Chandra Crawford has been away for a while, but made a return to the podium in Rogla, Slovenia this past weekend with a silver medal in the women's skate sprint race. It was her first World Cup medal in almost three years, although she was hampered for the past few seasons with ankle issues. She's still in some discomfort but with the help of some custom boots she's back in the race — and her speed and fitness have returned.
"It feels really good to punch through onto a podium, and I'm so excited for our team that has been pushing so hard these two months," said Crawford, who won the sprint in the 2006 Winter Games and now has four World Cup medals to her credit.
Her goal heading into the finals was to stick close to Kikkan Randall, the American skier — and Crawford's friend — who has won the last two sprints. But the actual race went a little different from the start line, and after Randall fell it was anyone's game.
"In the final she fell so that was a bummer because we are still looking for a North American podium with us both on it, but I was able to break through," said Crawford.
Crawford was neck and neck with Maiken Caspersens Falla of Norway, who pulled away on the last stretch. Crawford crossed the line in second, with Ida Ingermarsdotter of Sweden pulling up in third.
Crawford's silver medal was Canada's first of the season, despite some strong performances, numerous results in the top 10 and a few results in the top five.
"Everyone has been getting personal bests all over the place and the wax techs have been giving us great skis, so you don't have far to look for inspiration on this team," said Crawford. "This one means a lot to me for sure, though. It is a long winter for us so the timing couldn't be better for our team heading into the break and the Tour de Ski."
Dara Gaiazova just missed the finals, but had a solid day for Canada in ninth.
In the men's heats, three Canadians qualified for the heats in the top 30, but nobody got past the quarter-final round. Devon Kershaw was 15th, Lenny Valjas 18th and Alex Harvey 19th.
Dario Cologna of Switzerland took the gold medal, followed by Nikolay Morilov of Russia and Anders Gloeersen of Norway.
There was also a classic mass start race at Rogla. Alex Harvey led the Canadian team with his 10th place result on the 15km course, with Devon Kershaw placing 16th and Ivan Babikov 22nd out of 70 starters.
Petter Northug Jr. of Norway took the men's gold medal, followed by Dario Cologna of Switzerland and Alexey Poltoranin of Kazakhstan.
Justyna Kowlaczyk of Poland won the women's 10km race, followed by Therese Johaug and Vibeke Skofterud of Norway. The top Canadian was Daria Gaiazova in 34th.
The next big event, getting underway on Dec. 29, is the Tour de Ski — nine events in 11 days, this time taking place at five venues in two countries. Individual results are the equivalent of a World Cup competition, and cumulative results are also taken into account to crown the overall winners. For more, visit www.fiscrosscountry.com.