Whitehorse’s Derek Deuling and Sasha Masson were in Lausanne, Switzerland, competing for Canada in cross-country skiing at the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games held from Jan. 9 to 22.
For Deuling and Masson, it was the first time representing their country on the international stage.
“It’s a cool feeling, of course,” said Deuling. “It’s still just another race. But knowing that everybody back home has our backs … knowing that everybody in Canada and the Yukon is rooting for you, it’s a surreal feeling that I’ll definitely remember for a long, long time.”
Masson said the atmosphere added a lot to the experience, despite his results not quite living up to expectations.
“The results, for me — I don’t know how to say it not negatively — (were) sort of a learning experience,” said Masson. “It was awesome to compete though, with such a big crowd and atmosphere of happiness toward sport.”
On the course, the two skiers competed in three races — the cross-country cross on Jan. 18, the sprint on Jan. 19 and the men’s 10-kilometre classic on Jan. 21. The duo were also hoping to race in the nordic mixed team event on Jan. 22, but were unable due to Canada’s lack of ski jumpers at the event.
In the cross-country cross, Masson finished 38th and Deuling finished 44th in qualifying. Norway’s Nikolai Holmboe won gold, while Sweden’s Edvin Anger and Albin Aastroem finished second and third.
Deuling qualified for the quarter-finals of the sprint, ultimately finishing 18th overall, and Masson finished 38th. Anger won the sprint with Nikolai Holmboe second and Aleksander Holmboe third.
In the 10-km classic, Russia’s Iliya Tregubov won with a time of 26 minutes and 40.5 seconds. Germany’s Elias Keck was second and American Will Koch was third.
Deuling finished 18th with a time of 28 minutes and 30.6 seconds, and Masson finished 47th with a time of 30 minutes and 27.1 seconds.
The two Canadians were at the games for a week in total, and did get to enjoy watching some of the other sports.
“We definitely had time to soak in the atmosphere of the games,” said Masson, adding they watched both short-track speedskating and big air in person. “It’s really fun to go watch other sports and Canadians competing in different disciplines.”
The games were unique in that all involved traveled to and from venues using public transit.
“You take the train — and it’s a public train, so you see little kids, school classes, people travelling to work — and it’s really cool to see sort of how they just accepted Team Canada and different nations across the globe.”
Both Masson and Deuling said volunteers at the games made it all run smoothly.
“The volunteers were amazing,” said Deuling. “I don’t know how many volunteers came out to help the games, but they helped us with everything.”
Masson said Team Canada pins were a popular souvenir, too.
“They’re so generous and so patient,” said Masson of the volunteers. “Being on Team Canada we definitely got a lot of recognition and by speaking French, they always asked where we were from and always recognized Team Canada.”
The Youth Olympic Games were the first international event of this scale for either Masson or Deuling.
“It’s such a different experience,” said Masson. “So much more security, so much more professionalism. It gives a better atmosphere than just a regular competition of skiing. … It’s a different level of energy and such a cool experience.”
Heading into the games, the pair hadn’t met their coaches and Deuling said it was easy to get comfortable.
“We’re all here for the same thing and we all bonded kind of instantly,” said Deuling. “Our coaches worked really, really hard to give us amazing skis. Big shout out to the coaches and the athletes. Everybody you meet is just really nice. It’s hard not to like. … It’s really cool to be in a group of people who’ve worked hard and now we get the payoff.”
Masson and Deuling also got a chance to meet some of the other Canadian athletes.
“We roomed with two curlers who we got to know quite well and then we got to meet a whole bunch of Canadians at the closing ceremonies, which was really cool,” said Masson. “We actually have made a few friends and are coming out better people and more educated.”
The two skiers are in Quebec City, preparing for the World Junior trials – armed with a new sense of how high the bar can be.
“Just being able to compete internationally is a pretty incredible feeling,” said Deuling. “Seeing the Scandinavians race was another highlight for sure; it’s going to force me to up my game for training this summer and the rest of the winter.”
“This experience definitely opened our eyes to international competition and made us realize the level of seriousness and competition,” said Masson. “Sport, not only cross-country skiing but sport in general, over here is a big thing.”
Contact John Hopkins-Hill at email@example.com