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HIGH ACHIEVERS: Zoe Williams’ troubled nordic ski season strikes positive notes


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

By Martin Cleary

WEEKEND WRAP: To say Zoe Williams of Cantley, Que., has had an interesting cross-country skiing season would be an understatement.

After training throughout the summer and fall for the FISU World University Games in Lucerne, organizers announced Nov. 29 the post-secondary student/athletes’ version of the Winter Olympics was cancelled because of restrictions on international arrivals due to the health and safety concerns of the COVID-10 Omicron variant.

And it’s too late for Williams to wait for the 2023 Games in Lake Placid, New York, as she graduated from Carleton University last spring.

She continued training with her eyes focused on the Canadian Olympic trials, which played out but not in her favour. Williams’ best race was the skate sprint, where she finished an impressive sixth, however the results of her other races didn’t match her expectations.

Shortly after the trials, Williams tested positive for COVID-19 in mid January and she hit the pause button on training and skiing.


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“I was lucky I wasn’t hit too hard, but it stuck around for awhile,” Williams said, adding it took her three weeks before she felt like a nordic skier again. “After the first week or so, I’d go for a jog and would die. I gradually built up to an hour and then two hours. I gradually got back into training.”

A week before the Eastern Canadian championships Feb. 11-13 on her home Nakkertok Nordic course, Williams raced in the United States, which proved she was ready to return to competition. And she did so in a major manner.

After placing second in the women’s open 10-kilometre classic interval-start race at Easterns, she won the classic sprint over 1.4 kilometres as well as the 15-kilometre free technique interval-start race.

But perhaps her most impressive post-COVID-19 feat came in the women’s 50-kilometre free technique race at last Sunday’s Gatineau Loppet. She hadn’t entered the loppet since 2015, when she was 10th in an 8.5-kilometre race, and she had never skied in a race longer than 30 kilometres.

Williams suffered relatively early leg cramps and a frozen water bottle, but she felt motivated by spectators and food and drink from her brother and friends. She averaged a pace of three minutes and one second for each kilometre to win her first marathon in two hours, 30 minutes, and 33 seconds.

Veronique Fortin of Chelsea, Que., was second in 2:33:21, while Lindsay Webster of Sutton, Que., took third in 2:33:33.

“How could I not be happy,” Williams said about her victory. “I was happy to put in a good effort and it made me more confident for the national championships.”

Part of the reason for returning to the Gatineau Loppet and racing her inaugural marathon was to experience that long-distance race. At the national championships March 20-27 in Whistler, B.C., the marathon race will cover 42 kilometres for women and men instead of the traditional 30 and 50 kilometres respectively.

“It was a humbling experience. It was fun, but a lot can happen. At times, I was dying and my legs started to cramp at 20 kilometres. My body was gradually falling apart. Now, I have an idea of what this distance feels like.”

During the race, her water bottle froze and the contents of her energy gel packs became hard to squeeze out. But her brother and friends provided her with energy drinks at different parts of the course and the electrolytes and carbs “saved me.”

“That was cool,” she added. “It’s fun to experience different distances. That’s what’s cool about our sport. You can go from sprinting to 42 kilometres. There’s a lot of experiences, creativity, learning and challenges to figure out how to ski.”

Meanwhile, Francis Izquierdo-Bernier of Saint-Adolphe D’Howard, Que., won the open men’s 50-kilometre free technique race in 2:09:15. He was runner-up in 2019 and 2020. Gatineau’s Maxime Leboeuf was second to Izquierdo-Bernier in 2:13:08 and David Gregoire of Saint-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., finished third in 2:22:14.

The winners of the 27-kilometre free technique races were Katherine Mason of Ottawa, 1:27:33 and Finn Dodgson of Waterloo, Ont., 1:17:02.

In Saturday’s classic-style races, Scott Hill of Barrie, Ont., a double champion at the Eastern Canadian championships, and Tove Halvorsen of Chelsea were the respective winners in 2:35:00 and 3:06:24. Gatineau’s Sophie Carrier-Laforte was second in the women’s race in 3:15:19, and 57-year-old Sheila Kealey, the head coach of the University of Ottawa nordic ski team, was fourth in 3:21:32.

The 27-kilometre champions were Nicholas Pigeon of Gatineau in 1:45:22, and Heidi Ohrling of Collingwood, Ont., 1:53:36.

CARLETON UNIVERSITY RAVENS SWEEP CAPITAL HOOPS CLASSIC BASKETBALL GAMES

The annual Capital Hoops Classic basketball matches between the Carleton University Ravens and the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees were held in the quiet confines of the Ravens’ Nest. All four teams are ranked in the U Sports top-10 with Carleton and Ottawa entering the men’s game as No. 1 and No. 2 respectively.

The Ravens celebrated a pair of wins in front of a small group of family and season-ticket holders as the women won the opener 63-43 and the men took the night cap 71-58. Carleton and Ottawa are tied for second place in the women’s standings at 7-2 behind OUA East Division-leading Ryerson Rams at 10-0. The Ravens men’s team is undefeated at 9-0, while Ottawa is second at 8-1.

The Gee-Gees held a 31-26 halftime lead in the women’s game, but could only manage a total of 12 points in the third and fourth quarters. Kali Pocrnic sparked the Ravens with 16 points and Tatyanna Burke added 15 points. Burke, Teresa Donato and Emma Kiesekamp had seven rebounds apiece. Brigitte Lefebvre-Okankwu and Savannah Provo paced the Gee-Gees with 12 points each.

Alain Louis had a double-double for the Carleton men’s team, notching 17 points and 10 rebounds as well as five assists. He was helped by Biniam Grebrekidan with 14 points and Aiden Warnholtz at 10 points. Fifth-year senior Gage Sabean counted 23 points for the Gee-Gees and Maxime Boursiquot contributed 18 points.

Carleton, which won the battle of the boards with 41 rebounds to 20 for Ottawa, reclaimed the Capital Hoops Classic men’s title and improved its lifetime Classic record to 12-3, while the Ravens women’s team have a 9-5 series record.

MARCO COTE DOMINANT IN WINTERMAN MARATHON VICTORY

The Winterman Marathon attracted almost 500 runners for the marathon, half marathon and races covering 10, five and three kilometres.

Gatineau’s Marco Cote, a men’s 50-54 age-group runner, was the marathon champion in 3:07:02 and finished ahead of Jake Moreau of Richmond Hill, Ont., 3:26:14, and Liam Zonruiter of Ottawa, 3:32:53. The three top women’s times were recorded by Stephanie Maxim of Ottawa, 3:37:07, Laura Wilson of Kanata, 4:07:19, and Gay Renouf of Regina, 5:01:45.

The event is run by Somersault Events with the course taking runners around the Beechwood Cemetery.

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 martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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