LAPPE, Ont. — Not even a blizzard could slow down Thunder Bay’s Anna Stewart on the final day at the 2023 Canada Ski Nationals.
Stewart on Friday topped the under-20 field at Lappe Nordic, capturing gold, despite the tough conditions, with an impressive 1:17:53.2 finish to defeat teammate Katya Semeniuk by just over 10 seconds in the 20-kilometre event.
It was the first gold for Stewart, who currently skis for both Nakkertok Nordic and the Alberta World Cup Academy, at Ski Nationals, after a second-place finish in the open women’s sprint and a fourth in the open women’s 10-kilometre race earlier in in the week.
An exhausted Stewart was thrilled with her result.
“It was a really, really, really tough race, especially with the weather, just puking snow and the tracks were really slow,” she said. “You didn’t want to lead the entire race, because that would have taken a lot of energy.
“I skied behind my teammate, Katya Semeniuk for lots of the race. We worked together. It’s so fun winning on trails that you grew up on.”
Winning national gold was the icing on the cake, Stewart added.
“I’ve had a great championship so far. It’s been a lot of fun, but I couldn’t have done it without all my teammates.”
In the open women’s category, veteran Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt, who calls Quebec home, took the top of the podium finishing the 30-kilometre finale — originally scheduled for 50 kilometres — in 1:58:00.7, edging British Columbia’s Amelia Wells by 23 seconds, Wells winning the university title.
Carleton’s Maggie McClure took second in the university category, with Calgary’s Stella Duncan taking third.
Leah Reitz won silver in the open category, crossing the line in 2:02.58.
Bouffard-Nesbitt said the race, though shortened because of weather, is the gold standard of cross-country skiing, the one competitors eye as the crown jewel of the sport.
“To get a national title — it’s my first national title in this event, the long-distance mass start, so it feels really good,” she said.
“Honestly, I think it was my experience. This is actually a really young field. I’m the senior by quite a few years and I think I just had the experience and the confidence to know where I wanted to ski in the pack and I had maybe the advantage of knowing my strengths and knowing I just had to ski my own race and ski smart to save my energy for where I wanted to use it.”
Bouffard-Nebsitt also hit the podium with a third-place finish in the open women’s 10-kilometre event and was fifth in the open women’s 900-metre sprint.
Quebec’s Alexis Ermel captured the under-20 men’s 20-kilometre race, in 1:04:47.5, 2.9 seconds better than Quebec’s Samuel Picard and 11.8 quicker than third-place finisher Ian Mayer of B.C.
In the open men's 30-kilometre competition, Quebec's Leo Grandbois was the first to cross the finish line, claiming gold in 1:34:27, 42.6 seconds ahead of NTDC-Thunder Bay's Julian Smith, who earned silver. Lakehead's Erikson Moore was victorious in the university race, finishing second overall, in 1:34:51.07.