Whitehorse’s Janelle Greer has never been a cross-country skiing “forerunner” before, but that does not mean she’s not qualified for the job.
The 17-year-old member of the Whitehorse Cross-Country Ski Club is one of just 27 young skiers from across Canada chosen to perform the duties of a forerunner at the Vancouver Olympic Games in February.
“I’m super excited for it,” said Greer. “I don’t know any of the other forerunners going, so I’ll get to meet other skiers from across Canada and, hopefully, meet some Olympians.”
As the name forerunner suggests, Greer’s job is to ski the course prior to the competitors to ensure the course is clear of debris and the conditions are consistent for all the competitors.
“Forerunners ski the course as close to before the race starts as possible,” said Greer, who will be working the 10-kilometre course during week one of the Games. “If it’s snowing or windy, snow will blow into the tracks and it’s my job to ski through it to make sure the people at the front of the pack and the back of the pack are having the same snow conditions. If there’s snow in the tracks then the people at the front of the pack will have to work a little bit harder.
“And I make sure the signs are right and there’s no obstacles or anything on the trail.”
The forerunners will not be dillydallying on the course, but will have to ski it at race speeds so organizers and even media have a better idea of how the event might play out.
What will surely heighten her excitement at the cross-country events will be the different perspective Greer will have from the other spectators, being one of the few to have skied the exact course, in the same conditions just before the start of the race.
“I’ll know what corners are really tight even if they don’t look hard,” said Greer. “Sometimes if you look at an uphill it doesn’t look very big, but when you’re actually on it, looking up, it looks huge – it can be deceiving.”
Greer, the only forerunner from the Yukon, was chosen after an application process that consisted of essay answers in a written exam and, of course, proven ability in the sport of cross-country skiing.
Over just the last three seasons, Greer has compiled a lengthy list of accomplishments.
After a third- and two fourth-place finishes at the World junior Trials in Canmore, Alberta, in January, Greer travelled to Praz-de-Lys, France, to compete at the World Junior Cross Country Ski Championships with her brother David, another accomplished skier in the family.
Competing against a field of skiers most of whom were two or three years older than herself, Greer finished 34th in a 1.3-kilometre classic sprint – a benchmark for the territory – and was the third Canadian to cross the finish line.
Racing in a 10-kilometre pursuit, Greer took 37th out of a field of 70 and was the first Canadian over the line and only the second of her age in the event. In the five-kilometre free skate Greer was 51st and the second Canadian.
Despite getting over a cold, just a couple weeks later at the Western Canadian Championships in Canmore, BC, Greer dominated the junior girls field, with golds in the sprint and five-kilometre classic events and a silver in the 10-kilometre free technique. She then added three more medals to the list at the Canadian Nationals in Duntroon, Ontario, with a silver in the team sprint and bronzes in the 800-metre free and five-kilometre classic. Greer also had seventh-place finishes in two other events.
However, her best result was in the 2007 nationals, where she took a gold, two silvers and a bronze in the juvenile girls events.
When asked why she’d be a good choice for the job, Greer summed up her essay responses.
“Because it would be a great experience and my dream is to, sometime, go to the Olympics (as a competitor). It would be a big eye-opener and I would take a lot in from it.”
As for sharing the experience with others from her club and region, another question on the application, Greer explained she would “take lots of pictures and videos on my camera and show people.
“I would try to talk with Olympians and see if they’ll give advice.”
Greer is not the only Yukoner heading to the Games to perform duties at cross-country events. Alain Masson, head coach for the Whitehorse ski club, is going to be a wax technician for the Canadian team. Masson has been to six previous Games, including three as an athlete – twice as a skier and once as a cyclist.
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