Paralympic update - Nordic News

Posted by Ralph | 2:53 PM


Canada’s cross-country ski athletes are sprinting into the highly-anticipated Olympic and Paralympic season replete with veteran leadership and podium potential.

On the heels of the team’s first official training session at the Canmore Nordic Centre, Cross Country Canada kicked off the 2009-10 season by unveiling a stellar lineup of 12 athletes that will don the maple leaf at World Cup and Para-Nordic World Cup competitions around the world.

“We have assembled a unique and experienced group of athletes that have made huge progress, and have demonstrated the ability that Canada is now ready to contend with the best athletes in our sport,” said Tom Holland, director of high-performance, Cross Country Canada, who added that 10 of the 12 athletes named to the senior squads have won medals at the World Cup and Para-Nordic World Cup levels. “For many of our athletes, Torino was their first trip to the Olympics and Paralympics. Building on that experience, we have celebrated many successes over the last four years, but will continue to follow the plan of peaking in Whistler this February.”

Three-time Olympian, Sara Renner of Canmore, Alta., and multiple World Cup medalist, Devon Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., will lead the charge for the Canadian contingent on the World Cup. Renner, who began her international medal haul in 2005 when she finished third in the sprint race to become the first Canadian to reach the podium at the World Championships. The Olympic silver medalist has also captured four World Cup medals throughout her 14-year career.

Renner will be joined on the women’s team by Olympic gold medalist and fellow Canmore native, Chandra Crawford, on the World Cup circuit, along with rising young star Perianne Jones, of Almonte, Ont. Crawford is ready to hit the start line this season after taking most of last year off to recover from injury, while the 24-year-old Jones will look to feed off the momentum gained from her strongest international result last year when she teamed up with Renner to finish sixth in the World Championship team sprint.

Devon Kershaw will lead the strongest men’s team that Canada has ever assembled for the World Cup. Kershaw, who made his Olympic debut in Torino, has since collected three World Cup medals while evolving into one of the most consistent skiers in all disciplines on the international circuit. Kershaw will be joined by 29-year-old Ivan Babikov of Canmore, who captured a gold medal in the final stage of the Tour de Ski last season. George Grey, 28, of Rossland, B.C., and 21-year-old Alex Harvey, of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., who teamed up to shock the world by finishing third in the team sprint at the World Cup at Whistler Olympic Park in January 2009, round out the men’s contingent. Harvey, who captured three Junior World Championship medals in his career, also claimed the bronze medal position on the World Cup podium in the men’s 50-kilometer race in Trondheim, Norway to complete his rookie season on the top cross country skiing circuit in the world.

“This is truly one of the most talented World Cup teams in our history, which is a testament to the continued strength and growth of our national program,” said Tom Holland. “Through the generous support and leadership of Own the Podium, along with our corporate partners, we can now deliver the world-leading resources our athletes need to gain a competitive advantage, and better prepare to reach our goal of regularly competing for the podium with the leading nations in our sport.”

The Para-Nordic World Cup Team has also benefited from additional resources, which has resulted in Canada developing one of the strongest teams in the world.

Brian McKeever, along with his guide and brother Robin, who have won nearly everything on the table in Para-Nordic sport including seven Parlaympic medals, will lead the team of five athletes.

Legally blind with Stargardt’s disease, which is a form of macular degeneration that affects central vision, Brian McKeever is continuing his quest to become the first winter-sport athlete to compete at both the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in 2010. If he meets his goal, it will make him only the second athlete ever in the history of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to accomplish the feat. Three years ago, Brian finished 21st in an able-bodied men’s 15-kilometer skate-ski race at the World Championships.

Joining the McKeever duo on the Para-Nordic World Cup will be eight-time Paralympic medalist, Colette Bourgonje, who is one of the few athletes ever to win multiple medals in both the Paralympic Summer and Winter Games. The Saskatoon resident competed in wheelchair racing at the 1992 Paralympic Summer Games, and sit-ski racing in five Paralympic Winter Games.

Multiple Para-Nordic World Cup medalist, Robbi Weldon and her guide Brian Berry of Thunder Bay, Ont., will be looking to make their Paralympic debut in Whistler with Jody Barber, of Smithers, B.C., and Mark Arendz, of Springton, P.E.I., who round out the national team.

“Canada’s Para-Nordic skiers have been winning medals over the last decade, but hosting a Paralympic Games at home presents a unique opportunity for us to showcase our sport and encourage more athletes with a disability to try cross-country skiing,” said Holland. “With Brian and Colette continuing to steer the ship, the younger athletes on our Para-Nordic Team will continue to benefit from them having the best skiers in the world at their side.”

The World Cup Team will head to Mammoth, California for a three week altitude training camp, September 28, while the Para-Nordic Team will participate in a three-week camp of their own starting September 27 on the Dachstein Glacier in Austria, before moving to Vuokatti, Finland.

Canada’s World Cup Team will participate in its first World Cup of the season, November 21, in Beitostolen, Norway. Canada will also host a World Cup one week prior to the Olympics at the Canmore Nordic Centre, February 5-6, 2010. The Para-Nordic Team will hit the start line for Haywood NorAm competitions in Canada in December before heading out on the World Cup in Europe, January 25, 2010

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