2016 World Junior/U23 Report

The 2016 World Junior and U23 Nordic Championship in Rasnov, Romania, will be an event that will be remembered by all nations. The controversy about snow quality and quality of races to be run started a week earlier than the competition. Some nations opted for an early training camp at the race location to acclimatize to the time and altitude. However, unfortunately there was no snow to be skied on and those nations had to resort to dryland training options. Fortunately the Australian team arrived only a short time prior the competition and was mostly unaffected by the poor training conditions.

AUSXC athletes Rasnov 2016

Jackson Bursill, Stella Ajani, Kat Paul & Ella Jackson

The first official training session was conducted on snow. The organising committee had a limited supply of artificial snow which they pushed out along the modified sprint track and the 2.5km distance course the evening prior. The course was relatively firm, however, was far from clean and had a collection of small stones to rocks the size of a fists hidden under the surface. Our race preparation went well and the team was ready for the Freestyle sprint event.

In the Sprint event on there were 3 Australian athletes competing; Jackson Bursill (U23); Katerina Paul and Stella Ajani (Junior). The morning was clear and the track was firm however the air temperature was very warm at approximately 12-15°C by the time of the trail trail for U23’s who started first. Jackson had a strong performance, finishing 51st out of 71 starters. The Junior competition was scheduled after the U23’s. The track was much softer and suited our Australian athletes who are used to moving quickly in soft warm conditions. Katerina Paul finished in 46th place out of the 78 starters, and Stella Ajani finished in 71st place for her debut in a World Championship event. A hard day for all teams with the warm wet conditions with many nations delivering poorly running skis. Notably, Norway in particular didn’t deliver fast skis for the U23’s skis in the morning. Fortunately we had no issues with a solid familiarity of what works and what doesn’t in those wet conditions.

With a poor weather forecast predicted for the next 3 days it was decided to run the junior events on the same day as the U23 events. This was a favourable decision for the Australian team as it increased the work load for the larger teams and allowing us to complete the same amount of testing on the limited track time. Therefore the distance classic event was the next day with very limited time to check the course.

Stella Ajani, Martin the Bear, Kat Paul

For the classic distance race Australia had two representative Jackson Bursill and Katerina Paul. The overnight low for the between the sprint and distance classic event was around 6°C. This meant a very soft track for all competitors. The klister was out in force with a variety working very well but most running terribly slow. It was a choice lots of grip and slow skis or little grip and much faster skis. Jackson was first up again, he started very strong and faded a little in the middle of the race and picked up the pace at the end to finish in 67th place out of 73 starters. The race for Katerina Paul was again a late start at approximately 2:00pm. By this time with again very warm temperatures the track had really turned to mush. In the locations where the track remained in tack the water could be seen streaming down the tracks. Large puddles had formed and there was literally water skiing going on out on the course. Kat put down a very solid first lap she pushed hard and fought the very slow conditions to finish in 65th out of 79 starters. Many struggled with the warm conditions some of the competitors failed to finish the race due to heat exhaustion. Wearing a full lycra suit, gloves and headband just aren’t necessary when the sun is warm and it warmer than plus 10°C.

The following day was a rest day that allowed the athletes and support staff the opportunity to explore the local town of Bran the home to the “Dracula” Castle. This was a fantastic experience with the highlight of the day being the amusing tour guide who must have been an aspiring comedian. The poor jokes were executed very well and bought a lot of laughter to the teams.

The final day of competition for the Australian Team was the freestyle distance event. The original program had a Skiathlon event scheduled however this was not going to be possible due to the lack on room on the course and stadium area, the changed occurred early prior to the championship. The new events were an individual start Freestyle 10km for all women and 15km for all men. The weather had kindly cooled down with an overnight temperature of -4°C. This produced a very firm and fast race track that was in really good condition considering the weather earlier in the week.

In an effort to be fair to the Juniors they were the first to start on the track for the Freestyle event. Katerina Paul was pumped up for her last world junior event ever and Ella Jackson was ready to make her World Junior Championship debut. Having watched the snow disappear and all the other team members race all week, she was ready to go. The girls warmed up on the fast track and tested skis to ensure they had the fastest on the day. With the fastest girls starting first there was plenty of time to finalise the wax and get fresh skis to the start line. Kat Paul again put in a very fast first lap then quickly turned the pace down to make sure there was enough in the tank to get home. This was a common theme amongst all the girls split times in the event. Ella was the last start and entered a course very full of competitors, she managed to find a relatively consistent pace throughout the race finishing in 69th place. Kat finished her last race with her best distance result at world juniors, placing 55th.

The championships were a success with all the races competed on good quality course especially considering the snow conditions. Pushed out artificial snow has been a common scenario this season and likely to remain for the same for future seasons. Makes our snow conditions in Australian look like a really winter wonderland. We all felt lucky to have the reliable snow which we still experience in Australia. With all the athletes having now returned home to Australia for some well earnt rest we can look forward to 2017 World Junior and U23 Championships in Utah, USA.

– Ewan Watson, 2016 WJC/U23 Championship Head Coach

Kat & Ewan Rasnov 2016

Kat Paul & Ewan Watson

AUSXC Junior-U23 Worlds Team 2016 #2

The full team at the preparation camp in Seefeld: Ewan Watson (coach), Stella Ajani, Jackson Bursill, Katerina Paul, Ella Jackson, Robert Jones (coach).

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