Whitehorse's Sonjaa Schmidt has made her mark in Canadian cross country history.
Schmidt became the first Canadian woman to win a U23 World Championship race today at the FIS U23 World Championships in Planica, Slovenia.
Schmidt crossed the finish line of the Women's 1.2 km Sprint Final Free in two minutes, 35.82 seconds, .48 seconds ahead of Hilla Niemela of Finland.
Norway's Maria Hartz Melling finished third, .56 of a second behind Schmidt.
According to a Nordiq Canada press release, Schmidt, 21, came from the back of the pack in the final heat to claim top spot on the podium.
Schmidt qualified in the 29th position, then cruised through the quarterfinals and semifinals to secure her spot in the finals.
Schmidt made her move in the final straight, taking the outside line in a free skate to blow by the leaders in the final 120 metres, crossing the line with a triumphant fist in the air.
”My main goal for today was to just qualify for the heats,” said Schmidt.
“Once I got into the heats, I was just focused on staying calm and relaxed and race my hardest”.
Schmidt has been a dominant force in Canadian domestic racing this season. She made her World Cup debut in January with races in Oberhof, Germany and Goms, Switzerland before heading into the U23 World Championships.
“It was such an amazing day, it hasn’t really hit me yet,” said Schmidt. “It was also so great to see all my teammates do so well, I think today was a huge step for Canadian Cross Country Skiing, and I hope that this result inspires the next generation of skiers”.
“Our goal was to qualify an athlete for the semifinals today,” said Eric De Nys, Nordiq Canada’s Next Gen Coach. “When we saw her win her semifinal, we knew today was going to be special.
“It was unbelievable. We had athletes and staff gathered near the finish, and when she crossed
the line, it was pure joy. We couldn't have been prouder to be Canadian.” said De Nys.
The young Canadian team of cross-country skiers will continue their push for medals at the
Championship event in the upcoming 10 km interval start and 20 km mass start events. The
Championship event continues until Feb. 9.
Following the Championship races, Schmidt will be heading to compete in the FIS World Cup races in Minneapolis, Minn.
Meanwhile, in the men's 1.2 km Sprint Final Free, Whitehorse's Derek Deuling was the lone Canadian in the quarterfinals, finishing in 24th place in two minutes, 17.99 seconds.
Whitehorse's Sasha Masson finished 34th in the qualification round in 2.22.42.
– With files from a Nordiq Canada press release.