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(Cross Country Canada press release)

Larry Sinclair, a founding member of Highlands Trailblazers Ski Club in Duntroon, Ontario, passed away on Monday after battling cancer. (Photo: CCC)

Larry Sinclair, a founding member of Highlands Trailblazers Ski Club in Duntroon, Ontario, passed away on Monday after battling cancer. (Photo: CCC)

Larry Sinclair

It is with great sadness that Cross Country Ontario and Cross Country Canada announce the passing of Larry Sinclair. As a young man, Larry competed both at the provincial and national level. The Sinclair family name was synonymous with cross country skiing in Collingwood. Larry’s dad, Jim was very involved as a coach and in sport development and Larry’s brother Shawn and sister Shelly have always been and still are heavily involved in officiating and management in the sport.

In the late ’70s and ’80s, Larry turned his focus from competing to coaching. Larry started out as the coach of a successful University of Guelph ski team introducing the sport to many and developing lasting friendships, through his quiet and humble enthusiasm and passion for excellence.

His interest in university sport was always strong and he led the first Canadian team to the World University Games, 1989 in Sofia, Bulgaria. He was also an innovator, leading several junior, provincial team trips to Europe to help young athletes gain valuable international experiences. Future National Team members such as Al Pilcher and Darren Derochie and others really benefitted from this experience.

Larry was a wax technician with the Canadian team at the 1988 Calgary Olympics and also assisted on other National Team assignments. In Canada, Larry led Southern Ontario and Ontario for many years as Head Coach and is a past recipient of the Heinz Niederhauser Coaching Award for excellence in coaching. It was fitting as Heinz was one of Larry’s important mentors, as he grew up as an athlete and coach.

Larry was instrumental in the development of the sport as an independent entity in Ontario. CCO was formed allowing it to directly access provincial funding moving it away from a bureaucratic model where funding was filtered through the alpine dominated Provincial Ski Association and the Ontario Ski Council.

In the ’90s, Larry turned more of his attention to the coaching of coaches and administration and as a course conductor was a key figure in nurturing the development of many young coaches. Many of those he worked with went on to be coaches and course conductors themselves, positively affecting the lives of many more coaches and athletes.

Larry was always actively interested in the equipment aspects of the sport, his “museum” collection of old Fischer racing skis and his work with Ski Trax on equipment reviews were among his more personal interests. He was the SkiTrax Buyer’s Guide editor for over a decade dating back to the first guide launched in October 1991. He oversaw the transition to a North American guide in 1995 and travelled to Scandinavia in 1999 visiting a half a dozen companies for the Factory Tour series.

Benjamin Sadavoy, Ski Trax editor and publisher described Larry as “a true pioneer and a legendary soul that was quick to laugh. We couldn’t have done it without him. SkiTrax joins the ski community in sending condolences to his family and friends.”

As the founding member of the Highlands Trailblazers Ski Club, Larry has mentored athletes and coaches to great achievements and inspired many young athletes to pursue racing. You also always knew that Larry would be able to find a place for you to stay the night when you were passing through the area. “Larry`s Farmhouse” has always been one of the key overnight stops for the avid racer and developing coach.

The Highlands Nordic facility has developed into one of the finest, all privately funded, cross country facilities in the country and has hosted multiple Ontario Cups, OFSAA Championships, and the Canadian National Championships. It was a family operation with any profits in a volatile, weather related business, going back into the further development of the facility itself.

Most recently, the facility hosted the World Junior/U23 Trials where some of us were fortunate to have a last visit with Larry. Being able to see the quality and quantity of racers competing at the event and meeting old friends, gave Larry great pleasure over the weekend.

Larry was inducted into the Collingwood Sports Hall of Fame as a builder in November 2014. He brought his passion for skiing to his latest role as Cross Country Ontario High Performance Chair where again his love of coaching was demonstrated.

The ski community has lost a great champion of racing and athlete development and builder of the sport. He was a kind and generous person, always willing to help out and get the job done. Our sincerest condolences to his wife Pat, daughters Kelly and Megan, and the Sinclair family as we all mourn their loss.

Funeral arrangements will be announced as they become available. A celebration of Larry’s life will be planned for the spring.

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Biathlon Canada's Scott Perras glances back at Michael Somppi (AWCA/NST-Dev.) during the men's 20 k freestyle mass start on Sunday at the Canmore Nordic Centre in Canmore, Alberta. (Photo: Angus Cockney)

Biathlon Canada’s Scott Perras glances back at Michael Somppi (AWCA/NST-Dev.) while leading the men’s 20 k freestyle mass start on Sunday at the Canmore Nordic Centre in Canmore, Alberta. (Photo: Angus Cockney)

By Evan Girard

CANMORE, Alberta — This past weekend’s NorAm Western Canadian Championships wrapped up the test run for when the Tour de Canada brings the World Cup to Canmore and Lake Louise, Alberta, next year.

Saturday’s 1.3 k Freestyle Sprint

Above-zero temperatures and sunny skies made for extremely fast conditions for Saturday’s sprint in Canmore. The course was a genuine sprint loop at 1.3-kilometers long and with virtually no flat sections.

