Golden skier returns

IAN BUSBY -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

Stepping onto Canadian soil for the first time with an Olympic gold medal, Chandra Crawford took a deep breath to restore that feeling of home.

Suddenly, there is an air of expectation surrounding the Canmore cross-country skier who went from unknown to national hero in a matter of two minutes 12.3 seconds.

Crawford won gold in Turin almost a month ago, yet 100 friends, family and well-wishers flooded the Calgary airport terminal as the cross-country team finally made its return to Canada yesterday.

"It's so nice to breathe the air and feel good," Crawford said. "It was so nice to land and take it all in. Now you guys are going to heap the pressure on. But I can use it to my advantage. I can go into 2010 confident."

With Beckie Scott now retired and Sara Renner not expected to keep racing towards Vancouver 2010, the cross-country baton has now passed to Crawford.

The future was hardly on Crawford's mind as she walked into a crowd of people wearing T-shirts displaying her podium photo and the words "Yea Chandra! Gotta love her" and chanting "Ole, Ole, Ole."

The welcome was certainly nice after flying overnight from Sapporo, Japan, and spending the past few weeks chasing World Cup glory.

"It's overwhelming to get a taste of this," said the 22-year-old.

"I didn't get a sense of this while at the Games. We were in a house in Torino and were really in our gopher hole there. Then we moved on to Scandinavia and there was no signs of the Olympics there. Then we were in Asia and it was the same. Now it's like dropping a bomb on us being back at home."

Crawford's parents returned from Turin shortly after Chandra won the gold in women's sprint and now can't believe the attention she is getting since they returned.

Glen Crawford celebrated his 50th birthday yesterday but he had to wait as it seemed every Canmore resident got a hug at the airport before he could get near her.

He didn't mind yesterday and won't complain as Chandra shares her determination and spirit with the rest of Canada in the buildup towards Vancouver.

"Everybody in Canmore thought she was their hero just getting to the Olympics," Glen said. "We're really excited for Sara and Chandra being Olympians born and raised in Canmore. They totally embraced her before but after winning the gold medal, the whole country has embraced her."

Renner, meanwhile, isn't ready to announce her retirement yet the way Scott did before the season ended.

She met her husband Thomas Grandi at the airport yesterday for the first time since the Olympics and the alpine skier hasn't decided if he'll continue racing either.

"We have the next three months together," Renner said.

"We'll decide what we're going to do but I still have a fire in my belly. It's exciting with Vancouver coming up that we might be able to replicate the performance of Torino.

"It's a matter of waiting and seeing where my motivation is at and after the fatigue goes away."

If she retires, Renner is leaving the cross-country team in good hands with Crawford and up-and-comers such as Devon Kershaw and George Grey.


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