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Stephen and Babikov win at Canadian Nationals

Thu, Mar  20, 2008 - By Cross Country Canada

WHISTLER, B.C.—Ivan Babikov put a golden stamp on his Canadian citizenship after winning the men’s 15-kilometre cross-country ski skate race at the Haywood Ski Nationals being contested at Whistler Olympic Park on Wednesday.

The 27-year-old, who finally received his Canadian citizenship in December, won his first national title as a Canadian with a time of 37 minutes 28.1 seconds.

“This is an important event to me for many reasons, but it is nice to be here now as a Canadian,” said Babikov, who hopes to race with the national program next season. “It is the Olympic venue and I am trying to get comfortable out here so I’m ready in two years.”

Being comfortable has not been the norm for Canada’s newest citizen over the last several years. Receiving his official immigration documentation earlier this winter concluded a frustrating four-year process that saw Babikov splitting time between Canada and his family’s hometown in Syktyvkar in the north of Russia.

Babikov, who now resides in Canmore, Alta., with his wife Svetlana and young son, Sergey, immigrated to Canada with his mother in May, 2003, following his sister and brother-in-law who made the official jaunt in 1998.

“This is my home now and I’ve loved it since the first day,” said Babikov following Tuesday’s silver-medal performance in the 10-kilometre classic race.

Babikov also loves the new Olympic trails in the Callaghan Valley near Whistler, B.C.

“The heavy snow makes these conditions really tough,” said Babikov. “It is hard to plant your poles in the fresh snow, but I do find the course challenging with good climbs and I think that is one of my strengths.”

Babikov was joined on the podium in the men’s race by Graham Nishikawa, of Whitehorse, Yukon, who stormed his way into second spot at 38:03.2, while Lars Flora, of the United States, locked up third place at 38:09.3.

After the first three days of competition, the early favourite for owning the podium at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games is Mother Nature. Developing a strategy to battle the heavy wet snow dancing its way through the Southern Coast Mountains, along with extremely slick conditions due to changing temperatures, has also made its way into the game plan for the nation’s top athletes competing at Whistler Olympic Park.

“You need to have an amphibious mindset here because it is wet with lots of precipitation,” said Sara Renner, who is wrapping up a successful season in her first full season back with the national team after taking last year off to have her daughter, Aria. “It can be challenging here because it is really different from a lot of World Cup sites. The weather here is like no other.”

The Olympic silver medallist, Renner, continued to build what she hopes will be a golden strategy at the Olympic venue en route to finishing as the top Canadian in the women’s 10-kilometre skate-ski race. One of nation’s top role models in the sport, a persistent Renner led the next generation of Canadian heroes around the 3.3-kilometre loop three times to post a third-place time of 26:57.7.

“It is really good to be here at nationals because it feels like home,” said Renner following the medals ceremony where she spent time meeting with the nordic community and young Canadian skiers. “Being at Whistler is also special because there is already an Olympic spirit that is starting here.”

Two Americans stole the top-two steps on the women’s podium, Liz Stephen was the fastest skier of the day after clocking a time of 26:19.3, while Kikkan Randall continued her podium streak with a second-place finish at 26:41.3.

Frédéric Touchette, of St-Ferreol les Neiges, Que., won his second consecutive junior men’s title of the week after posting a winning time of 39:04.2. Lucy Le Garrec, of the United States, won the junior women’s category with a time of 29:42.4. Sarah Murphy, of Canmore, Alta., was the top junior Canadian woman in third (30:29.5).

The feature event of the Haywood Ski Nationals – skate-ski sprint – is set for Friday at 9 a.m. The 2006 Olympic men’s and women’s champions, Sweden’s Bjoern Lind, and Canada’s Chandra Crawford, will hit the start line against some of the top skate-sprinters in the world.

Cross Country Canada is the governing body of cross-country skiing in Canada. Its 45,000 members are athletes, coaches and officials, including members of the Canadian Cross-Country Ski Team and Canadian Para-Nordic Cross-Country Ski Team. Cross-country skiing is Canada’s optimal winter sport and recreational activity with more than one million Canadians participating annually.

Complete Results: www.zone4.ca

Top-5 Men Results:

1. Ivan Babikov, Canmore, Alta., 37:28.1;
2. Graham Nishikawa, Whitehorse, Yukon, 38:03.2;
3. Lars Flora, USA, 38:09.3;
4. Jon Anders Gaustad, Hamar, Sask., 38:18.7;
5. Brent McMurtry, Calgary, 38:20.0.

Top-5 Women Results:

1. Liz Stephen, USA, 26:19.3;
2. Kikkan Randall, USA, 26:41.3;
3. Sara Renner, Canmore, Atla., 26:57.7;
4. Dasha Gaiazova, Montreal, 27:21.3;
5. Morgan Arritola, USA, 27:23.5.

Top Para-Nordic Results:

Standing Men

1.Yoshihiro Nitta, JPN, 22:56.6;
2. Mark Arendz, Springton, P.E.I.; 23:43.5;
3. Jerry King, Duntroon, Ont., 28:11.4.

Standing Women

1. Robbie Weldon, Thunder Bay, Ont., 19:26.6;
2. Jody Barber, Smithers, B.C., 20:19.0;
3. Shoka Ota, Japan, 21:11.5.