Article by Chris Dornan
LILLEHAMMER, Nor.—There were no podium celebrations, but the Canadian men’s cross-country skiing relay team will take a lot of positives from a 10th-place finish on Sunday in Lillehammer, Norway.
The young men’s team of Russell Kennedy (Canmore, Alta.), Antoine Cyr, (Gatineau, Que.), Olivier Léveillé (Sherbrooke, Que.), and Graham Ritchie (Parry Sound, Ont.) joined forces to clock a combined time of 1:16:14.2 in a tight 4 x 7.5-kilometre test – just 20 seconds out of the top-five.
“We were stoked to be running in the mix today. With a couple of different moves, there was the possibility of challenging for a top-five,” said Kennedy, who skied the opening classic leg for the Canucks.
Feeding off last weekend’s two, top-15 results on the World Cup, the 23-year-old Cyr catapulted the Canucks six spots up the standings into eighth while taking on the final classic-ski leg before handing off to Léveillé for the first of two skate-skiing segments in the race.
The 20-year-old World Cup rookie matched strides with the big boys of the sport before Graham Ritchie battled the world’s best in the anchor leg where he brought the Canucks to the final spot in the top-10.
“Things went really well for us today. Knowing we were right there in the fight for the top-five is confidence building moving forward into the season,” said Ritchie. “It snowed a bit yesterday and so the conditions were quite soft, but the techs did a great job to give us some fast boards.”
Norwegian teams grabbed the gold and bronze medals in the deep international field. The Norway 1 team skied to a top time of 1:14:58.7. The Russian II foursome finished just .02 seconds back in second at 1:14:58.9. Norway’s second team was just 1.2 seconds back in third (14:59.9).
“These are some of the hardest races of the year, and seeing our team step up to the plate has been super inspiring for me,” said the 30-year-old Russell Kennedy. “Without some of these nations getting two spots in a major championship, we would be right there fighting for third. I’m excited to move onto Davos and the rest of the season.”
In the women’s 4×5 kilometre relay race, the Canadian team of Dahria Beatty (Whitehorse), Katherine Stewart-Jones (Chelsea, Que.), Cendrine Browne, (Saint-Jérôme, Que.) and Maya MacIsaac-Jones (Athabasca, Alta.) placed 16th at 1:00:12.5.
The Russians finished on top of the women’s field with a time of 54:40.6. Sweden was second at 54:41.7, followed by the Norwegians in the bronze-medal position on the podium with a time of 54:41.8.
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