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Australian Team Reports 2008/2009

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2009 World Junior / U23 Championships
Praz de Lys, France, January 29 - February 6
Back to 2008/2009 Team Reports

Updates: Team - Race Schedule - Jan 29 - Jan 31 - Feb 1 - Feb 3 - Feb 5 - Pics

Aussie WJC Reports

The Australian Team

Australian Junior Team: Alex Almoukov, Callum Watson, Georgia Merritt, (Juliette Booth)*
U23 Team: Aimee Watson, Ewan Watson
Manager: Brian Keeble
Coaches: Finn Marsland, Nick Almoukov
* non-competing

L-R: Ewan Watson, Callum Watson, Alex Almoukov, Juliette Booth, Aimee Watson, Georgia Merritt, Nick Almoukov, Brigitte Bec (our host!), Brian Keeble. Finn Marsland photographer.

Excerpt from Team Email Report #6, 2008/2009:

The most experienced athlete on the team is Aimee Watson, a member of the Australian World Cup Team. Watson broke through last year with 24th place at the U23 World Championship in Italy, and recently placed 36th at the World Cup in Canada. Twin brother Ewan Watson is experiencing his best international season to date and has been close to qualifying for the senior World Championship Team. Amongst the juniors Alex Almoukov and Callum Watson have competed at the World Junior Championship in previous years, while Georgia Merritt is making her debut at this level of competition. Also with the team is Juliette Booth, who qualified for the 2008 World Junior Championship team however is still building back into training after a hip operation in September.

Competition Schedule:



Australian Competitors


January 29

Women U23 10km Freestyle

Aimee Watson

28th/46 - Link

Men U23 15km Freesytle

Ewan Watson

DNS - See Jan 29 Report Below

January 31

Women U23 15km Pursuit

Aimee Watson

31st/45 - Link

Men U23 30km Pursuit

- Link

February 1

Women Junior Sprint Classic

Georgia Merritt

62nd/66 - Link

Men Junior Sprint Classic

Alex Almoukov; Callum Watson

68th and 73rd/84 - Link

Women U23 Sprint Classic

Aimee Watson

44th/45 - Link

Men U23 Sprint Classic

- Link

February 3

Women Junior 10km Pursuit

Georgia Merritt

60th/67 - Link

Men Junior 20km Pursuit

Alex Almoukov; Callum Watson

55th and 61st/82 - Link

February 5

Women Junior 5km Freestyle

Georgia Merritt

62nd/72 - Link

Men Junior 10km Freestyle

Alex Almoukov; Callum Watson

46th and 61st/95 - Link

February 6

Women Junior 4 by 3.3km Relay

No Australian Team

Men Junior 4 by 5km Relay

No Australian Team

Full results at www.fis-ski.com

February 5 - Race Day Five

It was a good last day for the junior team, with all three athletes scoring their best results of the championship. In the womens' 5km freestyle Georgia Merritt was 62nd out of 72, about 16.5% behind the winner with personal best FIS points of 167. In the men's 10km freestyle Alex Almoukov and Callum Watson finished 46th and 61st out of 95 starters, around 11.5% and 14% behind the winner.

Georgia was quite happy with her race, finishing just ahead of an American and a Canadian girl, and very close behind many other athletes - 20 seconds faster would be another 7 places. She was 2:15 behind the winner Ingvild Ostberg of Norway, who apparently has been selected to the senior Norwegian team for the World Championship coming up in Liberec. To note, Georgia's performance is one of the best ever results (possibly the best ever?) for an Australian female skier in the 5km World Junior event.

Alex and Callum started conservatively for the first couple of kilometres, then picked it up as the race progressed. At half way they were in 55th and 63rd place, with Alex 8 seconds in front. On the second lap Alex came flying home, sitting in 3rd place at 7.5km after 27 skiers had passed. His final 46th place is the first result in the top half of the field at the World Junior Championships since Ben Sim's results in 2005. Callum was within 22 second of Alex at 7.5km, then he dropped to 35 seconds at the finish. Four Russians topped the field. Andrew Musgrave from Great Britain was in 2nd place after 3km, then ended up in 9th place - GB's first ever top 10 result at this level of competition.

With no relays teams that's it for the Australian Team at this event. Congratulations to all the athletes competing. Thanks for joining us here in Praz de Lys. More pictures will be available over the next few days.

February 3 - Race Day Four

Georgia Merritt finished 60th out of 67 athletes in the junior women's 10km pursuit today, just over 22% behind the winner Ingvild Flugstad of Norway. It wasn't the result Georgia was hoping for and she was disappointed particularly with her classic leg. The start wasn't great, but going into the second climb Georgia was in contact with a group of about five skiers, then she skied most of the second lap by herself with skiers spread out in front and behind. At the exchange Georgia was in 61st place, two seconds behind a girl from the Czech republic, but the Czech girl got away leaving Georgia skiing solo for all the skate leg.

