In form Aussies selected for World Championships
One of Australia’s strongest ever teams has been assembled to compete at the 2017 Cross Country World Championships, and they will be looking for personal best performances when they compete from 22 February – 5 March in Lahti, Finland.
“We have a really strong team of females and males with several experienced athletes leading our team at the World Championships,” Head Coach Valerio Leccardi said.
“Peaking at the right time, giving athletes fast competitive skis, and having a positive team environment would see some athletes achieve their potential of a top 30 result, and for all athletes to achieve their individual goals.”
Leading the men will be Callum Watson and Phillip Bellingham, who are both finding form ahead of Worlds.
Heading to his fifth World Championships, Watson is having his best season ever, having finished a career best 31st in the World Cup in Pyeongchang last week, scoring his best ever FIS points of 42 on Europa Cup in Switzerland, and finishing fifth in a FIS race in Sweden.
“My fifth place gave me a lot of confidence primarily because it was not expected,” Watson said of his race lead-up which marred by sickness that meant he was only able to train the day before.
“I have had far better preparation for this winter than any other here in Sweden over the European summer. I have dedicated more to training this year than any other and have felt great improvements in many areas including technique and strength. Essentially, there is no reason why I shouldn’t be skiing faster than ever before and this really helps me mentally.”
Watson’s 2014 Olympic teammate Bellingham has also had good results this season and is poised to grab the chance of a coveted top 30 finish.
“Skate sprint is my strongest event and this is the first time I get to race it at world champs so that is exciting!” Bellingham said.
“I am hoping that I can get a result in the top 30 allowing me to go through to the sprint finals but this is also very tough to do so anything close to this result and I will be happy.”
Rounding out the men’s team are Paul Kovacs, who also scored personal best World Cup results in Pyeongchang, and Nick Montgomery, who is currently Australia’s sole XC skier at the World University Games in Kazakhstan.
In the women’s events, a mix of youth and experience will make an exciting combination in the Australian team.
After moving to Australia in 2014, Barbara Jezersek made her World Cup debut for her new country in December, having previously represented Slovenia at the Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. The 30-year-old heads into her fourth World Championships – her first for Australia.
“It’s going to be a huge honour for me to compete and represent Australia in the Lahti World Champs,” Jezersek said.
“We were working hard to get my citizenship, so it’s going to be even more special for me and Australian skiing. It’s going to be a new chapter in my Cross Country career and I will do my best for Australia.”
Finding form ahead of Worlds is 25-year-old Jessica Yeaton, who scored the first ever World Cup points by an Australian female in Pyeongchang and will be pushing for personal best performances in Lahti.
“I have had a couple great results this season that have helped give me confidence leading in to World Championships,” Yeaton said.
“Although it’s a long shot, my ultimate goal is to qualify top 30 in the skate sprint. Otherwise, I hope to be in the top 50 in the distance races – and I would be really pleased with a top 40 performance in one of the distance events.”
Head Coach Leccardi believes that having seasoned athletes like Jezersek and 2014 Winter Olympian Aimee Watson in the team together with young athletes like Yeaton and Katerina Paul, who is travelling across fresh from the U23 World Championships, brings a good balance to the team.
“I see a lot of potential with this team. The young athletes bring a lot of enthusiasm to the team and are able to learn a lot from the experienced athletes,” Leccardi said.
With credentials, enthusiasm and the best preparation they have ever had, the Aussies are determined to impress at these World Championships. Competition kicks off on 22 February – follow the Australian Team via social media @ausxc & @skiandboardaus
The Australian Team for the 2017 Cross Country World Championships:
Athletes: Phillip Bellingham, Paul Kovacs, Nick Montgomery, Callum Watson, Barbara Jezersek, Katerina Paul, Aimee Watson, Jessica Yeaton
Head Coach: Valerio Leccardi (SUI)
Assistant Coach: Robert Jones
Head Wax Tech: Randy Gibbs (USA)
Technicians: Bryan Cook (USA), Paul Moore (USA)