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Local results on a national stage

Team Caledonia

Submitted by Caledonia Nordic Ski Club

The nation came to watch the best skiers in the country vie for the final spots on the national Junior and U23 teams, heading into the world championships this week in Whistler.

There were some international teams in the mix as well – Poland, Estonia, Czechia and Australia – tuning up for that international event. Prince George was host, but skiers from this region were not content to sit on the sidelines. More than a dozen skiers from the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club strapped in and gunned for their own positions among these elite athletes.

It was more than a chance to just rub ski poles with the best in the country, these young males and females wanted to show Canada what club-level talent exists here. Maybe they weren’t expected to win, but they all expected to show well, and they all did.

Tanner McConkey (left) and Garnet Ditto. CNSC photo

“Goals are very personal,” said Robin Ditto, a racer parent. “Many athletes came to PG looking for a spot on one of the national teams. Others came for points or a boost for squad nominations in their home regions. Still others came for the experience of a Tier 1 race. Some athletes, including a few Caledonia kids, have been sick, and their goal was just to finish the race. Every athlete at that event is a winner and I am so proud of Garnet and his teammates. They did their coaches and parents proud.”

They also felt that pride, themselves.

“I felt really strong in the sprint, and distance still felt pretty good,” said 15-year-old Aidan Cotter, a Grade 10 student at Shas Ti-Kelly Road Secondary School. “I was a little nervous, just at the beginning on the start line. Then I started thinking about the race. It was my first time doing a 20-k so I was mostly thinking, in that race, about finishing strong, and I think I did.”

“I pushed myself, and stuck with some really good athletes, I didn’t know I could accomplish this, and it was just a lot of fun,” said Tanner McConkey, 15. “I think it might have even been a personal best. It’s crazy to be racing people this good. When I was racing, I was up with some really good athletes and I could mimic their technique and what they were doing as they were racing the course. I could follow them and I thought it helped me in my race.”

His brother Cale, 17, has been to cross-country nationals before, and the US Super Tour, so he has been up against some of these same high-level skiers in the past. It makes the unmistakable impression that Prince George skiers must also be among the best.

“These races were really fun, and a really good experience, but they were tough,” Cale said. “This is a world class course, and all the people who were here added that element of competition that made it tough.”

Aidan Cotter (left) and Josh Fiala. CNSC photo

He said the preparation work was taken seriously by the local skiers. He was at the ski centre a lot, working on building up to the 20km distance.

“And then leading up to the race, making sure my nutrition was right, that I was hydrated, having a good warm-up, all leading to having a good long race. Of course, the wax team here helped me a lot to make sure I was fast on the course, and I really have to thank my coaches Wendy and Tony Fiala.”

Sixteen-year-old Garnet Ditto said: “It’s a really unique experience to get to come out here and race against such high-tier athletes. It shows you a lot about the upper echelons of racing; it’s very educational. For me, this is the highest calibre race so far. It really shows me what is necessary to be a top-tier athlete. It shows me how good their technique is, how good their endurance is, their strength, just really educational.”

Wendy Fiala said the Prince George Nordic sports community is in fantastic shape, having facilities that are among the best in the nation. Many laud it as one of the best ski centres in the world – skiers are able to race to such solid finishes against elite athletes, most of whom are several years older and some based at professional ski organizations.

“The interesting part for these kids is, they get their own Junior Worlds right here, this weekend,” Wendy said. “They are on the young side; most of them are in the U16 and U18 categories, up against the U23s and U20s, with four other countries here. We just told them to go in to do their best and have fun. Ski within yourself. Massive props to the kids who did this. This was a way to learn those lessons. This was time to learn. That’s always hard, (when you aren’t among the top finishers) but it is how you get better.”

It was a moment frozen in time by the Nordiq Canada stopwatch for each local racer in their events.
In the 1.1km Open Sprints (Classic style), there were five female and eight male competitors from the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club.

The U20 Women’s division had a CNSC placing list of Chloe Witso with a time of 3 minutes, 27.74 seconds. She was followed by Aliah Turner at 3:41.93, Gabby Hoehn at 3:47.56, Ashley Charlston at 4:00.26 and Callie Peterson at 4:00.73. There were 71 registered athletes in the event. The gold medal went to Poland’s Izabela Marcisz with a time of 2:55.64 in the finals, the silver went to Poland’s Monika Skinder, and the bronze to Dahria Beatty of Whitehorse.

On the U20 Men’s side, the Caledonia racers were led by Odin Witso who made the quarter-finals with a time of 2:54.37, followed by Aidan Cotter with a time of 2:57.88, Lukas Nolli at 3:04.24, Tanner McConkey at 3:07.18, Cale McConkey at 3:07.30, Connel Foster at 3:27.09, Garnet Ditto at 3:28.80 and Sebastian Botten at 3:33.00. There were 84 registered skiers who started out in the event. The gold medal went to Julian Smith with a time of 2:20.62, followed by Xavier McKeever and Julien Locke, all Canadians.

On the second day of racing, attention shifted from flat-out speed to tactical endurance in the 20km Mass-Start (Classic). Each skier had to do four laps around the 5km course.

The men’s gold medal winner for this event was Olivier Léveillé with a time of 51:56.4, followed by silver medalist Russell Kennedy and Leo Grandbois picking up the bronze, all from Canada.

There were five Caledonia males who tried their hand (no local females in this event). The top time went to Tanner McConkey with a result of 1::04:36.5, followed by Cale McConkey at 1:07:23.0, Lukas Nolli at 1:08:22.3, Aidan Cotter at 1:10:19.7 and Garnet Ditto who started the race but did not finish.
The third day of racing put everyone on their best foot, with the 10km Open event, allowing skiers to use the techniques they liked to circle the trail.

For the women, Poland’s Izabela Marcisz won another gold, with a time of 26:05.8 followed by Keidy Kaasiku of Estonia and Jasmine Lyons of Canada.

Caledonia’s female contingent was led by Aliah Turner at 31:58.0, then Chloe Witso with a time of 35.24.3, Callie Peterson at 36:07.1, Ashley Charlston at 36:09.7 and Gabby Hoehn at 36:45.7.
The three top men were all Canadian, starting with Russell Kennedy’s time of 23:20.6, followed by Maximillian Hollmann and Sasha Masson.

For the CNSC men, it was Tanner McConkey leading the way at 28:16.9, then Cale McConkey at 28:22.3, Odin Witso at 30:18.4, Connel Foster with 31:15.6, Garnet Ditto at 31:20.4, Aidan Cotter at 31.39.7, Sebastian Botten at 33:17.6 and Lukas Nolli was unable to start.

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