Canada's Len Valjas narrowly misses podium in stage 1 of Ruka Triple
Len Valjas has emerged as the next great Canadian cross-country ski sprinter after narrowly missing the podium with a fifth-place finish at a Stage World Cup in Kuusamo, Finland on Friday.
“I wasn’t expecting this at all so I am very excited,” said Valjas. “I felt strong all day and this gives me so much confidence. Now more than ever I believe I can reach the podium. That is my goal.”
Just four days after celebrating his 23rd birthday, the Toronto native battled through slick and icy conditions to qualify in fourth spot for the classic sprint race.
Valjas got a quick wake-up call as the world’s best cranked up the intensity in the head-to-head heats with the top-30. Racing six aside in each heat, Valjas was trailing the pack while exiting the first steep downhill out of the stadium in his semifinal round, but made up ground on the climbs.
Conditions continued to deteriorate as the rounds progressed and darkness loomed. A blizzard played havoc with the tricky Kuusamo track as the young Canuck powered his way into fourth spot in the semifinals– gaining the lucky loser ticket into the finals where he finished fifth.
Sweden’s Teodor Peterson took home the gold, while Russia’s Nikita Kriukov grabbed the silver medal and Norway’s Oeystein Pettersen sprinted to the bronze medal position on the podium.
In just his third season on the World Cup team, Valjas, the youngest member of Canada’s men’s cross-country ski squad has had a steady climb to the top. He finished 17th in his first World Cup sprint in 2010, cracked the top-10 for the first time on the World Cup last year with a ninth-place finish before placing 15th in the sprint race at the World Championships. Capitalizing on a hard summer of training, Valjas also clocked his best distance race two weeks ago when he was 18th in Sweden.
“I’m not exactly sure (why I have had success so early),” said Valjas. “I have been training extremely hard over the last few years and really working on getting stronger and bigger to use my height to an advantage.”
It is no coincidence Valjas’ climb up the international ranks comes on the heels of teammates, Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw shocking the world by winning the World Championships last year, and being regular podium contenders on the elite circuit.
“That is definitely huge for me to be training with these guys,” said Valjas. “It is the easiest way to get fast by training with the best in the world. I get to train with the best all summer, and I know that if I want to win, I have to beat my teammates. They definitely push me to get better.”
While Harvey, of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., was the only other Canadian male to qualify for the heats, he came up short of advancing to the next round, and placed 24th. Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., was 56th; Drew Goldsack, of Red Deer, Alta., finished 87th; Graham Nishikawa, of Whitehorse, placed 91st; Ivan Babikov, of Canmore, Alta., was 100th; and Calgary’s Kevin Sandau finished 111th.
Press release by Cross-Country Canada