CANMORE – Olympic trials for cross country skiing concluded in Canmore this week with a clearer picture of who'll don the Maple Leaf in Beijing, but there are still some question marks remaining.
Based on Nordiq Canada’s Olympic nomination criteria, these six athletes met the standard to attend the Winter Games in Beijing next month: Antoine Cyr, Graham Ritchie and Olivier Leveille for men, and Katherine Stewart-Jones, Dahria Beatty and Cendrine Browne for women.
Three spots are allocated for Canadian men and four for women at the 2022 Winter Games. An alternate athlete for each gender will be selected as well.
For competitors such as Beatty, she turned in a helluva performance at trials to qualify, while for others like Russell Kennedy, he's anxiously waiting for a potential alternate position to open up.
“I have a lot of emotions right now, I guess,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like anxiety, frustration – there’s a lot of things going on, but that’s part of high performance sport. If you don’t make the criteria, you don’t get the spot. I’m going to wait and see and keep my fingers crossed, but that’s kind of crappy. This is part of the Olympic roller coaster, you know? But it also makes it really special when you get there.”
Nordiq Canada's 2022 Winter Olympic Games team announcement is expected in the coming days.
Kennedy, from Canmore, was exceptional at Olympic trials, finishing on the podium in each of the three races he competed in. He was gunning to be Canada's first male alternate, but said he's in the second alternate spot currently.
"The three spots were already kind of taken [during the world cup], but I wanted to come into trials still and show my form just because and put my best foot forward and I think I did that," he said.
The 30-year-old 2018 Olympian has had the best racing of his career over the past two seasons, becoming a top 30 threat on the world cup circuit in the process.
For the past five years, he's also shared guiding duties with Graham Nishikawa for Paralympic great Brian McKeever.
On Saturday (Jan. 8) at the Canmore Nordic Centre, the classic races were the top prioritized event at the Canadian trials.
Canada's top men's skier Cyr won the race, but has already pre-qualified to the Games. Next was Rossland, B.C.’s Remi Drolet, who was 10 seconds ahead of Kennedy in third.
"I didn’t have my best classic race ever and you can't have all good races," Kennedy said, who also had a gold and silver at trials. "I was fighting for podiums every day and I was in the mix, but the last day is where I thought I was able to truly show my form so super positive through all that and I'm still keeping my fingers crossed that some spots will get dropped to us and get an alternate and still go to the Olympics. We’ll see."
This world cup season, Kennedy was under the gun and needed a top 20 finish to pre-qualify for the Games.
In Ruka, Finland last November, he had his best shot at doing so in the 15-kilometre pursuit.
But it turned into a heart-breaker and he finished 21st. Less than four seconds separated Kennedy and 20th place Remi Lindholm from Finland.
The races a week later in Lillehammer, Norway, turned to be a write-off for Kennedy stricken by illness “at a really crappy time.”
It carried over in Dresden, Germany, the final race before Canada's trials, where he finished 48th in sprint.
"Olympic years are always a bit of a roller coaster with pressure, being on and then off and this was kind of no different of a year," he said. "There was a lot of pressure early season and then I got sick and it’s just been a bit of a roller coaster here, so definitely pressure on at those trials here."
As the second alternate, Kennedy can only wait and see if a spot opens for a chance to represent Canada on the world's biggest stage again.
For Beatty, the 27-year-old from Whitehorse, she went "full tilt" in Saturday's 10-km classic to qualify for her second Olympics. The speed specialist finished second behind Stewart-Jones, who already pre-qualified during the world cup season.
With a little feedback on the course, Beatty was getting the M.O. on where she stood in real time. It still didn't stop the 2018 Olympian to push it as fast as she could.
"I knew I needed to put down a strong performance," said Beatty. "Especially after a disappointing race on Thursday. Just completely reset and I believe I was capable of doing what was necessary to qualify, so I made it really simple [and] focused on the process and left everything out on the course."
The Beijing Games start Feb. 4.