Yukon navigates to 37 medals at nationals

Even with larger, more competitive fields, and less familiar terrain, Yukon orienteerers raced to 37 medals at the Canadian Orienteering Championships, hosted by the Yukon Orienteering Association over the weekend. That's just one less medal than they accumulated at the Western Canadian Orienteering Championships in Whitehorse the previous weekend.

Even with larger, more competitive fields, and less familiar terrain, Yukon orienteerers raced to 37 medals at the Canadian Orienteering Championships, hosted by the Yukon Orienteering Association over the weekend.

That’s just one less medal than they accumulated at the Western Canadian Orienteering Championships in Whitehorse the previous weekend.

After each winning three medals at the Westerns, Yukon’s top junior orienteerers, Kendra Murray and Lee Hawkings, kept the haul going, winning three more. Murray and Hawkings, who represented Canada at the Junior World Orienteering Championships early this month in Poland, were both in the highly competitive 17-20 age categories.

“I was really happy with my sprint because sprints aren’t really my strong point,” said Murray. “I really kept it together and didn’t blow up, which sometimes happens to me.”

Murray won golds in the sprint and the long distance events, and also took silver in the middle with Yukon teammate Kerstin Burnett coming in with a bronze.

“This week I was really focusing on my orienteering, not running as fast,” said Murray.

“The long (event) yesterday had a really physical course. It was in the Carcross Desert, so there was lots of sand and was really hot, so you really had to focus mentally. It was also a really technical long (course).”

While running in the Carcross Desert for the long was a highlight for many orienteerers, the middle distance event to close the championships also had people talking. Not only was it on a brand new map, it was extremely challenging, said Hawkings.

“Technically speaking, this was probably one of the harder races I’ve ever done,” said Hawkings. “The terrain here has a lot of little hills, steep hills, depressions – the map just looks like a mess. It’s quite tricky to stay in contact with the map.

“I’m sure everyone had at least five minutes of mistakes out there today.”

In his last year before moving into the elite class, Hawkings won a silver in the middle, a bronze in the sprint and a gold in the long, just seven seconds ahead of Vancouver’s Graeme Rennie.

“The sprint – it just wasn’t my day,” said Hawkings. “I had quite a few mistakes, just little things, but enough. I messed up two out of the three last controls, so I lost about a minute on the last loop. I wouldn’t have been anywhere close to first if I had run clean, but it was a little bit of a disappointment.”

Racing in the same division as Hawkings was Yukoner Trevor Bray, 16, competing up an age category. Bray won a silver in the sprint and took fourths in the long and middle.

For two Yukoners it was nothing but gold for both competitions.

Caelan McLean and Pia Blake went six-for-six over the two weekends, winning golds in every race.

“It was pretty good,” said McLean, who was in the men’s 13-14 division. “I could have raced up in the 15-16, even though I’m only turning 14 this year.

“The long was good. It wasn’t that hard a course, but it was hard to do on the sand.”

Blake finished second overall in the middle, but took gold as the top Canadian in women’s 15-16. Norway’s Helene Omdal, who was 54 seconds ahead of Blake, was ineligible for medals.

Though happy with the outcomes, Blake was less than thrilled with her performances.

“Personally, all three races weren’t that good for me,” said Blake. “My coach says, ‘When you cross the finish line you should know if it was a good race or a bad race.’ For me, I wasn’t able to say I had an excellent race.

“I think I was just tired from 10 days of orienteering, especially today, and mentally it was getting more difficult to concentrate on everything.”

Leif Blake, Pia’s younger brother in the men’s 13-14 division, won a silver in the long in addition to two bronzes.

Yukon’s Brent Langbakk, a five-time Team Canada member at the World Championships, won golds in the sprint and the long for men 35-44.

However, a bronze won in the elite class’ middle distance is what he’s most proud of.

“The bronze is actually a better result,” said Langbakk. “The competition in the elite class is a lot stiffer.

“I’m not in the shape I once was, and I knew the middle would be very technical. And it was – it was extremely technical.”

Forest Pearson, another former national team member in the men’s 35-44 division, raced to a silver in the long and a bronze in sprint for the Yukon.

Whitehorse’s Nesta Leduc is a world champion for her age category. She is no stranger to winning medals at the national level and captured gold in the sprint and the middle for women 75-79. She also won silver in the long.

Competing in the small women’s 35-44 division, Yukon’s Philippa McNeil won golds in all three events, beating US’s Jennifer Jolliff by just one second in the sprint.

The long distance event in the Carcross Desert worked out well for the three Yukoners in the women’s 12-year-old division, winning all three medals. Hannah Shier took the gold, 38 seconds ahead of Amanda Thomson and a minute, 41 seconds ahead of Savannah Cash.

Shier also took gold in the middle while Thomson won bronze in the sprint.

Yukon’s Pam James, another former national team member, won bronze in the long for the women’s elite division (21-34). She also took bronze in the middle, ahead of teammate Katherine Scheck in fourth.

Other medal winners for the Yukon include Tayler Mitchell with a silver in the middle for women 15-16 and Karen Mckenna with a bronze in the middle for women 55-64.

The Canadian Championships sprint took place in the Mt. Lorne area off Annie Lake Road while the middle distance event took place around Lewes Lake.

“I think we put on a good event here, really showing off the Yukon,” said Hawkings.

Contact Tom Patrick at

tomp@yukon-news.comv