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Promising future for Cross Country skiiers

9 March 2017

CROSS COUNTRY SKIING: A series of promising World Championships performances in Lahti, Finland has the Australian Cross Country Skiing Team feeling confident they can continue to break boundaries in the sport.

Having competed in two Olympic Games for Slovenia before recently becoming an Australian citizen, Barbara Jezersek scored Australia’s first ever World Championships top 30 finish when she claimed 24th in the Skiathlon.

Sochi 2014 Olympian Phil Bellingham inched closer to his first Sprint final at a major international competition when he was just over five seconds outside of the qualifying time, while 25-year-old Jessica Yeaton claimed a 33rd place finish in the 30km Mass Start.

The women’s relay team finished for only the second time at a World Championships and at just 19 young gun Katerina Paul finished third in the 5km qualification event to ensure she could compete in more events throughout the Championships.

“The team performed really well over the past couple of weeks,” said Valerio Leccardi who recently took over as head coach of the national team.

“It was great to see how the athletes put in their best efforts and each of them were able to secure at least one really good result in their different races. The waxing team was also great in preparing fast and competitive skies for the athletes.”

With some positive results secured and the season almost complete, Leccardi is confident the team is building nicely towards the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. 

“I think the results itself draw a good picture of the situation of the skiers in Australia. There is a lot of potential around but we need to steer them into the right direction so that they can exhaust their full potential. There are a lot of little puzzle pieces which have to come together to help them to be more professional and become better skiers.

“There are strong skiers in the senior team which have the potential to ski into the top 30 regularly and there are also a talented group of juniors with great potential to achieve those results in the future.

“If everything works perfectly in PyeongChang then it’s possible some of our athletes could get in the top 30 and even a top 20 result is possible.”

After a strong fortnight of racing Jezersek is one of those athletes that could challenge Australia’s best ever result (33rd) at the 2018 Games.

“It was an honour and was great to be back to World Championships after my last one in 2013,” she said after her time in Lahti.

“I'm very happy with my 24th place Skiathlon race, which was my priority and my strongest discipline. Unfortunately the 10km Classic race was not the best, so I gave everything I could in the 4x5km relay race where I helped our team to finish the race. It was big success for Australia and we are looking for higher result next time.

“My aim for PyeongChang is to beat my best result which was 17th in the Skiathlon race at the Vancouver 2010 Games.

“I will do the best I can to reach this goal but it depends on daily feeling, shape, skis and conditions. Everything is possible so I will focus to give my best and to reach those goals. My coach believes I can do the impossible, I just need to believe in myself.”

Jezersek will now return to the Ski Classics marathon circuit as the team splits up to finish the season. Yeaton is back in Alaska before the World Cup finals in Quebec and Bellingham is straight back into competition in Drammen, Norway. Callum Watson and Paul Kovacs have returned to their training bases in Falun and Anchorage respectively.

Matt Bartolo

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