Alberta Teens Xavier McKeever and Tom Stephen Ski into top-10 at Nordic World Junior Ski Championships
Canada places six athletes – four men, two women, in top-20 at premier junior event
LYGNA, Nor.— Xavier McKeever and Tom Stephen hunted down the podium while leading six baby Canucks into the top-20 in the distance races that opened the 2022 Nordic Word Junior Ski Championships in Lygna, Norway on Tuesday.
Competing in his third World Juniors at just 18 years old, Xavier McKeever (Canmore, Alta.) delivered the best individual cross-country ski result of his career at the prestigious event, finishing fifth in the junior men’s 30-kilometre skate-ski race.
McKeever’s teammate and friend, Tom Stephen (Calgary), finished on his heels in seventh.
Both athletes were part of Canada’s historic silver-medal winning relay event at the 2020 World Championships.
“It was almost surprising to me, how well I was able to stick with them (race leaders) and I was really stoked with how good I felt throughout the race,” said McKeever who stopped the clock at 1:14:02.4.
With the 19-year-old Stephen’s helping to control the pace, skiing at the front of a large pack for the first 10 kilometres of the race, McKeever – the son to Olympians Robin McKeever and Milaine Theriault – settled into the back of the lead group until making a move to get up front and work with his Canadian teammate for the back half of the six-lap race.
“We were all in a train, we were all trying to keep up with them, it would have been interesting to see if we were closer to the front, especially me and Tom because we had quite a bit of gas left at the end.”
Both Canucks skied strong, matching strides with the most promising Nordic skiers from around the world until the 25-kilometre mark of the demanding test. The Canadians took their turns pulling each other in the front group until the final five kilometres when four Russians began to surge ahead.
“Xav and I ski well together because we train together so much. I’ve been skiing behind Xav and him behind me for the past 10 years or so,” said Stephen.
The Canadians snagged two of the next three spots behind the Russians. McKeever crossed the line fifth, while Stephen clocked in at 1:14:06.8 for seventh place.
“It was a hard course with lots of narrow sections on the trails followed by wider sections, so it was a fist fight out there for sure,” said Stephen, a second-year engineering student at the University of Calgary, who was fifth in the 30-kilometer race last year. “It’s really promising for the relay, having four of us in the top 20, and being the second strongest nation next to Russia is super exciting. I am really looking forward to the relay tomorrow.”
Alexander Ivshin won the race with a time of 1:12:47.9. Saveliy was the next best finisher, eight seconds back at 1:12:56.0. Nikita Denisov completed the Russian sweep of the podium with a time of 1:12:59.9.
Two other Canadians from Whitehorse also had a strong outing, skiing into the top-20 of the 74-man field. Derek Deuling battled to 17th spot with a time of 1:16:39.9. Sasha Masson, whose parents Alain and Lucy Steele-Masson were also Canadian Olympic cross-country skiers, punched the clock at 1:16:46.8 for 18th spot.
Earlier in the day, Ottawa’s Jasmine Lyons had a stellar opening to her 2022 World Junior Championships.
The sophomore at the University of New Hampshire skied a steady race on the well-groomed and fast trails, finishing 17th in the women’s 15-kilometre skate-ski race.
‘It went well today. It was exciting to race all these great athletes,” said Lyons. “The atmosphere was great, and the techs did a great job with the skis, so I had a lot of fun out there.”
After a stumble out of the gate, Lyons recovered quickly and skied the first half the race at the back end of the top-30 but made a charge up the field into the top-20 at the 10-kilometre mark.
“I felt really good, so I decided to pick up the pace a little and chase down some of the girls,” added Lyons. “That was the plan today – to stay out of trouble and work my way up (the field) which I did a great job of doing.”
Jasmine Drolet, of Rossland, B.C., was in a groove until the 10-kilometre mark when she began to fade out of the top-15. The 19-year-old, who was 18th in the same race one year ago, stopped the clock at 41:36.8 for 20th spot.
Liliane Gagnon, of Shawinigan-Sud, Que., stopped the clock at 42:14.4 for 24th spot. Marielle Ackermann, of Kimberly, B.C., rounded out the Canadian women’s contingent in 51st place at 44:14.5.
Germany’s Helen Hoffmann won the junior women’s distance World Championship crown with a time of 39:23.1. Sweden’s Lisa Eriksson finished in the silver medal position in the 15-kilometre race for the second-straight year with a time of 39:25.7. Norway’s Tuva Brusveen-Jensen skied to the bronze medal at 39:31.3.
The women’s and men’s relays are set for Wednesday at the Nordic World Junior Ski Championships.
Complete Results: https://bit.ly/3BHkZyX
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