By The Canadian Press on February 6, 2024.
PLANICA, Slovenia – Sonjaa Schmidt became the first Canadian to win a world under-23 cross-country ski championship with Tuesday’s victory in the women’s sprint.
The 21-year-old from Whitehorse won both her quarterfinal and semifinal heats in the 1.2-kilometre elimination race before coming from behind to prevail in the six-woman final.
Schmidt made her move over the final 120 metres of head-to-head racing. She took an outside line to pass the leaders and crossed the line with line with her fist in the air.
Hilla Niemala of Finland was second and Maria Hartz Melling of Norway placed third.
Schmidt had qualified 29th out of 30 women to get into the quarterfinals.
“My main goal for today was to just qualify for the heats,” Schmidt said.
“Once I got into the heats, I was just focused on staying calm and relaxed and race my hardest.”
Schmidt made her World Cup debut in January with races in Oberhof, Germany and Goms, Switzerland.
She won’t compete for the host Canadian team at a five-day World Cup in Canmore, Alta., starting Thursday because the world under-23 and world junior championships continue through Sunday in Planica.
Schmidt will re-join the World Cup circuit for Feb. 17-18 races in Minneapolis.
“Our goal was to qualify an athlete for the semifinals today,” said Canada’s NextGen coach Eric De Nys. “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.”
Schmidt’s teammate Lilliane Gagnon of Quebec City reached the semifinal round and placed eighth.
“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 this result inspires the next generation of skiers.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2024.