PRINCE GEORGE, B.C.
In just one cross-country ski event, Yukon doubled its medal count at the Canada Winter Games in Prince George.
Yukon skiers won three medals, including the territory’s first two gold, in the classic distance races on Monday.
“I’m pretty thrilled. This is my second Canada Games, my first time kind of being competitive in it,” said Yukon’s Knute Johnsgaard. “I’m super happy to win Yukon’s first gold for the Yukon and I’m also super happy Annah (Hanthorn) just won a gold for the Yukon as well.”
Johnsgaard won gold in the men’s 10-kilometre classic with time to spare. The 22-year-old crossed the line with a time of 25 minutes and 48.10 seconds, more than 27 seconds in front of silver medalist Scott Hill of Ontario.
“I’ve been feeling good all week and I knew as long as I could keep it together, I could finish on the podium,” said Johnsgaard. “I’m pretty happy with how everything went.”
Annah Hanthorn won gold with a lot less breathing room in the women’s 7.5-kilometre classic. The 19-year-old finished in 22:33.10, less than a second ahead of Quebec’s Katherine Stewart-Jones in the interval start race.
“I definitely didn’t think of the outcome, I thought of the process during the race, just racing my very best,” said Hanthorn. “It’s exciting that became a gold medal.
“I felt like I was able to stay relaxed and just push Games speed while I was racing and finish hard, so overall I was really happy with the race.”
Teammate Kendra Murray was close behind in the women’s race. The 22-year-old captured bronze with a time of 22:47.60.
“I’m super, super happy with it,” said Murray. “I didn’t know what to expect. Coming into the Games I knew I had a shot at something, but I’m super pleased.
“I was aiming for easy, relaxed skiing because I knew it’s a really hilly course with really technical downhill, so I think the key was being relaxed. If you’re not relaxed climbing or not relaxed going down the twisty downhills, you get off kilter.”
Yukon has now surpassed its medal count from the 2011 Games, in which the territory won five medals, and the 2007 Games, in which it won four. Yukon won three medals in cross-country skiing at both of those Games, but only one gold at each in the sport.
Yukon biathlete Nadia Moser captured three medals in week one at Prince George, taking in a silver and two bronze at the same venue as this week’s cross-country skiing.
Both Johnsgaard and Hanthorn were within seconds of more hardware on Tuesday. The two Yukon skiers, who raced at the junior/U23 world championships earlier this month, placed fourth in the sprint event.
Johnsgaard was just 1.63 seconds behind the bronze winner from Quebec in the men’s 1.5-kilometre sprint final on Tuesday.
“I was a little disappointed, but I felt good and I am still looking forward to the rest of the week,” said Johnsgaard. “I think I’m still in good shape, it was just one of those days where it was tough conditions and anything can happen in sprinting. Some other guys had a better day than I did, I guess.”
The 22-year-old placed 14th at the worlds in the sprint and was a favourite to medal in Tuesday’s sprint in Prince George. The wax on his skis grew less effective as the day warmed up, said Yukon head coach Alain Masson.
“Knute did really well in the qualifier, won his quarter, won his semi, but by the time he came to the final, the conditions changed really quickly,” said Masson. “The snow got really wet … and his skis got slower and couldn’t keep up.”
Hanthorn came in less than three seconds behind the bronze winner from Quebec in the women’s 1.4-kilometre sprint final. The 19-year-old member of the junior national team took a fall and was in the process of a comeback. Murray also took a fall in the final, placing sixth.
“A third through the race Annah tripped herself … and ended up falling behind,” said Masson. “Kendra was in the top two or three and in a big downhill just before the last uphill, she had a really bad crash … and got passed by Annah who was trying to come back.”
The Yukon ski team will be back in competition in the distance free on Thursday followed by the relay races on Saturday to end the Games.
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