Ben Milley leads the pack in the Rockies. Photo: Doug Ranahan
By Phi Trinh
Ben Milley won an aggregate Canadian crown and his Nakkertok Nordic club won its eighth consecutive club title as local cross-country skiers left their mark on the Mar. 18-25 nationals in Canmore, Alta.
“I never expected to be the national champion for my age,” underlines Milley, who won the 2000-born junior men’s class. “It seems surreal.”
The Glebe Collegiate Institute student’s triumph was particularly improbable given that he trailed the standings heading into the last event of the championships – Milley’s first-ever 15 km classic race.
“Distance skate is what I'm best at, but I was very nervous going into a race that I had never done, knowing I had to win,” recounts the intermediate free winner and sprint classic 3rd-place finisher. “Nonetheless, I decided my best course of action would be to stick with the front pack and just see how I was feeling.
“Apparently I felt really good.”
Hitting the finish line was a particularly special moment, he adds, since so many from Nakkertok – which held off a strong push from host Canmore to clinch the overall club title – were cheering him on.
“Nakkertok is always fantastic at support throughout races,” Milley highlights. “Along the course, there are always coaches and teammates who cheer, offer equipment if you break a pole, and, in longer distances like the 15 km race, offer food and drinks to keep you energized.
“In the final sprint, the fact that Nakkertok is the biggest club in Canada definitely shows.”
Two other Ottawa athletes also landed on the overall podium – the brother-sister duo of Pierre and Claire Grall-Johnson. Claire upgraded her bronze medal from last year to silver in the junior women’s 1997 competition, while Pierre replicated his 2016 silver in the junior men’s 1999 category.
“It feels great having my sister also winning at the race,” underlines Pierre Grall-Johnson.
Earlier in March, the Glebe student powered his high school to their perennial dominant showing at the OFSAA nordic provincials Feb. 28-Mar. 1 in Timmins. The individual silver medallist led the Glebe lineup of Ezra Pierce, Finnbar Perrault and Tommy Omura to the senior boys’ team title.
The next day, Glebe’s supposed ‘B’ team of Teagan Harris, Evan Kealey, Liam Powers-Kelly and Nicholas Dolcetti-Koros upset their team-champion counterparts in the relay event, winning a neck-and-neck Gryphon battle to the finish line by less than one second.
Glebe’s Cameron Pouw, Carter Saunders, Sam Lyon and Aidan Westdal swept both the junior boys’ team and relay competitions, while the Nepean junior girls won double-silver and the Glebe senior girls earned team bronze and relay silver.
Local skiers also made their mark at the university level, with Carleton Ravens athletes collecting medals of each colour at nationals. Zoë Williams was 1st overall amongst 1997-born junior women, the Ravens men placed 2nd in the college/university team championships, and Aidan Kirkham was 3rd individually in university competition.