Sara Renner stole the spotlight back from the men's team in the Alberta Cup/World Cup cross-country races at Canmore last weekend, a warm-up event for the 2010 Winter Games that attracted a strong international field.
While the women's team earned three Olympic medals in 2006, Beckie Scott retired soon after, Sara Renner took a break from the sport to start a family and Chandra Crawford spent most of the 2008-09 season rehabilitating a foot injury.
In the meantime the men's team has picked up the pace, with four different athletes climbing World Cup podiums in recent years and regular appearances in the top 10 at international events.
Now, on the eve of the Olympics, Renner showed she can still classic sprint with the best of them, earning a bronze medal in the women's 1.45 km category.
Renner had a modest start in the qualifier, logging the 15 th -fastest time. Her teammate Dasha Gaiazova was ninth.
Renner turned up the heat in the final brackets, advancing all the way to the final where she placed third behind Justyna Kowaczyk of Poland and Ida Ingemarsdotter of Sweden. Gaiazova was eliminated in the semifinals to place a very solid 12 th , Chandra Crawford was 23 rd and Perianne Jones 25 th out of 63 racers.
"To win a medal today is ridiculously unbelievable," said Renner, who has announced that she will retire after this season.
Renner won her quarterfinal heat, then made a daring move in the semis to move into the final round. With 7,000 fans on the sidelines, she pushed her way through the other athletes to place third at the finish.
"My legs were feeling a bit heavy when I got to the start of the finals, but when I heard the people cheering I just went for it," said Renner.
It was Renner's fifth World Cup medal. She also has a bronze from the 2005 world championships and a silver medal from the 2006 Olympics.
Renner donated her $5,000 cheque for third place to Right To Play, an organization that supports sports and recreation programs in countries affected by poverty and war.
In the men's 1.75 km classic sprint Canada also qualified five men in the top 30. Brent McMurty had the best day to finish 19 th . He was followed by Stefan Kuhn in 22 nd , Phil Widmer in 23 rd , Devon Kershaw in 24 th and Sean Crooks in 26 th .
Emil Joensson of Sweden took the win, followed by John Kristian Dahl of Norway and Dario Colgogna of Switzerland.
The previous day was devoted to the women's 10 km freestyle and the men's 15 km freestyle.
Renner was the top Canadian once again in the women's race, but still finished well back of the leaders, in 25 th place. Charlotte Kalla of Sweden was first, Justyna Kowaczyk of Poland second and Irina Khazova of Russia third.
Ivan Babikov was the top Canadian in men's race finishing in 10 th place, less than half a minute back of the podium. George Grey was 17 th .
To get into the top 10 from his start position Babikov had to pass several skiers.
"That was tough out there today, but I have to be happy with a top 10 finish," said Babikov. "It was great to be racing at home and have the crowd cheering for us so it definitely gave a little extra energy today.
"My legs felt a little bit heavy today, but I am exactly where I want to be one week away from the Olympics. We have been doing a lot of training so I am a little tired, but we will be ready for the Games."
Some teams opted to skip the warm-up event and come straight to Whistler to get acclimatized to the area and the snow. Members of the French and Norwegian teams have been spotted on the Lost Lake trails, as have skiers from other nations.
That didn't mean that the field at Canmore wasn't strong - all of the athletes in the running for overall World Cup titles took part and some skiers, like Emil Joensson, are favourites to win medals at the Olympics.