“When I think about it, I still get a little goosebumps…”
The day after a historic gold medal for Canada in the 4 noon.
As the final runner in skating, the athlete from Quebec summed up the issue well to her three teammates before the start: “Either you are the hero or you are not…”
Gagnon chose the first option, achieving a finish that Alex Harvey would not have denied. After fighting to maintain her second position before the final descent towards the stadium, she took around ten skating steps without poles to catch up with Frenchwoman Maëlle Veyre and beat her at the finish line.
As expected, her three colleagues – Derek Deuling, Jasmine Drolet and Max Hollmann – welcomed her as a… heroine, before supporting her so that she did not collapse in the snow.
“At the time, it’s sure that the moment is surreal; everyone is celebrating, everyone is super happy and you have a hard time believing it, noted Gagnon. But I had a seven-hour drive to do (eventually). You go on social networks, you watch the videos, all the publications, the race replays… You slowly realize it: we really did it! »
With three top ten results in as many individual starts, she lived up to her status at these U23 World Championships. For her second participation, she nevertheless remained satisfied with her appetite.
His biggest regret? His fifth place in the 20 km mass start freestyle, just over three seconds from a podium.
“It wasn’t very far, but I wasn’t able to fight to the finish for a medal. To have had the chance to do it in the relay, it was a bit of redemption. »
It’s a team effort, but bringing home the gold medal for Canada is really big.
On January 28, Gagnon set the table by finishing ninth in a 20 km freestyle group start at the World Cup in Goms, Switzerland. No Canadian woman had done better in distance since Olympic medalist Sara Renner’s second place in 2009. Until then, the 21-year-old cross-country skier had never broken the top 30 in 11 starts on the circuit.
That day, his trainer Louis Bouchard told The Press how his protégé had probably been a little “intimidated” during the sprint for the sixth level. “She’s going to have one of the best finishes in the world, that’s for sure,” he announced, a prescient word that the young woman brought to life in Slovenia.
“Before this ninth place, my goal at the World Championships was perhaps to make a top 10, explained Gagnon on Monday. There, you say to yourself, on a good day, I could make a podium and maybe even win. That’s another matter! »
A pat on the back
This performance in Switzerland gave her the “momentum” for the Worlds, as well as all Canadians, she believes.
Originally from Shawinigan-Sud, Gagnon was introduced to the Mauricie National Park by her mother and grandparents. “I started with Skinergie de la Mauricie, a club that no longer exists. We were max 10 members at its peak! »
Thanks to a move to the Quebec region with her mother, a soldier at the Valcartier base, she developed with the regional club Skibec Nordique, before joining the ranks of the Pierre-Harvey National Training Center, at Mont Sainte-Anne.
A national junior champion at the age of 16, she took part in the 2020 Youth Olympic Games with Jasmine Drolet, born in British Columbia to Quebec parents. After three Junior World Championships, she competed in her first U23s last winter in Whistler, finishing 12e initially as a group.
“She trained with (Olympic cross-country skier) Cendrine (Browne) and we saw her qualities,” noted Bouchard. We said to ourselves: at some point, it’s going to happen, that’s for sure. Young people are at school, all kinds of little things are happening, they are developing. It takes a while for them to be stable. But I knew its potential. »
In Planica, Gagnon saw his Ontario teammate Max Hollmann put Canada back in the race for the podium by closing a gap of around fifteen seconds in the third relay. Despite a broken pole, she remained among the top two or three throughout her 5 kilometer portion.
For the final sprint, she took inspiration from the tactics of her fellow Yukoner Sonjaa Schmidt, surprise gold medalist in the individual sprint, the first event of the competition, where the Quebecer stopped in the semi-final (8e).
“The track was really wet, but they had salted the course, so it was very icy, especially at the finish because we didn’t pass often. So I opted for free skating like my teammate. This way, I felt more in control of my strength. As I said in the interview after the race, it was the right thing to do. The others did it too, but perhaps for less time. There was also the will… Once again, they were fooled by a Canadian who skates! »
While the majority of her colleagues from the national team take part in the Canmore World Cup, which concludes this Tuesday with a classic sprint, Liliane Gagnon catches her breath in Davos before joining them for the last part of the campaign in Scandinavia. Who knows if she will pass on her own impulse to them?
“Yes, I’m good in Canada, but there are plenty of other cross-country skiers who are very competitive. We are close to each other. If it’s possible for me, it’s possible for many others. »