By Martin Cleary
It’s that time of the year again – Big Trophy Time.
If you’re a high-performance long-track speed skater or a skeleton slider and finish in the top three of your discipline, this was your weekend to be honoured with a large crystal globe or a huge silver cup.
Ottawa speed skaters Ivanie Blondin and Isabelle Weidemann as well as skeleton slider Mirela Rahneva of Ottawa were part of those presentations to wrap up their respective World Cup seasons.
Blondin accepted her second and third season-ending silver cups Sunday in Tomaszow Mazowiecki, Poland, while Weidemann earned her second for the 2022-23 season.
On Friday, Rahneva was called to the medal podium in Sigulda, Latvia, for the third crystal globe of her career, after finishing third overall in this season’s standings.
A week after Blondin and Weidemann joined teammate Valérie Maltais of La Baie, PQ., to accept the silver cup in women’s team pursuit for a third consecutive year, Blondin was crowned the women’s mass-start champion, following a 12-race series.
Blondin finished third in the final race on Sunday in nine minutes, 3.51 seconds to give her 435 points, which lifted her past The Netherlands’ Marijke Groenewoud, who passed on skating the final two mass-start races. Groenewoud was second overall at 424 points.
Irene Schouten of The Netherlands was the leader for most of the mass-start campaign, having won three of the first eight races. But she did not skate the final four races.
Groenewoud and Schouten took time off to prepare for the world long-track speed skating championships March 2-5 in Heerenveen, The Netherlands.
“Obviously, it’s nice to see the consistency of this season,” Blondin said after her final World Cup mass start. “A bit strange with the DQ and now with Marijke Groenewoud and Irene Schouten not showing up, but if you’re not there, you don’t make it.”
Blondin was disqualified in the mass start in Calgary and didn’t receive any World Cup points because of an irregular move in the race.
The other silver cup in Blondin’s collection for this season came in the team sprint for an overall second-place showing.
Blondin, Brooklyn McDougall of Calgary and Carolina Hiller of Prince George, B.C., combined to place second in Poland in 1:28.73, which was only 0.81 seconds behind the United States. The Canadian team placed second in all three team sprint World Cup races this season.
Blondin, 32, almost earned a carload of silver cups as she also was fourth overall in the long-distance category for races of 3,000 and 5,000 metres and fifth in the 1,500 metres.
In Friday’s World Cup women’s 3,000 metres, Blondin was fifth in 4:09.30, while Weidemann claimed fourth in 4:09.11. Blondin was seventh in the 1,500 metres in 1:58.62.
As part of her warmup for the mass-start final, Blondin not only won her semifinal, but also was 13th in the 1,000 metres in 1:17.95.
Meanwhile, Mirela Rahneva continues to show she’s one of the best skeleton sliders in the world, adding a third crystal globe to her collection by finishing third overall on the World Cup circuit. She also was third in the 2017 and 2019 final standings.
Rahneva was in contention for her third World Cup medal this season, after placing second in the first run in Sigulda, Latvia, but she struggled and was 10th in her second run to finish sixth overall. She handled the 16-corner, 1,420-metre track in 1:44.03.
“That is the exciting part. It feels good, but it could have been better,” Rahneva said about her overall season, which was highlighted by a first in Park City, Utah, a second in Winterberg, Germany, and three fourth-place results. She was in the top eight in all her races.
“I would say it was one of my better seasons. My first year in 2017 was successful, too, but the expectations weren’t there. This year, I wanted to fight because I was so close at the Olympics.”
Rahneva, who was fifth at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, also earned her first individual medal, a bronze, at the world championships. Earlier, she had achieved a world championship silver medal in the team event in 2019 at Whistler.
Canada placed two women in the top six at the 2023 worlds in St. Moritz as Jane Channell was sixth.
“We have so much history in skeleton in Canada and I wanted to prove we are competitive, but we’ve had some challenging years,” Rahneva, 34, added. “The whole purpose this year was to prove to the world that Canada is still here and we can be successful.
“It takes time to develop talent and I think those results prove we can do it, we can be in the top-six, we just need the time. It took me six years to get that world championship medal. The learning curve takes a bit longer. Canada has it, will have it. We have the knowledge here. We just have to channel it and be patient with athlete development.”
MONCION-GROULX, CARRIER-LAFORTE TOP GATINEAU LOPPET SKIERS
Gatineau cross-country skiers had plenty to celebrate as they won the two major Gatineau Loppet races Saturday and scored three top-four results Sunday.
Dominique Moncion-Groulx of Nakkertok Nordic has had a quiet racing season this year, but he used his knowledge of the Gatineau Park trails to win the men’s 50-kilometre classic-style race in two hours, 35 minutes, 12 seconds.
He defeated national development team member Leo Grandbois of Sherbrooke, PQ., by three seconds. Grandbois has raced well in Western Quebec this season, winning two Candy Cane races and another two at the Eastern Canadian championships.
