Skinny skiers making tracks down under

Canuck cross-country, Para-Nordic team members excel at New Zealand Winter Games

Whistler's Tyler Mosher and the members of the Canadian cross-country and Para-Nordic teams put on a powerful show down under, storming through the New Zealand Winter Games to claim multiple medals and podium sweeps.

Racing at the New Zealand Winter Games as part of an off-season training camp, Canada's cross-country stars got the party started on Sunday (Aug. 23) with a sweep of the podium in the men's 15-kilometre race and two of three medals in the women's 10-kilometre event.

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Devon Kershaw of Sudbury, Ont., led the men's sweep, winning gold with his time of 37 minutes, 51.82 seconds, followed by teammates Ivan Babikov and Alex Harvey. Canmore's Sara Renner was victorious in the women's race with her time of 29:49.37, and Brittany Webster claimed silver.

"The team has trained extremely hard since arriving here in New Zealand, and I'm pleased to see they still put up solid efforts and shows we are on track," Dave Wood, team leader for the national ski team, said in a statement.

The Para-Nordic team members picked up a handful of medals of their own Sunday, with B.C. skiers Jody Barber and Lou Gibson winning silver and bronze, respectively, in their categories. Mark Arendz of Springton, P.E.I., and Mosher finished second and fifth, respectively, in the men's standing classic race.

Red Deer's Drew Goldsack kept up the winning ways Monday (Aug. 24), victorious in the men's skate-ski sprint while Quebec skier Julien Nury claimed silver. Perianne Jones led another Canadian podium sweep in the women's skate-ski sprint, with Calgary's Shayla Swanson finishing second and Webster third.

Mosher, who is 40 per cent paralyzed below the waist, finished second in his men's standing classic sprint, as did Arendz in the men's standing skate-ski race. Gibson, a sit-skier from Langley, finished second in his sprint race, and Smithers standing skier Barber finished third in her skate-ski race.

Tuesday's (Aug. 25) races produced two more podium sweeps for the Canadians in the day's freestyle events. Babikov led the charge in the men's 10-kilometre race, followed by Kershaw and Rossland's George Grey.

Renner set the standard for the women's five-kilometre race, winning gold and joined by Jones and Webster on the podium. Arendz finished first in his 10-kilometre race Tuesday, while Barber and Gibson both finished third in their five-kilometre races.

Fifteen members of the Canadian women's alpine ski team were also scheduled to compete in the New Zealand Winter Games, including Whistler's Britt Janyk and Toria Whitney, who is racing with the women's development team. The New Zealand events would be the first competitive races for the team since they started their off-season training.

"Participating in these Winter Games will permit us to stay more in touch with racing. It will also keep the intensity high throughout this training camp," Chilliwack's Kelly VanderBeek said in a statement.

Scheduled to run from Aug. 21 to 30, the New Zealand Winter Games were expected to draw 800 athletes from 30 countries to compete in sports ranging from alpine, freestyle and cross-country skiing to snowboarding, curling and skating.

Meanwhile, the Canadian halfpipe snowboarders were scheduled to kick off their World Cup season with the first event set for Wednesday (Aug. 26) in Cardrona, New Zealand.

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