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Frozen Thunder Classic opens XC season



The inaugural WinSport Frozen Thunder Classic at the Canmore Nordic Centre drew a large field of racers looking to get an early start of the season, including members of the national team.

The individual sprint event was run on a short track patched together from snow that has fallen in recent weeks at the Nordic centre.

The top racer overall was Andrew Newell of the U.S., who finished the course in 3:36.47, almost 10 seconds faster than the next racer. Philip Widmer from the Canadian development team took second place in 3:45.57, with Devon Kershaw — Canada's top skier — placing third by one one-hundredth of a second behind Widmer. American skiers rounded out the top 10 with the exception of Jesse Cockney in ninth.

The only Whistler skier in the group was Thomsen D'Hont, who is based in Whistler but represents the Northwest Territories provincial team. He placed 25th overall.

The women's side was all Canada, with Perianne Jones pulling ahead of Chandra Crawford for the top spot, 4:15.88 to 4:19.23. Alysson Marshall from the development team placed third in 4:22.14.

As well as launching the season, the other goal of the event was to showcase Canada's growing talent in Nordic sports while naming members of the World Cup cross Country team for the coming season.

The team is coming off a record season with 14 medals, numerous top five and top 10 results, and a sixth place overall ranking on the Nations Cup circuit for team performance. Devon Kershaw led the way with six medals (two gold, one silver, three bronze) to rank second in the men's distance race standings. Alex Harvey earned his first World Cup win and added a silver and bronze to place sixth overall. Lenny Valjas earned his first World Cup podium, then his second and third to finish with one silver and two bronze finishes, as well as place third overall at the World Cup Finals sprint mini tour.

Chandra Crawford, recovering from ankle issues, earned two podiums last year, teaming up with Perianne Jones to win one of her medals at the team sprint.

Jones was also renamed to the seven-member World Cup team, along with veterans Ivan Babikov and Dasha Gaiazova.

The Para-Nordic team was also announced with five veterans — who combined for 21 medals last year — returning. The team includes Brian McKeever and guide Erik Carleton, Chris Klebl, Colette Bourgonje and Mark Arendz.

The Senior Development team boasts nine athletes this year. That group includes two women, Alysson Marhsall and Emily Nishikawa, plus Graham Nishikawa, Brent McMurtry, Graeme Killick, Frederic Touchette, Jesse Cockney, Kevin Sandau and Michael Somppi. One level down from the development team are Canada's four national Nordic training centres, which includes the Callaghan Valley Training Centre based in Whistler.

A lot more Canadian athletes will be able to compete at the World Cup level this year with two events on Canadian soil — a team spring and individual sprint event in Quebec City on Dec. 7-8, and skate races and sprints in Canmore from Dec. 13 to 16. Whistler Olympic Park will be hosting the Haywood Ski Nationals in March of 2013.

For the first time ever, Biathlon Canada announced its team for the coming season alongside Cross-Country Canada. The World Cup team includes five athletes; Olympians Jean-Philippe Le Guellec, Megan Imrie and Zine Kocher, as well as Scott Perras and Nathan Smith. The B team, which competes at the Continental Cup and NorAm level, includes Marc-Andre Bedard, Scott Gow, Yolaine Oddou, Melanie Schultz and Rosanna Crawford.