|Goldsack 45th in Pragelato World Cup|
Pragelato, ITA-The best result by the Canadian menís Cross-Country Ski Team may have been 45th during a 30-kilometre free technique event at World Cup Finals in Pragelato, Italy on Sunday, but the result caps off a season where the once nearly defunct program has taken a significant leap back into international prominence.
Since Beckie Scottís 2002 Olympic gold medal in cross-country skiing, the worldís attention has been focused on the Canadian women in the sport. While the Canadian women have celebrated, the menís team has struggled.
But it appears the substandard years are behind them. The Canadian menís team is now stronger and deeper than it has been in recent memory as four of the country's top male skiers, who have been suiting up in the nationís colours at World Cup cross-country ski events since January, completed their rookie season on the circuit today at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games site.
Flirting with top-30 results, and finishing in the top-half of the field regularly this season, the menís team consists of George Grey, 24, of Rossland, B.C., Chris Jeffries, 26, of Chelsea, Que., Drew Goldsack, 22, of Red Deer, Alta., and Devon Kershaw, 21, of Sudbury, Ont. The season was highlighted with a ninth-place result last week in a team sprint relay - the best result ever in the history of the program.
"We have been making some significant progress forward this year with the men," said Dave Wood, head coach, Canadian Cross-Country Ski Team. "Weíve had medal-winning performances by the team at under-23 World Championships and U.S. Nationals and continuous improvement at the World Cup. This is a whole new level for them, and it is now even tougher to gain ground on the world, but each one of them has a few years before they even reach their peak."
With Chris Jeffries and George Grey, who finished 49th (1:13:20.1) and 51st (1:13:25.2) respectively on Sunday, being counted on to lead the team, Drew Goldsack has been a bright light for the squad posting some strong results over the past month. Goldsack led the Canadian foursome in Italy on Sunday with a 45th-place result (1:12:56.6).
"This past couple of months on the World Cup has been an eye opening experience, and a whole new level of competition," said Goldsack, who won a gold and bronze-medal at the under-23 World Championships prior to joining the team in Europe. "I knew it would be difficult out here, but we keep pushing each other, and I have been happy with my results this season. This has been a very positive year for our team."
While a cross-country ski athlete peaks at age 26 or 27, it appears the menís team is on the right track. Chris Jeffries, the eldest member of the team at 26-years-old, got his first taste of World Cup life last year.
"I didnít realize until I was on my way home to Canada last year how much there was to learn," said Jeffries, who adds a major adjustment was getting used to the environment including the food, travel, time changes and dialect. "The World Cup is intense, it can be intimidating, and Iíve never had a deeper feeling of nervousness in my life. It is a totally different world."
And so, the learning curve continues, and there is no better place to do that learning than on the World Cup while competing against the best in the world.
"The first thing I realized is the difference a second makes out here is amazing. The entire field is fighting for every inch," said Goldsack. "A person can win one weekend and finish 30th the next."
Austriaís Christian Hoffman was able to gain that extra inch over the rest of the field on his way to winning gold in Italy with a time of 1:07:32.8. Germanyís Rene Sommerfeldt, who also captured the crystal globe as the overall World Cup leader, finished second (1:07:51.9), while Italyís Thomas Moriggl (1:08:02.0) edged out Norwayís Tore Ruud Hofstad (1:08:03.3) for the final spot on the podium.
The top North American in the race was US skier Carl Swenson, who finished 31st. He was followed closely by teammate Kris Freeman in 33rd. Andrew Johnson was 61st, David Chamberlain was 70th, Lars Flora was 73rd and Justin Freeman was 76th in the field of 76.
The men and womenís Canadian Cross-Country Ski Team will travel back to Canada on Monday to compete in the national championships in Charlo, N.B., which began today with relay events.
Men's World Cup 30km Skate, Pragelato, Italy
1.Christian Hoffmann, AUT, 1:07:32
2. Rene Sommerfeldt, GER, 1:07:51.9
3. Thomas Morrigl, ITA, 1:08:02.0
4. Tore Ruud Harstad, NOR, 1:08:03.3
5. Pietro Piller Cottrer, ITA, 1:08:04.8
6. Florian Kostner, ITA, 1:08:12.1
7. Frode Estil, NOR, 1:08:43.0
8. Kristen Skjeldal, NOR, 1:08:45.8
9. Reto Burgermeister, SUI, 1:08:55.2
10. Vincent Vittoz, FRA, 1:08:57.6.
31. Carl Swenson, USA, 1:10:51.5
33. Kris Freeman, USA, 1:10:58.3
45. Drew Goldsack, Red Deer, Alta., 1:12:56.6
49. Chris Jeffries, Chelsea, Que., 1:13:20.1
51. George Grey, Rossland, B.C., 1:13:25.2
61. Andrew Johnson, USA, 1:14:32.2
70. David Chamberlain, USA, 1:15:16.4
72. Devon Kershaw, Sudbury, Ont., 1:15:57.1
73. Lars Flora, USA, 1:15:59.3
76. Justin Freeman, USA, 1:19:12.0
Source: Cross Country Canada
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