Sophie Carrier-Laforte was the women’s champion in 3:02:51, which gave her an 11:32 margin of victory. Ottawa’s Sheila Kealey, who is a masters skier in the 55-59 age class, was third in 3:15:12.
Maxime Leboeuf was runner-up to France’s Gerard Agnellet in the men’s 50-kilometre free-technique race Sunday. Agnellet stopped the timer in 2:12:58, while Leboeuf outsprinted Felix-Olivier Moreau of Saint-Ferreol-les-Neiges, PQ., for second place. Leboeuf stopped in 2:15:17 and was three one-hundredths of a second ahead of Moreau. Moncion-Groulx was right behind in fourth at 2:15:18.
Véronique Fortin was fourth in the women’s 50-kilometre free-technique race in 2:39:59, while Kealey maintained her same pace from Saturday’s race to finish in 3:15:51, which left the Nakkertok member 20th among the women.
Nakkertok racers dominated the women’s 27-kilometre classic race, taking the top four positions – Katya Semeniuk, who trains in Alberta, 1:34:35; Anna Semeniuk, 1:37:11; Katherine Mason, 1:38:44; and Addison Frank, 1:43:11.
Seamus Williams of Cantley, PQ., was the men’s 27-kilometre free-technique race champion in 1:20:36.
SEVENTH STRAIGHT WIN GIVES CARLETON OUA EAST BASKETBALL TITLE
The Carleton University Ravens won their seventh consecutive game to capture the OUA East Division men’s basketball regular season title, after using a strong second half to defeat Lakehead University Thunderwolves 73-65.
Ravens’ senior guard Aiden Warnholtz used his 36 minutes of play to produce a triple-double as he scored 15 points, added 13 assists and pulled down 11 defensive rebounds. Grant Shephard had 18 points and 13 rebounds, while Connor Vreeken had 16 points and six rebounds.
Carleton, which had a 26-point effort from Warnholtz last Wednesday to turn back the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees 77-60 at home, finished the regular season with an 18-4 win-loss record. Ottawa was second at 17-5 and the Queen’s University Gaels were third at 17-5.
Carleton and Ottawa have received byes through Wednesday’s OUA quarterfinals and will play host to conference semi-final games on Saturday.
After losing 62-55 to the University of Ottawa at home last week, the Carleton Ravens women’s basketball team stormed past Lakehead 76-45 to finish second in the OUA East standings at 19-3. Queen’s was first at 21-1, while Ottawa was third at 18-4.
Kyana Jade Poulin topped the Ravens’ stats chart against the Thunderwolves with 18 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and two assists. Jacqueline Urban supported with 11 points, eight rebounds, five steals and three assists. Kali Pocrnic had 15 points and four assists and Teresa Donato counted 14 points and five rebounds.
Carleton advances directly to the OUA conference semifinals Saturday at home. Ottawa will meet Laurentian University Voyageurs in a quarterfinal Wednesday at Montpetit Hall at 7 p.m.
RAVENS MEN’S HOCKEY RECORDS TWO SHUTOUT PLAYOFF VICTORIES
Impressive shutout goaltending by Mark Grametbauer sparked the Carleton University Ravens to a pair of 4-0 wins over Ontario Tech University Ridgebacks in the opening round of the OUA East Division men’s hockey playoffs.
On Saturday, Grametbauer stopped all 40 shots for his second post-season shutout, while Lukash Matthews, Brogan O’Brien, Oliver Castleman and Kaleb Bulych shared the scoring.
Carleton won the opening game last week over the Ridgebacks as Grametbauer blocked 47 shots, while the Ravens managed only 18 shots. Will Collins, Alex Johnston, Majid Kaddoura and Kieran Craig counted the goals. Kaddoura also added two assists.
The University of Ottawa Gee-Gees dropped their first two games in the four-team, double round-robin Quebec conference playoff series, losing to McGill University Redbirds 4-2 and 8-2.
Anthony Poulin scored in each game, while Max Grondin and Aaron Brown added the other Gee-Gees goals.
AVA ZHENG WINS BIG AT OUA FENCING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Carleton University Ravens’ first-year fencer Ava Zheng was productive on the piste as she won gold and silver medals and a major award at the OUA fencing championships.
Ravens coach Kyle Girard was awarded the Christian Vidosa Trophy as an OUA coach of the year.
As the women’s individual epee second seed, Zheng won three consecutive matches before defeating University of Toronto Varsity Blues’ Nicole Su 15-11 in the gold-medal final. She was presented the Dr. Al English Trophy.
Zheng also combined with teammates Meia Copeland, Hope Johnson, and Laurenne Tynski for the silver medal in the women’s epee team competition. Toronto defeated Carleton 45-33.
