Chandra Crawford would love a repeat performance of “O Canada,” this time in her home country.
The Canmore, AB, native, who won gold in 2006 in women’s cross country skiing, struggled with compartment syndrome that led to surgery in 2008, as well as intensive physiotherapy on her ankle in addition to finding a new ski boot with soft material around the ankle.
Her long recovery has turned the skier into a long shot to medal in Vancouver, and while Crawford recognizes that she may not be the favourite heading into the Olympics, she still would like to be able to pull off an upset.
“It’s wise to look at me as you would any athlete who has been top-20 in her given event a handful of times when she last raced two years ago,” Crawford told the Canadian Press. “Albeit a feisty one with a real passion for competition.”
Another experienced member of the Canadian team is Sara Renner, also from Canmore, who is entering her fourth Winter Olympics. She won the silver medal in 2006 in the Team Sprint with the now-retired Beckie Scott.
Renner had struggled in the World Cup however, recently finishing 17th in the eight-stage competition Tour de Ski. But on the weekend before the Games began, she raced home to a bronze medal in the sprint on her home turf.
Despite the fact that Renner may not be consistently at the top of the class of cross-country skiing, she does have experience that could lead to a medal-worthy performance.
Internationally, there are several women skiers who will be rivaling each other for a podium finish, though Justyna Kowalczyk and Petra Majdic are the top rivals on the World Cup circuit.
Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk should be considered a favourite to win a gold medal in Vancouver. Kowalczyk leads the World Cup standings, coming off a win at the Tour de Ski, and most recently winning a 10-kilometre race in which she led through all of the interval times.
Petra Majdic, from Slovenia, is considered to be the main rival of Kowalczyk in World Cup competition. Majdic finished just 19.2 seconds behind Kowalczyk in the Tour de Ski.
She is favoured to win gold in the sprint event, as it features classical rather than freestyle, which Majdic is known to prefer. She won nine events in the 2008-2009 World Cup season, which gave her a total of 15 career victories.
Finland’s Aino-Kaisa Saarinen is ranked third in the overall World Cup points standings and is ranked high in both sprint and distance rankings, and should be considered a favourite to medal.
Arianna Folis, from Italy, is ranked fourth in World Cup standings, has finished in the top 10 in World Cup standings for the last three seasons and should challenge for a medal.
The remaining members of the Canadian team are all competing in their first Olympic Games and are long shots to medal.
Perianne Jones of Almonte, ON, finished sixth at last year’s World Championship along with Renner.
Dasha Gaiazova from Banff, AB, was an alternate in 2006 and won three of four Canadian Olympic Trial races held in December.
Edmonton’s Madeleine Williams won the 30-kilometre Olympic Trials race, while Brittany Webster, of Caledon, ON, rounds out the Canadian skiers having just been added to the team after Canada was granted four spots for both the men’s and women’s teams.
While the men’s and women’s teams were originally granted a total of 11 spots by the FIS for the Olympics, they were allocated four more as a result of competitors in the top-500 of the international rankings.
While the Canadian skiers may face long odds to medal in Vancouver, it may be wise to keep particular attention on Crawford. Her father, for one, witnessed what she had to go through just to make it to Vancouver.
“It was tough for Chandra missing a whole season of racing,” Glen Crawford, Chandra’s dad, told the Canadian Press. “It was a real challenge getting an accurate diagnosis on the problems she was facing with her ankle.”