Andy Shields (NDC Thunder Bay) posted the fastest qualifier time for the senior men. By the end of the day, Michael Somppi of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) and national development team pulled away from the field and take his place atop the podium, winning the A-final in 2:43.11.

“I made a split-second decision and attacked before anyone else behind us [Black Jack’s Julien Locke and I] caught up,” Somppi said. “Fortunately it was enough to get some separation and I was able to hang on in the finish stretch to win.”

The fight for second place was the excitement sprints are known for with the remaining five skiers within a second of one another. Locke was the skier with the best reach, finishing second, 1.68 seconds after Somppi.

“My strategy in the heats was to stay relaxed and try to make it to the A-final without spending all my energy to get there,” Somppi said.

Knute Johnsgaard (Yukon Elite Squad) took the final podium position finishing third, just five-hundredths of a second after Locke. Ian Murray (Rocky Mountain Racers) was the surprise of the final, finishing fourth, 2.32 seconds after Somppi, after qualifying in 24th, 15 seconds off the pace.

The top qualifier, Shields took fifth, one-hundredth of a second behind Murray. Sébastien Townsend (Alberta World Cup Academy) rounded out the final in sixth (+2.59).

A new rule change regarding false starts in sprint heats changed the woman’s race significantly on Saturday. The rule states that a false start merits a written warning, and any other false start that season results in an automatic disqualification.

The top women’s qualifier, two-time Olympian Perianne Jones (AWCA/NST-Dev. B) fell victim to this rule with a false start in her quarterfinal, which took her out of the competition. The women’s favorite of the day was now out of the running, this greatly changed the race dynamic.

“Things might have been faster off the start [with Jones in the final] but we had a tactical heat.” Andrea Dupont (RMR) said on Sunday. “I led off the start then tucked in behind. I thought about making an early move, but on this course its all about the finishing straight and I was able to attack and get in front.”

Dupont was quick to capitalize on the absence of Jones, cruising to a decisive A-final win in 3:07.03, 2.17 seconds ahead of Heidi Widmer (AWCA/NST-Dev.) and RMR teammate Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt 3.39 seconds back in third.

“My legs felt tired in qualifying, I just couldn’t push.” Bouffard-Nesbitt said. “I was just pumped to feel a little better in the heats.”

Dahria Beatty (AWCA/NST U23) took fourth (+4.08), biathlete Sarah Beaudry (Biathlon Alberta Training Center) was fifth (+5.89) and Annika Hicks (Canmore Nordic) placed sixth (+12.63).

15/20 k Freestyle Mass Start

Sunday morning’s conditions were drastically different from the day before; a dusting of fresh snow and strong wind made the 20 k men’s race and 15 k women’s race a true test of endurance.

Sixty men took to the soft tracks first, and halfway through the race, three men broke away from the pack and would remain in front for the remaining 10 k.

Somppi and Kevin Sandau, both development-team members and AWCA teammates, were familiar leaders in the NorAm distance race. Biathlete Scott Perras (Biathlon Canada) was a new face in the usual mix.

“I really tried to break up the group on the uphills; I didn’t want it to come down to a sprint.” Perras said afterward. “I have always been a good climber and felt strong today”

Perras tried to force Somppi to lead into the final downhill but Somppi stuck behind and pushed for the victory in 55:56.50, 2.39 second ahead of Perras. Sandau grabbed the last podium spot in third, 8.9 seconds after Somppi.

“I would have liked to be a bit more aggressive on the final seven kilometers but didn’t have much left in the tank,” Sandau said, adding he might have picked the wrong skis for the day because he had to work very hard to stay with Somppi and Perras.

In fourth, David Palmer (Black Jack) finished his 20 k race nearly 52 seconds behind Somppi. Another Black Jack skier, Colin Ferrie finished fifth (+54.42) and Russell Kennedy (Canmore Nordic) rounded out the top six (+1:11.2).

Emily Nishikawa (AWCA/NST-Dev.) leading the women's 15 k freestyle mass start at Western Canadian Championships on Sunday in Canmore, Alberta. (Photo: Angus Cockney)

Emily Nishikawa (AWCA/NST-Dev.) leading Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt (RMR) during the women’s 15 k freestyle mass start at Western Canadian Championships on Sunday in Canmore, Alberta. (Photo: Angus Cockney)

The women spread out early in the race, as Emily Nishikawa, who won Saturday’s B-final for seventh overall in the sprint, pushed the pace early in the first lap. Only Bouffard-Nesbitt attempted to go with her. Nishikawa remained in the lead the entire race, winning it by nearly a minute and a half in 46:30.89.

Bouffard-Nesbitt stuck in second for the rest of the race, holding off Beatty and Dupont to finish there, 1:27.5 behind Nishikawa.

“I’ve been really tired with all the racing lately; this is my sixth race in 11 but I felt strong today and was able to go out there and push,” Nishikawa said, adding of the tough conditions: “Racing is racing, you have out there and push.”

Nishikawa said she has used this weekend as preparation for next years Tour de Canada: “It’s a like our own mini-tour,” she said. “I was tired racing yesterday but I talked to my coach and we are using these races to prepare for next year.”

