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PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. – Olivier Léveillé and Jasmine Lyons rose to the top of the Canadian class on Thursday, winning the 20-kilometre classic-ski distance races on the second day of the Nordiq Canada Selection Trials in Prince George, B.C.

It was a 20-kilometre game of nordic chess between the 21-year-old Léveillé and Russell Kennedy who is 10 years his senior.

After completing four laps around the technical trails of the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club, it was the youngster from Sherbrooke, Que. edging the veteran Kennedy in a photo finish at the line.

Arriving late to Prince George while resting in Europe following the Tour de Ski, Léveillé – a member of the 2022 Olympic Team – decided not to race in Wednesday’s sprint. The gamble paid off. He all but officially punched his ticket to the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Slovenia with a time of 51:56.4.

“I flew in late on Tuesday and I needed yesterday to train and feel the course. I think it was a good idea to have a day to settle in here which helped me in today’s race,” said Léveillé. “I was really stressed because I knew this race will dictate the rest of the season so winning today was really important.”

Léveillé and Kennedy took control of the race at the sound of the starting pistol, pushing the pace and leading the pack of 78 skiers in the opening lap. They wasted no time dropping the field and making it a two-man race in their second rip around the five-kilometre loop.   

“That second lap was even harder. We went really hard and just the two of us broke away,” said Léveillé.

Exchanging leads, the two played cat and mouse up and down the hills and around the technical corners until the final lap when Kennedy tried repeatedly to attack and shake Léveillé, but the feisty youngster wouldn’t go away.

“I had trouble finding the cruise control, so the last lap was really hard,” added Léveillé. “I was just hanging onto Russell. In that last lap, on the long downhill, I got to recover really well. I punched it as hard is I could on the final uphill and I made a little gap enough to hold it to the finish line.”

Kennedy, a 2018 Olympian from Canmore, Alta. who also guided Brian McKeever at the last two Paralympics, was clocked at 51:56.5 for second place.

Leo Grandbois, of Sherbrooke, Que., won the race for the bronze medal with a time of 53:36.5.

Max Hollmann, of Thunder Bay, Ont., battled back to fourth-place overall and a silver-medal U23 finish (53:51.7) despite dropping 50 seconds on the field out of the gate after getting caught up in a large crash when a pole planted between his legs and forced him to the ground.

“I looked to see if it was safe to get up and I saw the other 60 skiers coming at me full speed and I just thought get small, try to save the equipment. People just skied over me, broke both of my poles, I ended up in a tangle with a few guys,” said Hollman “I was just so shaken up and nervous. I thought my chances and race was over.

“I told myself to just ‘get angry’. You have to go, you have to get back. Pacing has to go out the window because if you don’t catch back on the pack, you are just never going to be fighting for it. I was ready to throw in the towel and when I came around the corner and saw the guys at the top of the hill, I was like I have to get on that. I gave it a little extra boost to keep going. I’m looking forward to that skate race on Saturday.”

At just 20 years old, Jasmine Lyons came out on top in the women’s 20-kilometre classic event.

The Ottawa resident was amongst a handful of skiers taking turns leading the pace at the front of the 55-woman field.

“We skied as a pack for almost the whole race. It was pretty chill trying to work together. The last lap we all picked up the pace a little and I tried to hammer up the hills,” said Lyons, who clocked a winning time of 1:02:10.4.

“Olivia (Bouffard-Nesbitt) did the brunt of the work a lot of the time, especially on the downhills. She was just skiing so technically well so she would often pull away and push the pace.

“I heard my friends cheering for me on the final hill, so I felt I’d go. I skied scared. Tried to survive and stay on my feet to the finish.”

It was a key benchmark race for Lyons who regularly skis for the UNH Wildcats on the NCAA Circuit.

“I just skied my own race. I really had no idea where I was at. I am on a pretty competitive circuit on the NCAA. I have done some hard races so I knew it could translate. I’m very happy.”

Another 20-year-old Canuck, Liliane Gagnon from Quebec City, was steady in a silver-medal performance, clocking-in at 1:02:35.9.

Bouffard-Nesbitt, of Morin Heights, Que., grabbed the bronze medal at 1:02:58.7.

Complete Nordiq Canada Selection Trials Results:

Open Men

  1. Olivier Léveillé (Sherbrooke, Que.)
  2. Russell Kennedy (Canmore, Alta.)
  3. Léo Grandbois (Sherbrooke, Que.)

Open Women

  1. Jasmine Lyons (Ottawa)
  2. Liliane Gagnon (Quebec City)
  3. Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt (Morin Heights, Que.)

U23 Men

  1. Olivier Léveillé (Sherbrooke, Que.)
  2. Max Hollmann (Thunder Bay, Ont.)
  3. Sasha Masson (Whitehorse)

U23 Women

  1. Jasmine Lyons (Ottawa)
  2. Liliane Gagnon (Quebec City)
  3. Keidy Kaasiku (Estonia)

U20 Men

  1. Garrett Siever (Kelowna, B.C.)
  2. Luke Allan (Ottawa)
  3. Raleigh Tarte (Kimberley, B.C.)

U20 Women

  1. Alison Mackie (Edmonton)
  2. Anna Stewart (Thunder Bay, Ont.)
  3. Élie-Anne Tremblay (Skibec, Que.)

More than 160 athletes have descended on the Caledonia Nordic Ski Cub for the 2023 Nordiq Canada Selection Trials in hopes of representing Canada at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Slovenia and the FIS World Junior/U23 Nordic Ski Championships at Whistler Olympic Park.

Nordiq Canada has a quota of 12 athletes, minimum four female and four male athletes for the 2023 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships. To date, one female (Katherine Stewart-Jones – Chelsea, Que.) and one male athletes (Antoine Cyr – Gatineau, Que.) have met the criteria. Graham Ritchie (Parry Sound, Ont.)  will be nominated by High-Performance Director’s discretion. The three races at the Trials will be used to select the remaining spots, as well as alternates for both genders.

Nordiq Canada will send 24 athletes to the 10-day U23/World Junior event which brings together the best 16 to 23-year-old cross-country skiers, as well as athletes in Nordic combined and ski jumping, from 50 countries to the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic venue.

Nordiq Canada is the governing body of para nordic and cross-country skiing in Canada, which is the nation’s optimal sport and recreational activity with more than one million Canadians participating annually. Its 60,000 members include athletes, coaches, officials and skiers of all ages and abilities. With the support of its valued corporate partners – Swix, Lanctôt Sports, Polar and Pembroke – along with the Government of Canada, Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee, Own the Podium, Nordiq Canada develops Olympic, Paralympic and world champions. For more information on Nordiq Canada, please visit us at https://nordiqcanada.ca.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:

Chris Dornan

Media and Public Relations

Nordiq Canada

T: 403-620-8731