Sonjaa Schmidt becomes 1st Canadian to win U23 Nordic gold at world ski championships

Sonjaa Schmidt made her hometown of Whitehorse proud Tuesday, becoming the first Canadian skier in history to win gold at the U23 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Planica, Slovenia.

Schmidt snatched the gold during the final straight of the women’s 1.2-kilometre Sprint Final Classic, beating out five competitors to cross the finish line first with a time of 2:35.82. Upon crossing, she hoisted her fist in the air to celebrate the historic feat.

“It was such an amazing day, it hasn’t really hit me yet,” Schmidt said as part of a press release from Nordiq Canada. “It was also so great to see all my teammates do so well.”

Her appearance in Planica was the 21-year-old’s second FIS U23 World Championship. In 2023, Schmidt raced on home soil as Whistler, B.C., hosted the event — where she finished 36th in the qualification round.

Along with Canadian athletes and staff, Eric De Nys, Canada’s Next Gen coach, watched Schmidt make history.

“It was unbelievable,” De Nys said. “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.”

De Nys, who began his role as Canada’s Next Gen coach in August 2021, had an inkling that something special was coming.

Schmidt qualified in the 29th position, then breezed past the quarters and semifinal heats, including a first-place finish in the latter round.

“Our goal was to qualify an athlete for the semifinals today,” De Nys said. “When we saw her win her semifinal, we knew today was going to be special.”

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Three other Canadian women competed in the event alongside Schmidt. Liliane Gagnon, who also competed in the U23 World Championships in Whistler, improved with another year under her belt, finishing eighth in the race with a time of 2:37.92.

The British Columbian duo of Jasmine Drolet and Amelia Wells rounded out the 2002-born Canadian quartet, finishing 33rd and 36th in the qualifiers, respectively.

Looking ahead, the Canadian team aims to earn more medals as the U23 championships continue, with a 10-km interval start and a 20-km mass start slated over the next few days. The event wraps up on Friday.

Deuling advances past qualifiers

In the men’s races, only one Canadian advanced past the qualifiers — Whitehorse’s Derek Deuling. He finished 24th in the quarterfinals with a recorded time of 2:17.99. Fellow Whitehorse-born teammate Sasha Masson came in 34th, while Ottawa’s Luke Allan finished 31st.

The future of Canada’s cross-country skiing team looks bright with Schmidt, Gagnon, and Co., at the helm, and more medals may be in the works before Friday rolls around.

“I think today was a huge step for Canadian Cross Country Skiing, and I hope that this result inspires the next generation of skiers,” Schmidt said.

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