A very strong last lap brought Beatty into third place, three seconds behind Bouffard-Nesbitt and 1:30.9 behind Nishikawa. Dupont finished another 8.5 second later in fourth, Hicks was fifth (+2:42.9) and  Amanda Ammar (Canmore Nordic) took sixth (+2:56.6).

Results: Saturday’s sprints  (Brackets) | Sunday’s mass starts


Day 1 of the NorAm Western Canadian Championships in Lake Louise, Alberta. (Photo: Martine Zilligen/CCC)

Day 1 of the three-day NorAm Western Canadian Championships from Jan. 15-18 in Lake Louise, Alberta. (Photo: Martine Zilligen/CCC)

By Gerry Furseth

The NorAm ventured to Lake Louise, Alberta, for the Western Canadian Championships Thursday through Sunday, a test event for the 2016 Tour du Canada World Cup stage.

Unlike most Continental Cup events, the course does not meet International Ski Federation (FIS) homologation standards.  The trails are much narrower than the 4-metre minimum and there is a distinct lack of climbing.  What Lake Louise does offer is scenery that makes more traditional venues like Canmore and Whistler Olympic Park look boring in comparison. The 2016 World Cup event in Lake Louise is still pending approval from Parks Canada.

Brian McKeever (Canadian Para-Nordic Team) double poling to second place in the 10 k classic at NorAm Western Canadian Championships on Thursday in Lake Louise, Alberta.  (Photo: Martine Zilligen/CCC)

Brian McKeever (Canadian Para-Nordic Team) double poling to second place in the 10 k classic at NorAm Western Canadian Championships on Thursday in Lake Louise, Alberta. (Photo: Martine Zilligen/CCC)

The men started off Thursday with a 10-kilometer classic interval start on a single loop. Kevin Sandau (Alberta World Cup Academy/NST-Dev.) edged out Brian McKeever (National Para-Nordic Ski Team) by three seconds for the victory in 26:25.7.  Michael Somppi (AWCA/NST-Dev.) was third, 23.1 seconds behind.

Sandau was happy to get a victory on a course that he didn’t think suited his strengths.

“I had both skate and classic skis waxed in case I decided to double pole it,” Sandau wrote in an email. “While a few guys did end up using skate skis, my coaches and I made the call to use kick wax 10 minutes before my start.”

“I’m glad I chose to do that as after only skiing the course once yesterday, the few climbs were a bit longer than I remembered.”

McKeever chose skate skis and seemed happy with his choice, tweeting, “Fun race in Lake Louise today. Double polling almost got me the W, but feel short in a close one to @KevinSandau. A good battle!”

Somppi used classic skis to continue his run of third-place finishes.

“I had planned to double pole,” he wrote. “However my classic skis were feeling really good when I tested them so I decided to classic on slippery skis with minimal drag.

“I think it wasn’t the best decision.  They were plenty fast but I wasn’t able to take advantage of being on classic skis on the climbs because my kick wasn’t good enough to really power up them.  If I did it again I would probably double pole the race.”

Bob Thompson (NDC Thunder Bay) led at the 4 k timing point on classic skis, before fading to seventh, 41 seconds back.

“I went a bit lighter on the grip and had a great first half to the race, but then had to use a bit more energy trying to climb than I thought I would have to and lost a bit of time.”

The decision between classic and skate skis for distance races has not usually been difficult in North America. On an unusual single-loop course, Sandau and Johnsgaard skied the second half together.

“[My] race plan was sort of just to floor it the whole way,” Sandau wrote. “I was lucky enough to catch my 30-second guy near the halfway point, and because he was double poling I was able to keep my speed up sitting in behind him for the flatter section.”

Knute Johnsgaard (Yukon Elite Squad), who started 30 seconds ahead of Sandau, had a different strategy.

“It was my first time double poling a distance course so I just made sure I left enough energy for the uphills later in the course,” Johnsgaard wrote.

Like McKeever, Johnsgaard would choose skate skis again, despite finishing sixth, 38 seconds back on skis that didn’t give him all the advantage he expected.

“The AWCA [team] nailed their skis today as Kevin’s classic were at least as fast as my skate,” he wrote.

Continuing with the unusual, the women’s race was the same length as the men’s.

Emily Nishikawa (AWCA/NST-Dev.) continued her strong season with another clear victory in the women’s 10 k classic in 30:14.1, clocking the fastest checkpoint times at 4 k and 9 k.

Perianne Jones (AWCA/NST-Dev. B) was second, 38.9 seconds behind, after recovering five seconds on Nishikawa in the final kilometer.

Dahria Beatty (AWCA/NST-U23) completed the podium, 1:21 back from Nishikawa.

None of the women responded to email for comment by press time.

Results: Men | Women


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Two weeks ago, the NorAm mini tour at Highlands Nordic in Duntroon, Ontario, was in jeopardy of not happening — with insufficient snow to run the event with nearly 450 racers expected, according to Cross Country Canada. Cold temperatures and plenty of snow came through, however, and three days of racing took place from Thursday, Jan. 8, to Sunday, Jan. 11.

