Team Canada is on track to having its most successful showing at the Junior World Orienteering Championship taking place this week in Kosice, Slovakia. Three Yukoners are helping make that happen.
Whitehorse athletes Kendra Murray, Kerstin Burnett and Trevor Bray are on the Canadian team in Slovakia, facing the best the world has to offer.
Murray, the only of the three competing in her second junior worlds, has been a standout.
The 19-year-old placed 65th out of 140 competitors in the women’s sprint event on Sunday. She was Canada’s top finisher and completed the 2.3-kilometre course in 14 minutes and 0.4 seconds, just 2:47.6 behind the first-place finisher.
“I was feeling good before the start, ready and focused,” said Murray in an email to the News. “However, I ended up making a mistake right off the bat, so it took a couple more controls to get into the rhythm of the race. I ended up running half the race with a girl from Norway, which was also nice because it increased my running speed while giving me the confidence… All in all, I stuck to my goals for this race, and was very pleased with the end result.”
Murray then took 109th in Monday’s long distance event.
“I was not as happy with my long result,” said Murray. “However, there were parts of the race that I was super happy with as they were really smooth with good technique. Other parts didn’t go quite as well.”
Burnett, 19, navigated to 111th in the sprint and reached 100th in the long distance race.
“I did not really have a goal in mind for results but I am happy with my placing in the long,” said Burnett in an email. “More importantly, I am happy with how I raced, though I had several mistakes too. There was one very long leg with difficult navigation and route choice – I would have done well on it if I stuck to my planned route, but partway through I decided to take a ‘short cut’ and got really turned around. The forest was thicker there, so all the depressions that I was navigating by seemed larger than they really were. I eventually got back to a trail from my original route and continued on.”
Bray hasn’t had as much success. But at 17 years old, he is one of the youngest in the championships and could potentially compete in two more junior worlds in the coming years.
Bray placed 161st in the sprint and was disqualified in the long distance event after missing a control – though “missed” might not be the right word. Bray found the control point, which was at a water station, took a drink and forgot to punch the control. It was over 30 degrees Celsius out.
“Surprisingly my long race was almost perfect – if I had punched the control that had a water station,” said Bray in an email. “I was just thinking about how thirsty I was … and completely forgot about the control. Even though I was disqualified I had a very good time and was extremely happy with my race in the end.”
Canada had a major breakthrough at the junior worlds on Monday. Ottawa’s Emily Kemp won Canada its first-ever medal at the championships, taking bronze in the long distance. It is only the third medal ever won by a North American at the event.
“Our focus is on technique and tactics during the races,” said Brent Langbakk, the Canadian junior team coach and Whitehorse resident. “In the sprint, we were thrilled with the athletes’ performances. It was really nice to see Trevor and Kerstin execute so well in their first big international competition. Racing in a European city with cheering spectators, announcers, with the pressure that comes with performing for your country is a big change from being virtually alone in the forest around Whitehorse. I think we prepared them well, and they handled it like old pros.”
Tuesday was a day off from competition. The championship continued on Wednesday with the middle-distance qualifier and the final on Thursday. The junior worlds will end with a relay event on Friday.
“This entire experience has been surreal,” said Bray. “People actually come out to the races to cheer you on.”
“It is exciting to be staying in a university dorm building with all the other athletes from around the world – it builds a sense of community when we are all together,” added Burnett. “Everyone seems pretty friendly.”
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