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Province's top skiers tackle trails at Otway

Sarah Beaudry loves biathlon and is good enough to be racing for Canada this weekend at the world junior/youth championships in Sweden. But she won't be in Europe and she won't be attending this weekend's B.C.

Sarah Beaudry loves biathlon and is good enough to be racing for Canada this weekend at the world junior/youth championships in Sweden.

But she won't be in Europe and she won't be attending this weekend's B.C. Cup biathlon races 98 kilometres west of Prince George. She's got another nordic skiing event lined up in her sights, one that takes place right in her own back yard.

Beaudry is one of about 200 skiers entered in the B.C. Cup cross-country races today and Sunday at Otway Nordic Centre, an event which serves as a national championships qualifier.

Beaudry, 15, is already sitting pretty near the top of the B.C. Cup biathlon juvenile standings, based on her previous two race results, and won't be dislodged from her B.C. biathlon team spot if she misses the Vanderhoof races. Beaudrey's older brother Sylvain and Arthur Roots are also certain to make the provincial biathlon team and have chosen to take part in the races at Otway, hoping to qualify for cross-country nationals.

John Hagen, coach of the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club Junior Racers program, expects Sarah to continue to post impressive results on her skis. She qualified for the youth national team two weekends ago in Quebec but was unable to make the trip to Sweden on such short notice.

"Sarah is a very strong cross-country skier and a very strong biathlete and it was quite realistic that she would qualify (for the world event)," said Hagen. "She's a very good skate-skier as well as a good classic skier. Classic skiing isn't part of biathlon but she technically a very good skier who thinks about her skiing and is keen about it."

Sarah is sometimes called upon to help Hagen and Caledonia Junior Racers coaches Leisbet Beaudry, Sidney Van Loon, Gillian Warner and Eric Jensen instruct the younger skiers, who look up to her as an example of what can be accomplished by sticking to the program and putting in some hard work on the slopes.

"She takes it seriously and she adheres to a training plan, year-round," said Hagen. "We've had some very talented Prince George skiers who have come through the program ahead of her like (Olympic biathlon team member) Megan Tandy and Matt Neumann and her older brother (Sylvain) and hopefully Sarah will play that same role for the kids. She's definitely one to watch."

Today's sprint races will bring the excitement of 70 or 80 short-burst races right to the Otway stadium area. The longest race distance is one kilometre. Each skier starts with an individual time trial, which will determine seeding order for the elimination heats that follow. The top two racers advance the the next round, leading up to finals in each age class.

Sunday's classic technique race is an individual start.

Above-freezing temperatures predicted for today's sprints. An overnight low of -9C in expected tonight, and the colder air should make it easier for skiers to pick the right grip wax for the classic race.

With as many 80 races expected today, race organizers have a busy day ahead of them. Several skiers from the Caledonia Jackrabbits entry-level race program will race this weekend at Otway.

Jacqui Benson of Prince George will be one of the favourites to win the overall women's titles at Otway as she prepares for World Cup cross-country races next weekend in Canmore. Thirteen-year-old Justin Bennett of Prince George is also a favourite in the youth category in Sunday's classic race.

n Caledonia coaches Pierre Beaudry and Erica Erasmus will take a small group to Vanderhoof which includes veteran racer Robbie Martin and several of the younger club biathletes.

n Burns Lake will host the B.C. Cup cross-country championships in late February 19-21. The Haywood cross-country national championships are set for Whitehorse, March 14-21. The Canadian biathlon championships will be held March 2-7 in Canmore.

n Neumann will start 81st in today's junior men's 10km sprint at the world junior biathlon championships. He placed 73rd in the individual race in Torsby on Thursday.