February 22, 2006
Unexpected golden girl
Crawford wins X-country sprint
PAT GRIER -- Sun Media
Cross-country skier Chandra Crawford of Canmore, Alta. reacts to her gold medal win in the women's sprint in Pragelato Pla, Italy on Wednesday.(CP PHOTO/COC/Jonathan Hayward)

TURIN, Italy - Chandra who?

Chandra Crawford, gold medal cross-country champion, that's who.

The 22-year-old from Canmore, Alta., shocked the cross-country ski world with a dominating victory this morning in the women's sprint in Pragelato, north of Turin.

Like she had in her quarter-final and semi-final, Crawford powered her way up the final climb of the 1.1-kilometre course to pull away from Germany's Claudia Kuenzel, who won silver, and Russia's Alena Sidko, who took bronze.

Crawford won with a time of two minutes, 12.3 seconds. Beckie Scott of Vermilion, Alta., also made the final and finished fourth. Canmore's Sara Renner failed to advance out of the quarter-finals.

While Crawford said she was surprised by the result, she looked anything but as her name was announced at the medal ceremony, leaping on to the podium and thrusting her arms into the air, her giant smile brightening up the Italian Alps.

She beamed as the gold medal was placed around her neck and with nary a tear, happily belted out O Canada as she watched the Maple Leaf rise to the top of the pole, Scott and Renner cheering in the crowd.

"I'm so surprised,"Crawford said, likely matching the emotions of the Europeans at the suddenly strong Canadians.

The medal is Canada's second in cross-country skiing at these Olympics, Scott and Renner having won silver in the team pursuit last week. It also matches the gold Scott won in Salt Lake City in the pursuit, the first medal of any kind for a North American woman in the sport.

"I worked super hard at the finish," Crawford said of her final 100 metres when she opened a wide gap between her and Kuenzel. "I've been practising there at the finish for hours in the last few days.

"My skis were really fast and and all of Canada was here to support me. So it was the skis and the wind and the cheering that made me win."

Great things have been predicted for Crawford, but they were expected to come four years down the road in Vancouver.

Crawford ranks 33rd in the World Cup points standings, but showed her development with a bronze earlier this season in Davos, Switzerland after previous finishes of 28th, 10th and eighth.

A former biathlete, Crawford turned to cross-country exclusively when she was 16, concentrating on the speed events.

She had immediate success as a junior, finishing on the podium six times in various events, including a gold and silver at the Under-23 world championships in 2004.






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Women's 4x5km Relay
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Women's Team Sprint
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