Len Valjas romps to career best at sprint World Cup in Drammen
Canada’s Len Valjas shocked the world, and maybe even himself, after sprinting to his first-ever World Cup cross-country ski medal when he grabbed the silver in Drammen, Norway on Wednesday.
“I don’t think it has sunk in yet, but it does feel pretty good,” said Valjas, who finished fifth at a World Cup in Finland earlier this year. “I think I may be a little in shock.”
In just his third season on the World Cup, the 23-year-old Torontonian headed to the start line in the birth country of the sport, and led the world’s best on the historic 1.2-kilometre Drammen city sprint like a seasoned veteran.
Progressing through his quarter- and semifinal head-to-head heats with the top-30 qualifiers, Valjas took advantage of his fast skis, wasting no time jumping to the front of the six-man final and leading the Norwegians on their home track.
The lanky 6’6” Canuck hammered the flats and powered his way up the hills lined with thousands of screaming passionate Nordic ski fans. Valjas carried the lead until the finishing stretch where Norway’s Erik Brandsdal edged him out at the line for victory. Paal Golberg, also of Norway, claimed the bronze medal.
“I never would have thought I’d win a medal this early in my career, but to have the first medal come in Norway is really special. This country has been really good to me over the last couple of years,” said Valjas. “I just wanted to get to the front and attack on the hills. I had great skis and was able to do that. I felt good all day.”
Valjas’ teammates and fellow World Cup medallists this year, Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw, who became the first Canadians ever to win a World Championship title last year when they accomplished the feat one year ago down the road in Oslo, also qualified for the finals. The two stars of the Canadian men’s program were knocked out in the round of 30. Harvey, of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., finished 16th, while Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., placed 23rd.
“Training with Alex and Devon has had a huge influence on me and me getting to the podium,” said Valjas. “Just watching how these guys train with such intensity is huge for me.”
Meanwhile, the historic day for Canada did not end in the men’s race. World Cup medallists, Chandra Crawford and Daria Gaiazova, both posted their career-best classic-sprint race results in the women’s race on Wednesday.
Contributed by Chris Dornan