Perianne Jones (AWCA/NST-Dev. B) cruising through the finish for the NorAm classic sprint A-final win on Jan. 10 at Highlands Nordic in Duntroon, Ontario. (Photo: CCC)

Perianne Jones (AWCA/NST-Dev. B) cruising through the finish for the NorAm classic sprint A-final win on Jan. 10 at Highlands Nordic in Duntroon, Ontario. (Photo: CCC)

Two-time Olympian Perianne Jones and Jesse Cockney, also of the Canadian National Development B-team and coming off World Cup races in December, notched classic-sprint victories on Saturday.

During Sunday’s 10/15-kilometer freestyle interval starts, two other Alberta World Cup Academy skiers, Emily Nishikawa and Kevin Sandau (both on the national development team) topped the podium.

Jones was the fastest women’s qualifier in the 1.5 k sprint on Saturday in 3:57.71, 4.85 seconds ahead of Andrea Dupont (Rocky Mountain Racers), who advanced to the quarterfinals in second.

Jones went on to win the senior women’s A-final by 10 seconds over Dupont, and Cendrine Browne, of the national U23 team and Pierre-Harvey Training Centre (CNEPH), placed third, after already qualifying for Canada’s U23 World Championships team.

“It’s always nice to come out on top. Duntroon is a special place for me,” Jones wrote in an email after Saturday’s race. “My whole family was here today including my grandparents and aunt and uncle. So it was fun to put things together for them. My first coach Heinz Neiderhauser passed away here 7 years ago, and it was the first time being back on these trails since then, so I like to think I may have had a little extra help out there.”

Browne was ecstatic about her best-ever sprint. In an email, she explained that she set a goal of making the A-final.

“I never had a good result like this one in sprints,” Browne wrote. “I always said I wasn’t a sprinter, but after today I will stop saying that! … Before the final, my coach told me: All you have to do in this heat is have fun. That was true. I was there, I was in the A final, I could go down, only up. And I did! I was behind Perianne Jones till the last 150 meters. Then Andrea Dupont passed me on the final stretch.

“It feels so good to be on top of my game and to feel so strong,” she added. “I am so happy. I was literally smiling and jumping after my race today.”

Bob Thompson of the Thunder Bay National Development Centre (NDC) won the 1.8 k men’s qualifier in 4:12.10, just 0.47 seconds over Raphaël Couturier (CNEPH), who prequalified for U23 World Championships. Thompson, Cockney, and Patrick Stewart-Jones (AWCA) each won their quarterfinals, but Nakkertok’s Sébastien Townsend edged both Thompson and Cockney, respectively, in a semifinal photo finish to put himself in position for selection to U23 Worlds.

Black Jack’s Julien Locke won the second semifinal by a second over Stewart-Jones. In the senior men’s A-final, Cockney attacked on the last climb to pull out a three-second win over Stewart-Jones, and Thompson finished third.

“The race today was sort of all over the place,” Cockney wrote in an email. “I stumbled a few times in the heats and fell in the qualifier but there were good feelings in between all the sloppy skiing.”

That night, Cockney and Stewart-Jones, the early season NorAm leader, were headed to Europe in advance of the World Cup sprints Jan. 17-18 in Otepää, Estonia.

“Physically I didn’t feel great and felt like I was still tired from the 30km,” Stewart-Jones wrote in an email, referencing Thursday’s 30 k skiathlon, in which he placed 12th. “I just tried to race smart and take advantage of every opportunity I could get and in the end I came out with the best possible result I could have on [Saturday] so I’m happy with that.

“The season has been going really well as far as sprinting goes,” he added. “I have yet to hit my stride in distance but I’m sure that will come. Now I’m getting the opportunity to race some World Cups so I’m pretty excited about that!”

Thompson, who achieved his second NorAm of the season and is currently third in the NorAm rankings, explained that Cockney “made a big move on the last climb I couldn’t match and Patrick got ahead on the last downhill and I couldn’t make up the gap before the line.

“I felt strong all day and was really happy to have won my first sprint qualifier,” he wrote. “I had big hopes for the A-final and am pleased to get another NorAm sprint podium. I’ve been working on my sprinting for the last few years and it feels great that it is paying off.”

National junior team member Maya McIssac-Jones (RMR) edged Sophie Carrier-Laforte (Skinouk/NST Junior Team) in the junior women’s 1.5 k qualifier by 1.14 seconds in 4:12.12. MacIsaac-Jones went on to win her quarterfinal and semifinal before claiming a sizable A-final victory over Katherine Stewart-Jones (Nakkertok/NST Junior Team), who qualified in third and won her quarterfinal and semifinal as well. With her classic-sprint win, McIssac-Jones qualified for Junior World Championships. Annah Hanthorn (YST/NST Junior Team) placed third.

Julian Smith (NDC Thunder Bay) was the fastest junior men’s 1.8 k qualifier by 5 seconds over teammate David Askwith in 4:20.23. Smith went on to top his quarterfinal and ultimately the final by 1.5 seconds over Ricardo Izquierdo-Bernier (CNEPH/NST Junior Team) in second. Joey Foster (Team Hardwood) placed third overall, after edging Smith in the semifinal to advance to the final.

