Elite Amateur Sport Skiing

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Nordic skier Grall-Johnson training hard for World Cup & Championship racing

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

Pierre Grall-Johnson. File photo

By Martin Cleary

For a sprint specialist, Ottawa cross-country skier Pierre Grall-Johnson certainly can handle the marathon distances. For three straight days this month, he averaged 114 kilometres a day.

When his National Development Centre coach in Thunder Bay decided Dec. 11-13 would be volume training days, Grall-Johnson didn’t have much choice. But he embraced the idea just the same and made great strides.

“He wanted to give the athletes a kilometre blitz. I didn’t decide to ski those willingly. That was a huge volume over three days,” Grall-Johnson said in an interview. “He wanted to give us a good taste of the old days.”

For his part in the ski-as-much-as-you-can blitz, Grall-Johnson opened strong on Dec. 11 with 104 kilometres on the almost eight-kilometre loop, pumped it up to 162.5 km on Dec. 12 and tapered to 75.5 km on Dec. 13.

“It does help to have that many hours on skis and it’s good for muscle endurance,” added the Ottawa skier. “It kills you for days and weeks after. But in the long run, it’s beneficial.”

Grall-Johnson also posted those numbers on his club’s Nakkertok Kilometre Board, which was a motivational tool to keep all racers and members in good shape throughout December, since COVID-19 has wiped out the racing season.

The ultramarathon training ski of 162.5 kilometres ranks Grall-Johnson as the top Nakkertok Kilometre Board skier in at least one category – the longest continuous ski.

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He’s part of the Alumni team, one of a dozen squads trying to ski as many kilometres as possible this month. The rankings are determined by the top eight skiers on each team. So far, 226 skiers have gone 40,085.75 km.

Maybe Grall-Johnson will profit from some of those marathon sessions, when he leaves Jan. 13 to represent Canada for a second straight year on the World Cup nordic race circuit. And he’ll have plenty of company in local skiers.

Canada’s 11-skier team also includes Antoine Cyr of Gatineau, and Katherine Stewart-Jones and Laura Leclair, both of Chelsea. They will race from Jan. 23 to March 14 at World Cups in Lahti, Finland,; Falun and Ulricehamn, Sweden; Nove Mesto, Czech Republic; and Oslo, Norway.

Nordiq Canada named its World Cup roster using an objective selection process based on previous results. The national sport governing body cancelled all national and team trial races this season because of the pandemic.

Grall-Johnson and Cyr were pre-named to the world U23 nordic ski champs Feb. 6-13 in Vuokatti, Finland. World Cup/world U23 results will determine the team for the world senior champs Feb. 23 to March 7 in Oberstdorf, Germany.

There are no National Capital skiers on Canada’s team for the world junior championships in Vuokatti, but Nakkertok’s Jasmine Lyons is a team alternate.

“I’m quite fortunate to have been in this position. I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact everyone was hoping to have the opportunity to try to qualify at the trials,” Grall-Johnson said in a press release.

“I am very excited to have the opportunity to race this year on the World Cup circuit,” said Stewart-Jones, who was left off the 2020-21 national team before winning her appeal, in a statement. “I had a great summer and fall of training.”

Grall-Johnson raced in two World Cups in Germany in 2020 and plans to ski at his own pace for this season. “I won’t get too worked up. I have to focus on the process,” he explained.

While he has had some time trials in Thunder Bay but no competitive races, he added the National Development Centre coaches are providing the skiers with plenty of proper training leading to the World Cup races.

“My big goal is to get a top-30 (result) and get onto the World Cup points list,” Grall-Johnson said in an interview. “I think it will definitely be tough. It will be fun and my chances are good.”

The next High Achievers column will be published in the New Year. HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition would like to wish you and your family a prosperous 2021. Take care. Stay Positive. Test Negative.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for over 47 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.

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