Katie Thistle of Blow Me Down Trails rounds a turn in the juvenile girls 5-km interval start free technique at the 2014 Haywood Ski Nationals. — Star photo by Geraldine Brophy
Just being on the same trail network with the best in the country has Katie Thistle in a pretty upbeat mood this week.
Thistle, a member of the Blow Me Down Trails racing team, is one of the budding nordic skiers in Newfoundland and Labrador testing their mettle on the big stage as the 2014 Haywood Ski Nationals unfold on familiar turf in Corner Brook.
Thistle posted a final clocking of 21 minutes and 52.2 seconds in the juvenile girls free technique race Tuesday at Blow Me Down Trails in her second race on the national stage. She finished in 59th spot, while the winner of the race — Alison Pouw of Nakkertok — covered the five-kilometre trek in 14 minutes and 50 seconds.
“I thought it was really good. I was a little slow going up the last hill, but it was good other than that,” Thistle said after the race on a frosty day at the ski park.
Several Newfoundland and Labrador athletes hit the trails to join Thistle in the event and finished in the bottom of the pack in a field of fast athletes hoping to represent their country on the international stage one day.
Marie Manstan of Menihek Nordic Ski Club finished 41st overall in the juvenile girls free technique event with a time of 16:48.4, while Emma Taylor of Avalon Nordic Ski Club (17:20.5) finished 50th, Alison Crowley of Avalon Nordic Ski Club (17:58.5) claimed 53rd spot and Angela Cronhelm of Aurora Nordic Ski Club finished in 57th place.
Being a young skier afforded Thistle an opportunity to see how she stacks up against the top skiers is something she has embraced this week, but having some of Canada’s nordic stars who competed in the 2014 Olympics come to the city to race is certainly something that has motivated her to give an extra push on the trails.
“So that was exciting ... knowing they are here and you are skiing in front of them,” she said.
Thistle will round out her racing schedule today when she hits the trails for the 1.2-km sprints. She only had one goal in mind coming into the races so she will just continue thinking about nothing but giving it her best effort.
“Just finishing the races and knowing that I’m racing with all of these people from across Canada not just Newfoundland,” she said.
Corner Brook’s Colin Fowlow, competing in his second race in his nationals debut, posted a final clocking of 22:37.9 for 34th spot in the juvenile boys 7.5-km free technique event Tuesday.
Fowlow said he wasn’t used to the race setup and struggled dealing with the hectic pace before his first race Sunday as he tried to get comfortable competing against a big field of athletes, which is something he never experienced on a local level. But, he was feeling a lot more comfortable heading into his second of four races he’s scheduled to compete in at nationals.
“I could focus a lot more on my race and it was a lot more enjoyable today now that I’m used to it,” Fowlow said.
Sharing the stage with athletes travelling at crazy speeds has been a real treat for him. The fact that some of them have competed on the international stage for years and some have just competed at the 2014 Winter Olympics is pretty cool from his vantage point.
“It was pretty crazy seeing other people’s ideas of how fast they can go,” he said. “It’s incredible. I didn’t think I’d get a chance to see these people in person, just expecting to see them on television, so it’s kind of cool to see them race,” he said.
He hasn’t met any of the Olympians just yet, although he’s seen a couple of them buzzing around the ski park and he’s been in the same room as a couple.
“We all got our own program on what she should be doing so we brush shoulders, but I haven’t talked to anyone yet but they’re around Corner Brook and everywhere so that’s pretty cool,” he said.
During Sunday’s debut race, it was pretty exciting for Fowlow to have both his parents and his grandparents on hand for his race serving in a volunteer capacity. He appreciates having a chance to ski at nationals in his home ski park because he knows not everybody gets the opportunity to have family watch them at nationals when they are held in other parts of the country.
“Having it in my home club is pretty cool because the people on course even I know everybody by name,” he said.
Hugh Warkentin, a 13-year-old student at Presentation Junior High, crossed the finish line in 26:04.3 to claim 42nd spot in the juvenile boys race.
“It felt good. My technique was good. I was able to keep up with people,” Warkentin said after his race.
Warkentin is realistic about his expectations competing against some elite athletes, but he admits it’s nice to share the same trail system
“They’re really good so you get to see how really fast skiers do it,” he said. “It’s pretty cool. You get to see everybody else who is better than you. When I see them I can kind of copy their technique.”
Today, Warkentin will compete in the free technique sprints, which is something he enjoys.
“I feel pretty good. I know who I can try to challenge and who is about my speed,” he said of his last event. “It’s a good experience to know what it’s like to race at national level.”
For Tuesday’s race results see Scoreboard on page 12 of today's Western Star.