The senior men's 15 k freestyle podium on Sunday, Jan. 11, at the NorAm in Duntroon, Ontario, including winner Kevin Sandau (second from r), Michael Somppi (r), Raphaël Couturier (third from l) in third, and Graeme Killick (second from l) in fourth. (Photo: CCC)

The senior men’s 15 k freestyle podium on Sunday, Jan. 11, at the NorAm in Duntroon, Ontario, including winner Kevin Sandau (second from r), runner-up Michael Somppi (r), Raphaël Couturier (third from l) in third, and Graeme Killick (second from l) in fourth, and Andy Shields (l) in fifth. (Photo: CCC)

Sandau, E.Nishikawa Top Distance Skate Races

On Sunday, Sandau posted the fastest splits throughout most of the men’s 15 k freestyle to win in 45:18.2, 24 seconds ahead of AWCA teammate Michael Somppi, also of the national-development team. The top U23 of the day, Couturier placed third (+42.2).

“I knew it was going to be a hard 15km but I was looking for some redemption from Thursday’s mishap,” Sandau wrote in an email on Sunday, referencing his eighth place in the 30 k skiathlon. “From early on I grabbed the lead and just tried to grab more time on the climbing sections where I felt particularly good.

“My classic skis were abysmally slow in the pursuit and right from the start I switched into survival mode,” he added. “After trying to close the gap down on Killick and taking lead for most of the first skate lap, I eventually gassed myself. … My season and fitness seems to be trending upwards. I feel the fitness was still there and Sunday sort of proved that to me. I missed the chance to race in [at the Jan. 24-25 World Cup in] Rybinsk, but right now focussing on Westerns and Easterns and just trying to race as much as possible.”

Somppi explained he gave Sunday’s race “everything I had and was hoping for a victory, but Kevin was too strong for me,” he wrote. “He had a really strong performance.  Overall my weekend was very solid, but unfortunately I needed better than solid to qualify for the Rybinsk World Cup races. I’m really happy with the consistency but I’m still searching for some next level performances. I don’t feel I’ve had any kind of big peak for any races yet this year.”

Thursday’s skiathlon winner, Graeme Killick (AWCA/NST-Dev. B) placed fourth, 54.6 seconds behind Sandau.

“I struggled with the slow conditions and the body was a little fatigued,” he explained in an email “I know the skate individual is something I need to continue to work on.

“I was really happy with the weekend,” he added. “The conditions leading into the pursuit were very slow with a pretty easy classic course so I was a little nervous about trying for a break. When I managed to get away on the last lap of the classic I felt quite strong and ended up putting time on the field for the next few laps.

“I had a rough start in the early World Cups but was able to have some better races finally in Davos. I was on the edge of making it into the points but it was encouraging to have some close races and get to know the world cup speed. I am looking forward to getting some mass start opportunities in the second half of the season.”

Another World Cup racer, Nishikawa won her second of three races in Duntroon — the women’s 10 k freestyle — by a commanding 1:03.2 minutes over Browne in second. Jones was just 0.5 seconds behind Browne in third.

“I started hard, and was able to hang on to that pace for the entire race,” Nishikawa explained. “My lap times were very consistent. I pushed myself really hard, and am happy with the result.

Overall, it was a pretty good weekend in Ontario. I am back in Canmore now, looking forward to racing here this weekend.”

In an email on Tuesday, Browne wrote that the 10 k went better than she expected.

“I was starting to get a little tired after doing two big races but I told myself that everybody was tired and that I didn’t have any excuse,” she wrote. “I just gave everything that I had left and it gave a very good result! I couldn’t believe it, another senior podium! … My three races were some of the best races I ever did. I still think this is all a dream! But then I remind myself  all the hard work I did in the past few years and then tell myself that I earned every medal I won. These medals are the proof of all my hard work. I am so so proud of myself for these accomplishments.”

Jones didn’t have many expectations for Sunday; she didn’t ski the course beforehand, but she called the 10 k “great training” and “really fun.”

Before heading back to Canmore early this week, she planned to visit her grandfather briefly in Midland, Ontario.

“I’ll race at Westerns, and do some good training, and then hopefully head over to Europe at the beginning of February,” Jones wrote. “Nothing has been decided quite yet, but I’d like to get some more racing in, both sprints and distance races.”

After making the U23 World Championships team, Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt (RMR) placed fourth on Sunday, 1:29.2 behind Nishikawa.

“I set out on my last lap in third, in contention with Cendrine and Peri for second place,” she wrote. “Our splits were pretty tight, and then I totally lost it on the last lap. I think I ran out of gas on the climbing section of the last lap and managed to lose 20+ seconds on the girls. I’m really happy with how I raced the first three laps, and I know how I can improve on the last one, so a really positive day for me!”

Katherine Stewart-Jones rallied for her third-straight Junior World Championships bid, winning the junior women’s 5 k freestyle by 37.9 seconds in 18:05.6. Eliza-Jane Kitchen (BC Ski Team) placed second, and MacIsaac-Jones was third (+40.9).

Izquierdo-Bernier punched his ticket to return to World Juniors as well, winning the junior men’s 10 k freestyle by 34.1 seconds over fellow CNEPH and national-junior team member Zachary Cristofanilli in 31:20.1. Skibec’s Edouard Reed-Métayer placed third (+56.9).

