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Racing has begun for Canada’s U23 contingent at the 2021 Junior/U23 Nordic World Ski Championships in Vuokatti, Finland with the Individual Classic Sprint.

On a day that saw five Canadians qualify for the sprint heats, Pierre Grall-Johnson of Nakkertok Nordic was the top Canadian, setting a new personal best of 17th. Antoine Cyr (Skinouk) was close behind in 21st, followed by Remi Drolet (Black Jack) and Graham Ritchie (Georgian Nordic) in 28th and 29th respectively. Annika Richardson (Hollyburn Cross Country) was our lone female in the heats, finishing in 24th.

We checked in with a Pierre, Annika and Remi to find out how their first race of the championship unfolded.

Pierre Grall Johnson following the group in the men’s 1/4 final.

How did the sprint go today?

Interesting day today, really happy with the fact that all 4 Canadian men made it through to the heats! The 1/4 final turned into a slow tactical heat rather quickly, unfortunately didn’t have myself in a great position and when Graham crashed close to the end I had to go all the way around and a gap opened up between and few of us and the leaders. Didn’t quite have enough time to close the gap and got cut off in the finishing straight. In the end it was a 17th place, PB, for me, unfortunately not quite what we were looking for. On to the next one.

Pierre Grall-Johnson – 17th U23 Men’s Sprint

I was really happy with my sprint today. I’ve often struggled with not feeling my best in qualifiers and after 4 years of attending World Junior/U23 Championships I finally figured it out and made the top 30.
My coach Julia is here and we went over the course together on Sunday and planned out how I would ski each section which made the critical difference. It was a really short sprint, clocking in at 2:49 for me so every millisecond counted and there was no room for error. 
I felt like I executed my race plan well and skied a solid qualifier. It was fun to ski quarterfinals with some really fast women and get a feel for high level international heats. I’ve got some work to do but it was really motivating to have this opportunity to race, learn and get inspired for summer training.

Annika Richardson – 24th U23 Women’s Sprint
Annika in the qualifying round.

It’s been a different year with the pandemic, how has your preparation been?

The season was relatively smooth in the training side of things. I am lucky enough to be able to train with my two roommates at a very high level so I felt quite prepared going into this year.

Pierre Grall-Johnson

I’ve had a really solid year of training and preparation all things (mainly covid) considered. The last race I did before the pandemic was U23 World Championships in Oberwiesenthal and my races there were okay but I needed to make some technical improvements to be competitive. I was really motivated through April, May and most of the summer. Skiers are pretty very privileged to be an outdoor sport and my training was minimally impacted by facility closures due to the pandemic. I had really strong intensity sessions over the summer and fall and my coaches and I have been very pleased with my technical improvements in skate skiing and double pole. 

November, December and even January were tougher realities with the pandemic causing race cancellations left and right. A lot of my ski friends, myself included struggled a lot with finding motivation to get out and train. Its hard when the reason you ski is to race  and push yourself  but unfortunately, that’s just not the reality in Canada right now. Having the opportunity to be here at my last U23 World Champs before I age out has been a lifesaver in terms of reminding me where my motivation to train comes from and finding the fun in putting on a bib and racing. 

Annika Richardson

This year with the pandemic has been strange because we have all gone straight into some really big races.  For some, this has gone well and for others it has been a bit tough.  I would say that at this point we are getting in the groove a bit and that preparation up to this point has been pretty good.  The sprint today was alright.  I would say I had a decent qualifier, but I was hoping for more in the heats.  

Remi Drolet – 28th U23 Men’s Sprint
Remi in qualifying

The race was postponed due to cold weather yesterday, how are the conditions out there?

Vuokatti has been very cold recently, the delay of the races I believe was the right call, no need to damage the lungs. Hopefully the races now go on as planned.

Pierre Grall-Johnson

Conditions are cold in Vuokatti but looking at the weather forecast back home in Canmore makes it seem tropical. The original U23 sprint day was postponed due to cold weather as it stayed just below -20 degrees Celsius and it needs to be -19. Thank goodness there was no windchill! But, we have been getting some sun over here in Finland and the snowy trees and landscape are very beautiful. Luckily, the coldest front is behind us and it should be warmer for the last few days of the Championships. 

Annika Richardson

Yes, we were disappointed with the postponement, but it truly was very cold, especially with the freezing mist out there.  We spent the day skiing in the ski tunnel here, since it is a lot warmer.  

Remi Drolet

What are you goals for the rest of the championships?

My goals for this championships have been pretty simple this year. I’ve wanted to focus on myself and skiing my best on a given day. I also wanted to find my ‘inner kid’ and have fun racing with no result based expectations. I’ve found in the past that focusing on getting results at Championships causes me unnecessary stress and pressure (from myself). The 10km individual will be all about pushing as hard as I can, all gas, no brakes and being proud of my race when I cross the line.

Annika Richardson

My goals for the other individual race is a top 12 position.  I also hope to compete on the relay team and that we can achieve a solid result on that day as well.  

Remi Drolet
Antoine Cyr fighting through his 1/4 final.

How’s the team atmosphere after the race today?

The U23 men are relatively happy yet disappointed with today. We will definitely carry this frustration with us through the week and use it for some strong results but keep our heads high and focus on what’s to come! We look forward to racing again.

Pierre Grall-Johnson

The team atmosphere is a bit different since we can’t all hang out like we used to. A lot of us are good friends already so that helps with team rapport. The women are in a pod so we’ve been able to have meals together and hang out. 
Julia also got the whole squad to do some fun relays at the start of the championships which broke the ice a bit since they were pretty goofy. Some of my teammates were awesome too and came out to cheer for my heat and the mens today, masked and bundled up of course!

Annika Richardson

The team atmosphere has been great.  I have really been enjoying living with the other U23 boys, and I hope I can go on to do some more races with them once this championship is over.  

Remi Drolet

Best of luck to the team in the rest of the races!

U23 Men’s Classic Sprint result (

U23 Women’s Classic Sprint result (

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