt all week, and looking strong. It was Annika Hicks’ turn to tear up the course. The little skating machine had a great leg and it was my turn to hunt down some positions. I wanted to ski consistently for the first bit of the course and hammer with everything I had on the last flat and climbing section. A blue Kazakhstan suit blew by me as I hunted down the French suit ahead of me. If the course had been any longer, that French girl would've been mine, but we ended the day in 11th place and I thanked my legs for giving me their best effort.

U23 Men's 30km Pursuit lapping through the stadium

Alex Harvey wins the 30km Pursuit for Canada

The event organizers really had their work cut out for them on the last day of competition. They pulled off a hectic day of junior relay racing as well as U23 15/30km events. My effort for the day was done early in the morning so I was able to take in all the world-class U23 racing categories. The top Canadian woman was Alysson Marshall in 19th, followed by Emily Nishikawa in 25th, Sara Hewitt in 28th and Erin Tribe in 32nd. The world-class competition continued as we watched Alex Harvey out sprint Russian skier, Evenginy Belov, to be crowned World Champion. Other top Canadian results were Kevin Sandau in 24th, Graeme Killick in 31st and Michael Somppi finishing up the week with a 40th place finish. Being able to sing ‘O Canada’ at the medal ceremony was so inspiring and put the whole week into perspective. It reminded me of why I chose this sport and what I have to work towards in the future.

All results from both Junior and U23 racing this week here -

With the risk of sounding like a nostalgic goober, I’ve learned so much this past week and that I’m still trying to absorb all the lessons and apply them to the future. At times, the food was sketchy and mushy, but the people around me defined the whole experience. The wax techs and coaches (Graham Maclean, Joel Jacques, Lisa Patterson, Chris Manhart, Eric Bailey, Godfois Bilideau, Eric DeNys and Mike Cavaliere) know how to run a show and fuel it with passion. Thanks for a great trip.

Upon returning to Canada, I have a week of quality training in Canmore on tap before heading to Eastern Championships in Quebec and later to Canada Winter Games in Nova Scotia!

What a great, great bunch they are.

Home at last! Looking forward to some RnR at home

Some favorite tracks from the trip (thanks to the mëgamist mix)

United - Mark Oh

Dancing on my Own - Robyn

Frenchy I'm Faking - Architecture in Helsinki (because when else can you listen to this band and be in Helsinki??)

Latest read
Raven's End - Ben Gadd

Latest Vid... posted below.

Before you know it, I’ve written over 1000 words. Shut ‘er down Widmer.

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