Results: Saturday’s classic-sprint qualifier | final results | Sunday’s freestyle interval starts

– Gerry Furseth contributed reporting

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HOUGHTON, Mich. — Anyone following the final U.S. Cross Country Championships races on Saturday wasn’t seeing double: Rosie Brennan of Alaska Pacific University (APU) and Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess (Bend Endurance Academy) indeed topped the podium in the second-straight 1.5-kilometer sprint of the week.

Blackhorse-von Jess qualified first in the freestyle sprint, then won his quarterfinal and semifinal before rocketing to the front of the pack in the men’s final. He edged Tyler Kornfield (APU) by 1.16 seconds for the win in 3:31.02. APU had two on the podium and three in the top five with Reese Hanneman in third (+2.57) and Lex Treinen in fifth (+4.1).

Kris Freeman (Freebird) finished just five-hundredths of a second behind Hanneman to place fourth (+2.62), and Håkon Hjelstuen (Michigan Tech/Norway) was sixth (+6.23).

Brennan clinched her third-straight title of the week, a first since her APU teammate and U.S. Ski Team member Kikkan Randall won all four races at the 2010 nationals in Anchorage, Alaska.

Brennan qualified third, then dominated her quarterfinal and won her semifinal as well before dropping the women’s final field to win by 6.1 seconds over Caitlin Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus) in 4:04.97. Last year’s skate sprint champion Jennie Bender (Bridger Ski Foundation) finished just 0.32 seconds after Gregg in third.

APU took three out of the top five with Chelsea Holmes in fourth (+7.77), her best-ever sprint result at nationals, and Becca Rorabaugh in fifth (+10.3). Erika Flowers (Stratton Mountain School T2 Team) rounded the final in sixth (+16.18).

Men’s A-final

1. Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess (Bend Endurance Academy)3:31.02
2. Tyler Kornfield (APU) (+1.16)
3. Reese Hanneman (APU) (+2.57)
4. Kris Freeman (Freebird) (+2.62)
5. Alexander Treinen (APU) (+4.1)
6. Haakon Hjelstuen (Michigan Tech/Norway) (+6.23)

Women’s Final

1. Rosie Brennan (APU) 4:04.97
2. Caitlin Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus) 4:11.07 (+6.1)
3. Jennie Bender (Bridger Ski Foundation) (+6.43)
4. Chelsea Holmes (APU) (+7.77)
5. Becca Rorabaugh (APU) (+10.3)
6. Erika Flowers (SMST2) (+16.18)

Final results | Complete results

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Caitlin Gregg, 1st

Caitlin Gregg, 1st

HOUGHTON, Mich. — After not starting either the classic sprint and 20 k at the 2015 U.S. Cross Country Championships, Caitlin Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus) came out on top of the field in the 1.5 k freestyle sprint. With a time of 4:15.77 Gregg bested Jessica Yeaton (APU) by 2.23 seconds. In third was APU teammate Rosie Brennan, 2.26 seconds back from Gregg.

Fourth and fifth went to Craftsbury’s Caitlin Patterson (+7.26) and Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks’ Christina Truman (+12.29).

Unofficial Top 10 | Results (scroll for women’s results.)  

Caitlin Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus) 4:15.77

Jessica Yeaton (APU Nordic Ski Center) 4:17.90

Rosie Brennan (APU Nordic Ski Center) 4:17.93

Caitlin Patterson (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) 4:23.03

Christina Truman (Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks) 4:28.06

Hannah Halvorsen (Sugar Bowl Academy) 4:28.67

Jennie Bender (Bridger Ski Foundation) 4:29.20

Joanne Reid 4:29.44

Chelsea Holmes (APU Nordic Ski Center) 4:30.01

Rosie Frankowski (APU Nordic Ski Center) 4:31.68

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Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess


HOUGHTON, Mich. — Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess of the Bend Endurance Academy returned to the top of the results list with a 3:32.13 in Saturday’s freestyle sprint qualifier at the 2015 U.S. Cross Country Championships. Charging ahead of second place finisher Logan Hanneman of the University of Alaska Fairbanks by 3.52 seconds, Blackhorse-von Jess won his second qualifier of the week.

In third was Sun Valley skier Miles Havlick, who finished 4.61 behind the winning time.

Unofficial Top 10 

Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess (Bend Endurance Academy) 3:32.13

Logan Hanneman (University of Alaska Fairbanks) 3:35.65

Miles Havlick (Sun Valley SEF) 3:36.74

Haakon Hjelstuen (Michigan Tech) 3:37.74

Cole Morgan (University of Vermont) 3:39.63

David Norris (APU Nordic Ski Center) 3:40.80

Brian Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus) 3:41.01

Kris Freeman (Freebird) 3:42.22

Tyler Kornfield (APU Nordic Ski Center) 3:42.30

Alexander Howe (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) 3:42.79


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Sprint2HOUGHTON, Mich. — It’s the final day of racing at the 2015 U.S. Cross Country Championships and competitors are rearing to tackle the 1.5 k course in Saturday’s freestyle sprint. In stark contrast to Tuesday’s classic sprint where over seven inches of snow accumulated on the course between 8 and 11 a.m., Saturday’s sprint features a hard-packed course and relatively clear skies. Temperatures are sitting around one degree Fahrenheit and are expected to climb to 12 later today.