In the men's pursuit Callum Watson got off to a great start, up in 38th place after the first 500m, while Alex Almoukov was one of the last half dozen out of the stadium after getting a bit caught up. Things were looking good for Callum until about the 2km mark, when he started to steadily work his way back through the field. After the race Callum said that he had gone lactic, then it was all he could do to try and recover and keep gripping on the uphills. Alex on the other hand had slower skis but better grip, and by after 10km at the exchange zone the pair were almost together. Heading out on the skate leg both felt better and started to reel in athletes. They skied together until the big hill on the last lap, when Alex took off after a group of eight athletes 20-30 seconds ahead. They both caught the group, with Alex sprinting to the line to take 55th place and Callum finishing at the back of the group in 61st. While the overall result was not as good as both athletes had aimed for, they took heart from the fast skating leg - Alex had the 31st fastest skate time and Callum the 35th fastest time 15 seconds further back. To note, Andrew Pohl from New Zealand had a good race to finish in 53rd one second ahead of Alex, while Andrew Musgrave from Great Britain ended up in 12th place.

Now we wait for the last individual competitions, the women's 5km Freestyle and the men's 10km freestyle on Thursday.

February 1 - Race Day Three

After stable weather conditions all week we were greeted this morning with unforecast dumping snow in the couple of hours leading into the Classic Sprint events. Luckily it stayed a bit below zero so waxing wasn't as difficult as it could have been, but there was some frantic retesting of wax before the start. Georgia Merritt made her World Junior Championship debut in the junior women's sprint, finishing 62nd out of 66 starters. Not reknowned for her sprinting and worried that she might be last, Georgia skied well and caught the skier starting 15 seconds ahead of her right on the line. Aimee Watson was 44th out of 45 in the U23 women's sprint, feeling tired in her legs after two tough races already in Praz de Lys. Callum Watson and Alex Almoukov started one after the other in the junior men's time trial, both dying at the end of the long 1.5km sprint to end up in 73rd and 68th place. Alex was six seconds quicker than Callum and 27 seconds behind the fastest qualifier.

Ewan Watson's haemoglobin levels were restested today and he was given the all clear to race in FIS competitions again. While this is good news with the World University Games coming up in a couple of weeks, it was also frustrating to pass the test now that all the U23 events are over.

The next races are the junior pursuit events on Tuesday, and Georgia, Callum, and Alex will all be looking to move up the result lists relative to today.

January 31 - Race Day Two

In the women's U23 15km Pursuit today Aimee Watson finished 31st, outsprinted for a top 30 place. It was a day to think of what might have been, as Aimee was tripped up in the mass start and was the last athlete out of the stadium. By the time she made it through to a clear track the lead pack was gone. Aimee worked steadily away during the 7.5km classic to ski up into 33rd place at the ski change, then climbed up into 30th place on the skate leg before being caught by an Italian skier right on the line. The race was won by Jaskowiec of Poland again, this time in a sprint finish. It was a frustrating experience for Aimee, as she had just avoided a skier falling 50m after the start and didn't even see the skier that tripped her up as the tracks narrowed down to four. Other athletes who Aimee was ahead of the in the classic leg of the World Cup pursuit in Canada two weeks ago were up in the lead pack, and without doubt it would have been easier skiing at the back of the bunch than trying to bridge the gap alone and picking off stragglers who had dropped off.

The sprint events for both U23 and Junior athletes are tomorrow, and four Australians will be racing. It's fair to say that this will likely be the weakest event for the Australian team, as everyone here is generally better in distance events. Still, the guys in particular haven't discounted making the finals, even though they are ranked in the 60s out of 90 odd competitors. The course is long for the men, 1500m with three hills, and 1200m with two hills for the women.

January 29 - Race Day One

Aimee Watson opened the World U23 Championship today with an impressive 28th place in the 10km Freestyle. However the team is not really in a celebrating mood as Ewan Watson was unable to start the 15km because his haemoglobin was too high in last night's pre-race screening. Ewan's Hb value was 17.3 and the FIS limit for men is 17.0. Testing officials stressed that all his other blood parameters were normal and that he wasn't under any suspicion for doping, unfortunately they have to apply the rules according to the book and athletes over the Hb limit are given an automatic 5 day suspension from competition. This means that Ewan is unable to compete in any events here at the championship. Needless to say this hasn't been very easy to take.

Aimee was back in 33rd place amongst the field of 46 starters after the first 5km lap, then began steadily to pull in places on the second lap. She skied the 22nd fastest second lap on her way up to 28th place, just over three minutes behind the winner Sylwia Jaskowiec of Poland. Aimee scored FIS points of 111, which is consistent with her form so far this season, although they could have been significantly better if Jaskowiec hadn't smashed the field by 42 seconds. Our subjective evaluation is that Aimee is racing well without quite being in peak form just yet.

The next races are the U23 Pursuit events on Saturday. There are rumours that other teams are trying to appeal starting suspensions, as apparently the number of athletes with high Hg is in double figures and very unusual. The likelihood however is that the bans will stand and Aimee will be our only competitor on Saturday. The other Australian junior athletes here all passed the screening and are preparing for the junior Sprint Classic event on Sunday.

Assorted Pics of the Australian Team at Praz de Lys

Alex Almoukov in the 10km Freestyle

Callum Watson in the 10km Freestyle

Team Manager Brian Keeble with race skis ready to go for the Pursuit

Georgia Merritt with Brian Keeble in background

Alex Almoukov gives Callum Watson a friendly cuddle after the 20km Pursuit, while a Polish skier lies unconscious nearby.

Ewan Watson and Juliette Booth waiting at the drink station in the 20km Pursuit, Juliette wondering what's in the next guy's drink.

Aimee Watson in the 10km Freestyle
(Nick Almoukov giving splits and Juliette Booth filming)

Georgia Merritt and Juliette Booth

Ewan, Callum, Alex, Juliette, Aimee, Georgia

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