HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
HIGH ACHIEVERS BOUND FOR BEIJING SERIES (Part 2 of 5): High-performance athletes are always striving for that perfect moment, when everything falls into place and the result is over the top, whether that’s a medal or an unprecedented high placement.
Gatineau’s Antoine Cyr, 23, has experienced that sensation three times in the past 11 months against the best cross-country skiers in the world and it has delivered great rewards.
Do these results and the momentum and motivation generated by them put Cyr in the perfect spot for another breakthrough achievement at next month’s 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games? Stay tuned as Cyr charges into his first Olympics, planning to enter as many as five men’s races.
At the 2021 world senior cross-country ski championships in Oberstdorf, Germany, Cyr and Graham Ritchie were the youngest team in the men’s team sprint final. But they pulled off a seventh-place showing in the field of 10 pairings and finished in the shadow of the fifth-place team.
Needing to place in the top 20 at a 2021-22 World Cup race to be considered for Canada’s 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games team, Cyr went above and beyond in Ruka, Finland, in late November.
Cyr not only placed 11th in the 15-kilometre classic race, which was only his fifth career World Cup race, but also he was 12th in the 15-kilometre free pursuit the next day. His previous best World Cup result left him one spot shy of an Olympic nomination, when he was 21st in a 15-kilometre mass-start race in 2021.
“Ruka was a really good weekend for me,” Cyr said in a phone interview from a training camp at SilverStar Mountain Resort in British Columbia. “We arrived in Ruka well prepared and we achieved over expectations. It was crazy-good skiing. My body responded super good.
“On that day, the ski wax technicians had the best wax. We work relatively close with them. It’s super important for us to know each other.”
In the 15-kilometre free technique pursuit, he finished 58.8 seconds behind the winner, but only one second out of the top 10. After the 15-kilometre classic, he only trailed the winner by 52.3 seconds, but was less than seven seconds for a top-10 result.
Ten years after Canadians Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw won the men’s team sprint gold medal at the 2011 world cross-country ski championships in Oslo, Cyr and Graham Ritchie of Parry Sound, ON., were Canada’s representatives in the same race at the worlds. They excelled despite difficult soft and slushy snow conditions.
Cyr and Ritchie placed fourth behind powerhouses Norway, Russia and Sweden in the men’s team sprint semifinals and were only 0.61 seconds behind the Norwegians. They qualified for the final as the youngest pair on the start line at 22 years old. Cyr and Ritchie were both born in September, 1998, and only five days apart with Cyr being the oldest.
In the final, they placed seventh, but were less than two seconds out of fifth place and 17.06 seconds behind Norwegian gold medallists Erik Valnes and Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo.
“It was a crazy day,” Cyr said, reflecting on his best-ever result at a world championship, which also was his senior men’s world championship debut. Cyr previously raced at four world U23 championships and had a personal-best, individual result of 12th in the 10-kilometre classic in 2018.
“You always know what you’re capable of on a day. You need the conditions to achieve that result. For Graham and I, it was that day. We knew we would be fast and it was a hard course. The snow was not so good, but we slept well, ate well and were well rested.”
The weather turned warm for the men’s team sprints and the final was held with a temperature between 10oC and 15oC.
“We were so close to fifth,” Cyr added. “Looking back, seventh in the world is a good surprise. It also was 10 years exactly since Alex (Harvey) and Devon (Kershaw) won the world championship. We saw our potential to be the best in the world.”
Cyr will get a major reading as to where he stands in the world next month, when he competes in his first Winter Olympics.
“It’s a dream come true for any athlete,” said the Club Skinouk athlete. “I still can’t believe I’m going to the Olympics. The Olympics are the biggest Games in the world.
“But in the end, it’s just another race. But you must be well prepared.”
Cyr, who spent many of his teenage days shovelling snow, cutting grass or working at two bicycle shops to help pay for his skiing, plans to enter five of the six men’s Olympic races.
“I can start everything, but I’ll probably choose to do some and not others. It’s impossible to be at full potential for all of the races,” he reasoned.
The cross-country skiing calendar runs almost the full length of the Winter Olympics from Feb. 5-20. Cyr’s three best races are spread out and separated by five days each – the 30-kilometre skiathon, Feb. 6; 15-kilometre classic, Feb. 11; and team sprint classic with Ritchie, Feb. 16.
Cyr feels confident entering the Olympics.
“It’s a significant boost, for sure,” he said about his 2021 world championship team sprint result and his two World Cup performances in November at Ruka. “As an athlete, you know what you’re capable of. Knowing I can be competitive and super close to the top 10 is a super confidence boost.”
Cyr attended the Canadian Olympic ski trials and fared well with two wins, one second and a sixth-place showing. He could have opted out of the trials as he had pre-qualified for the team in Ruka. Nordiq Canada sent the national team to the first segment of the World Cup season in the fall, but will not attend the final two periods, Cyr highlighted.
He was understandably upset, but respectful of the national body’s decision.
“The federation felt the best decision was not to go. I must respect that. Of course, it’s disappointing. But that’s life. I am a cross-country racer. In the future, I hope to go year round (on the World Cup tour),” Cyr added.
The racing at the trials was good training for Cyr. And he loves racing – any racing. He’s a racer at heart and ready to race with all his heart in his Olympic debut.
6 Olympians hailing from larger national capital region add to Ottawa’s 14 athletes on Team Canada
Cyr is one of six athletes from the larger national capital region set to represent Canada in Beijing – all of whom are Olympic rookies.
He is also one of three cross-country skiers from West Quebec ready to make their Olympic debuts along Chelsea’s Katherine Stewart-Jones and Laura Leclair.
Nakkertok Nordic’s Stewart-Jones had her best season on the World Cup circuit in 2021, with regular results in the top-30. The 26-year-old was the lone woman to pre-qualify for the Canadian Olympic team before January’s Olympic trials.
Chelsea Nordiq’s Leclair represented Canada at last year’s World Championships, but the Olympics will be her first international race of this season. The 25-year-old is based at the Pierre Harvey centre in Mont Ste. Anne, Que.
Valérie Grenier of St-Isidore, ON., was selected to the Canadian Olympic women’s alpine ski team. The 25-year-old has made a definite statement in her giant slalom races this season. On the World Cup circuit, Grenier recently was fourth in Kranjska Gora and seventh in the opening race in Soelden in October.
Team Canada men’s hockey player Devon Levi, who is from Montreal’s west island, played the 2019-20 season with the CCHL’s Carleton Place Canadians. The seventh-round pick of the Florida Panthers in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft was the starting goalkeeper for Canada at the 2021 world junior hockey championship and won a silver medal.
Sliding onto the Canadian bobsleigh team is former Carleton University Ravens football player Jay Dearborn of Yarker, ON (north of Kingston). The 27-year-old Saskatchewan Roughriders CFLer is set to push for Taylor Austin’s Canada-3 four-man bobsled. Dearborn has also been called upon to push for Chris Spring in two-man and Justin Kripps in four-man World Cup competitions.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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