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Cross Country Canada – SOLDIER HOLLOW, Utah—Étienne Hébert put his head down and charged around the classic sprint course at the 2002 Olympic venue in Soldier Hollow where he finished as the top Canadian with a 17th place finish at the opening day of the Nordic Junior and Under-23 World Ski Championships on Monday.

Clocking the 13th-fastest qualifying time to punch his ticket into the round of 30 of the head-to-head-heats, the 18 year old from Varennes, Que., put in a gutsy effort despite his day coming to an end in the quarter-finals.

“It was a pretty awesome race for me today. I couldn’t expect any more from myself as that was pretty much the best race I have done all year,” said Hébert.

Recognizing the size and power of the world’s best junior skiers he was lining up against, Hébert tried to break the pack 200 metres into his heat in an effort to earn a spot in the next round. Taking the lead until the finishing stretch, the young Canuck’s day came to an end when he was reeled in, and crossed the line in fourth place. Only the top two in each heat, along with the next two fastest times overall move on.

“I just knew at the beginning of the race I wouldn’t be able to go with those guys in the final 100 meters. They were just too big so I tried to just go for it and I did,” said Hébert. “I was able to hold them off until about 200 metres when they passed me.”

Hébert’s teammate, Reed Godfrey also earned a spot in the heats after posting the 25th-fastest qualifying time. Executing a similar race strategy to Hébert, Godfrey, of Canmore, Alta., was mixing it up with the leaders of his pack of six for most of his heat, but faded to fifth coming down the finish and was forced to settle for 25th overall.

“That was a pretty awesome day. I raced the fastest qualifier I could and had a lot of fun in my heat so it was a great for me,” said Godfrey. “The most challenging part for me was the finishing stretch. I was in pretty good contention for most of the course, but the biggest difference between myself and the other guys is their power to the finish. (This performance) gives me a little extra motivation for next year.”

Germany’s Janosch Brugger won the junior men’s sprint title. Norway’s Petter Stakston took home the silver, while his countryman, Herman Mart Meyer, skied to the bronze medal.

Two other Canadian men narrowly missed out on qualifying for the heats. Antoine Blais, of Levis, Que., placed 31st. Ty Godfrey, of Canmore, Alta., was 36th.

While none of the four Canadian gals were able to lock up a spot in heats of the junior women’s sprint, it was Ottawa’s Claire Grall-Johnson finishing as the top Canuck in 39th. Natalie Hynes, of Whitehorse, qualified 42nd, while Vancouver’s Annika Richardson was 44th and Lisle Compton, of Keewatin, Ont., finished 45th.

Russia’s Polina Nekrasova won the women’s event. Nekrasova was joined on the podium by two German athletes. Antonia Fraebel skied to the silver medal, while Coletta Rydzek handily claimed the bronze.

The top Nordic athletes under the age of 23 will be on the start line Tuesday for a classic-sprint race of their own.

The juniors will be back in action on Wednesday with the five- and 10-kilometre skate-ski race.

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Chris Dornan

Media and Public Relations

Cross Country Canada

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