An OUA panel of judges awarded Zheng the Dave O’Donnell Trophy for being the most proficient fencer based on skill, style and sportsmanship.
Daniel Manyoki of Carleton was the men’s individual sabre silver medallist, while Sacha Vasiliev of the University of Ottawa took bronze in the men’s individual foil.
In the team standings, Carleton was fourth for women and 11th for men, while Ottawa was sixth for men and 11th for women.
FEMALE SWIMMERS SPARK SWIM OTTAWA TO 5TH AT PROVINCIALS
Powered by the strong performances from seven of its female swimmers, Swim Ottawa placed an impressive fifth at the Ontario youth-junior swimming championships in Toronto.
Various team combinations of Gwen Creskey, Clare Bolt, Anna Whittaker, Danielle Moss, Alivia Chiumera, Alice de Vlieger and Isla Pulsifer captured five gold medals in five relay races. They also added nine medals in individual events.
Creskey, Bolt, Whittaker and Moss won the club’s opening and closing medals at the provincial championships, taking the women’s 15-and-over 4×50-metre medley and 4×100-metre medley relays in respective times of 2:03.60 and 4:33.09
In between, Moss, Chiumera, de Vlieger and Whittaker won the 4×100-metre freestyle relay in 4:06.24, Whittaker, Chiumera, Pulsifer and Moss were first in the 4×50-metre freestyle relay in 1:50.93 and Whittaker, Pulsifer, Moss and de Vlieger were gold medallists in the 4×200-metre freestyle relay in 9:03.58.
Individually, Moss won one medal of each colour in the women’s 16-18 class – gold in the 100-metre freestyle, 1:00.67; silver in the 50-metre freestyle, 27.78; and bronze in the 100-metre backstroke, 1:08.61.
Whittaker collected gold in the women’s 16-18 division 200-metre breaststroke in 2:46.10 and silver in the 400-metre freestyle in 4:38.26. Silver medals went to Pulsifer in the women’s 15-year-old class in the 200- and 400-metre individual medleys in times of 2:30.66 and 5:23.26 respectively.
Creskey also was the women’s 16-18 100-metre backstroke champion in 1:08.54, and Bolt won silver in the women’s 16-18 100-metre breaststroke in 1:16.54. Naomi LeBlanc placed first in the girls’ 14-year-old division 400-metre individual medley in 5:35.07.
Zachary Pantarotto and Alex Brown were multi medallists in the men’s 15-year-old category for Swim Ottawa.
Pantarotto won the 200-metre freestyle in 2:04.05 and was runner-up in the 200-metre butterfly, 2:18.67, and the 200-metre individual medley, 2:20.08. Brown earned silver in the 800-metre freestyle, 9:21.51, and bronze in the 1,500-metre freestyle, 17:58.89.
The Nepean-Kanata Barracudas were 23rd in the club standings and had three swimmers win a total of three gold, two silver and two bronze medals.
Andrew Bevington won the 200- and 400-metre individual medleys in the men’s 16-18 class with respective times of 2:16.13 and 4:53.52 as well as silver in the 200-metre breaststroke in 2:35.91.
Emma Moffit also was a triple medallist in the women’s 16-18 category with gold in the 400-metre individual medley, 5:16.32; silver in the 800-metre freestyle, 9:39.64; and bronze in the 200-metre butterfly, 2:27.24.
Jakub Mikolajczak was the bronze medallist in the men’s 15-year-old division in 57.34.
LAST, BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST
· Competing in her first wrestling competition since placing 11th at the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games in 2021, Stittsville’s Erica Wiebe won the women’s 76-kilogram class gold medal at the Klippan Lady Open competition in Klippan, Sweden.
· The University of Ottawa Gee-Gees placed sixth at the OUA badminton championships and second-year player Alex Bianchini of Montreal was named to the men’s all-star team. Bianchini was named badminton player of the year at the 70th Ottawa Sports Awards dinner and was awarded one of two Howard Darwin Memorial Scholarships ($1,000).
· Defender Vanessa Gilles scored Canada’s first goal as the women’s national soccer team downed Brazil 2-0 in their second match at the SheBelieves Cup on Sunday in Nashville. The 26-year-old Lyon player scored her third career international goal with a strong header off a corner kick. Amid a labour dispute with Canada Soccer, the Canadian women earlier dropped their opening game of the tournament 2-0 to host USA.
· The Rachel Homan Ottawa Curling Club rink is off to a 3-2 start at the 2023 Scotties Tournament of Hearts national women’s curling championships in Kamloops, B.C. Team Homan has alternated victories and defeats, with a 12-3 win over Newfoundland and Labrador, an 8-4 loss to Northwest Territories, a 7-5 win over Northern Ontario, a 6-4 loss to Manitoba, and a 13-8 win over Yukon. Pool play concludes Thursday.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 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 High Achievers “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 email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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