The men’s qualifier begins at 10 a.m. EST followed by the women at 11. Heats kick off at 12:00. Find live timing at


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Michael Somppi racing to third in the men's NorAm 30 k skiathlon on Thursday in Duntroon, Ontario. (Photo: CCC)

Michael Somppi racing to third in the men’s NorAm 30 k skiathlon on Thursday in Duntroon, Ontario. (Photo: CCC)

Note: This recap has been updated to include quotes from senior men’s runner-up Scott Hill, women’s runner-up Cendrine Browne, and Knute Johnsgaard, who placed fourth.

The NorAm circuit resumed Thursday in Duntroon, Ontario, with the first of a three-day mini tour starting with the men’s 30-kilometer and women’s 15 k skiathlons. Graeme Killick of the Canadian National Development B-team and Emily Nishikawa (NST/Development), both of the Alberta World Cup Academy, picked up victories in their first NorAms of the winter since starting their seasons in Europe on the World Cup in November.

On a -12 degree Celsius day with strong winds, Killick won the eight-lap men’s 30 k by 47.5 seconds over Scott Hill (NDC Thunder Bay) in second and Michael Somppi (AWCA/NST-Dev.) in third (+51.3).

“This race was my best ever open men result so I was really happy with that,” Hill wrote in an email on Friday. “Being the first U23 yesterday qualified me for the U23 World Championships in Kazakhstan at the beginning of February which was my main goal.”

Knute Johnsgaard of the Yukon Elite Squad placed fourth (+1:02.4) and Colin Ferrie of Kimberley finished another 0.3 seconds back in fifth. Brian McKeever (Canadian Para-Nordic Team) placed sixth, David Palmer (Black Jack) was seventh, Kevin Sandau (AWCA/NST-Dev.) eighth, Evan Palmer-Charrette (NDC Thunder Bay) ninth, and Andy Shields (NDC Thunder Bay) 10th.

Killick and Somppi led a tight-knit pack of about 20 early on, and the front group remained about 15 strong on the second loop, according to a Cross Country Canada press release. Killick came through the transition 16 seconds ahead of Johnsgaard, McKeever and Somppi, followed closely by five others.

By the end of the first of four skating laps, Killick was up to 30 second ahead of the nine-man chase pack, which Sandau led. Killick pushed the margin to 35 seconds by 20, and the chase pack dwindled to five, including Johnsgaard, Ferrie, Hill, and Palmer.

Killick had a 50-second gap to start the final lap and won it in 1:31:24.47, while the remaining five battled for second and third. Hill emerged in second, about three seconds ahead of Somppi.

In an email on Thursday, Somppi described his race as “solid … I didn’t quite have the energy I was hoping to have but happy I at least skied well enough to be on the podium.

“The race was long in very slow snow conditions and strong winds,” he added. “Graeme and I tried to break up the race early in the classic and we were getting good gaps over the climbing section but everyone would be back on us after the long gradual downhill.

“On the last classic lap Graeme was able to finally get away and I just didn’t quite have it in me to stay with him,” Somppi explained. “Big ups to Scott on his strong skiing today. I did intervals with him last weekend and figured he would be strong today.”

Fourth through sixth were separated by 0.6 seconds, with Johnsgaard edging Ferrie and McKeever, putting U23’s Johnsgaard and Ferrie in the hunt for the championship team as well.

In an email, Johnsgaard explained he’s been feeling “under the weather .. so 4th place was a good result. I’ve had a string of bad luck in the earlier NorAm’s this year so my season has been a bit disappointing until now. I’m really confident in the training I’ve done though and there’ll be better things to come.”

He described the beginning of the skiathlon as fairly slow because of the high winds and snow blowing into the tracks.

“Nobody really wanted to lead,” Johnsgaard wrote. “Killick was obviously strong though and would charge up the big hill in classic every lap. There would be only 4 of us at the top of the hill every time but then everyone would be back when we’d go down into the windy fields. Killick had a bit of a lead going into the exchange and in the skate there were maybe a half dozen of us chasing him. That’s basically how it was to the finish.”
The senior women's NorAm 15 k skiathlon podium on Thursday in Duntroon, Ontario, including Emily Nishikawa in first, Cendrine Browne in second, Andrea Dupont in third, Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt in fourth, and Dahria Beatty in fifth. (Photo: CCC)

The senior women’s NorAm 15 k skiathlon podium on Thursday in Duntroon, Ontario, including Emily Nishikawa in first, Cendrine Browne in second, Andrea Dupont in third, Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt in fourth, and Dahria Beatty in fifth. (Photo: CCC)

Emily Nishikawa Wins by 20 Seconds

In the women’s four-lap 15 k, Nishikawa posted a 20-second win over Cendrine Browne of the Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre (CNEPH) and NST-U23 team. Andrea Dupont (Rocky Mountain Racers) placed third (+36.4) after trailing Nishikawa and Browne closely on the first lap with teammate Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt (RMR), who ended up fourth (+54.6).

“I am happy to get the win today,” Nishikawa wrote in an email. “Our team had a tough day with skis, but I felt strong and skied well. The season has been going really well so far. I had some of my best races in Europe this fall.”

Nishikawa and Browne built a 20-second lead by the transition halfway through, while Bouffard-Nesbitt came through 15 seconds ahead of Dupont in pursuit.

The two frontrunners extended their lead to a minute over the second half of the race, with Nishikawa dropping Browne, who lost both contact lenses at the beginning of the skate leg. “I couldn’t see anything. That added a level of difficulty to my race!” Browne explained.

Meanwhile, Dupont closed on Bouffard-Nesbitt, who was in her fourth race of the season and third NorAm.

Nishikawa won comfortably in 50:37.88, and Browne put herself in position for selection to the U23 World Championships team in second. Dupont overtook Bouffard-Nesbitt for third, and Dahria Beatty (AWCA/NST-U23) finished fifth, 0.8 seconds out of fourth.

“My race today was fabulous,” Browne wrote. “I think it was one of my best races I ever did. I skied with a skier who went to the last Olympics and who just came back from the World cup circuit: Emily Nishikawa. I also crossed the finish line before two girls who were at the last Olympics: Heidi Widmer and Brittany Webster.
“My tactic was just to hang on and see what would happen,” she added. “So I stuck with Emily Nishikawa and that was a very good choice. We lost the rest of the pack early in the race so we managed to create a big gap between us and them. I stayed with Emily [until] the skate part. Then, I started to get tired so I lost her in an up hill, but caught back to her in a down hill and started the last skate loop with her. She pulled away from me in the same up hill but that time I couldn’t catch up to her. But still, I was very proud of the result.”

In an email, Dupont said she was satisfied with her outcome despite struggling on the classic leg “for some reason … which I would normally consider my strength,” she wrote.

“By the last leg I felt good and I was able to have a strong last lap, which is normally not my strength,” she added. “So, you have to learn from the bad aspects and be happy with the good ones.

“My season is going okay,” Dupont wrote. “I struggled with some health stuff in December, but I think that is resolved. So I am excited to be back to top form and hopefully this will lead to some good sprints.”

In terms of goals, she explained that it’s all about racing fast in Europe.

“The Canadian criteria has shifted with the goal of giving more opportunities to race in Europe and to see who is able to perform in Europe before choosing individuals for world champs,” Dupont wrote. “The key is they want to make sure they are taking the fastest closer to the events. So for me, hopefully based on January results, either this weekend or over the next few weekends, I can get a spot on one of the Euro trips. … Although there are more opportunities to race internationally, the athletes are footing the bill. This will definitely be an added challenge for many racers.”

Bouffard-Nesbitt, who was ecstatic to stay healthy for the last three weeks (after missing more than seven weeks of racing and training last winter to sickness) explained that her strategy on Thursday was to hang onto the leaders in the classic leg.

“This allowed me to come through the transition in third with a bit of a gap on some of the skiers behind me,” she wrote. “The downside of that tactic is that I tend to fade as the race progresses while some of the other girls get stronger. … In the last couple k of the course I was actually somehow oblivious to where Dahria was in relation to me, didn’t realize how close she was, and was almost caught by her by the finish! Something to take away and learn from today!”

“The second half of the skiathlon went well for me today,” Beatty explained. “I made a poor ski selection for the classic portion and couldn’t keep with the lead group which ruined my tactics and was quite disappointing but I was able to keep a good mental focus and once we exchanged to skate I was able to push hard and make up some good time.

“The last two races I have surprised myself with how strong my skate skiing has been feeling so I am looking forward to the 10km skate on Sunday,” she added. “The classic sprint [on Saturday] will be a lot of fun as well though as sprinting always is. For the first time I came into this trials weekend without a definite favourite race.”

Heidi Widmer (AWCA/NST-Dev.) was sixth, Annika Hicks of Canmore placed seventh, Alysson Marshall (AWCA/NST-Dev.) eighth, Brandy Stewart (Nakkertok) ninth, and Kendra Murray (Whitehorse) 10th.

Alexis Dumas (Skibec) won the 20 k junior men’s race in 1:11:16.22, ahead of Ricardo Izquierdo-Bernier (Fondeurs-Laurentides) in second and Zachary Cristofanilli (Orford) in third.

National junior team member Anne-Marie Comeau (CNEPH) was the 10 k junior women’s skiathlon champion in 41:27.48, over Katherine Stewart-Jones (Nakkertok) in second and Maya Macisaac-Jones (RMR) in third.

– Gerry Furseth contributed reporting

CCC’s NorAm report

Complete results: Men | Women | Junior men | Junior women

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Houghton, Mich. — Reminiscent of Tuesday’s U.S. Cross Country Championship sprint, Rosie Brennan (APU) entered the finishing stretch of the 20 k classic mass start with a clear gap ahead of her competitors. Crossing the line with a time of 1:10:42.4, Brennan outpaced second place finisher Caitlin Patterson (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) by 5.5 seconds.

Completing the podium was Eliska Hajkova of the Boulder Junior Nordic Racing Team, 8.5 seconds behind Brennan. Hajkova is a junior coach for the program and said that she decided to jump into the national competitions this week after having a good showing in the West Yellowstone, Mont. SuperTour.

In fourth and fifth were APU skiers Chelsea Holmes (+13.8) and Becca Rorabaugh (+38.9).


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