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Valjas sprints to first World Cup medal

Canadian cross-country skier Len Valjas had a modest goal of using the World Cup sprint race this week to crack the top 50 in the overall rankings.

He did much more than that.

Valjas made his first career World Cup podium appearance Wednesday by winning a silver medal on the 1.2-kilometre course.

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"I don't think it has sunk in yet, but it does feel pretty good," he said. "I think I may be a little in shock."

Erik Brandsdal of Norway won gold in 3 minutes 05.9 seconds, just 1.5 seconds ahead of the Canadian. Another Norwegian, Paal Golberg, was 3.1 seconds back in third.

After progressing through his quarter-final and semi-final head-to-head heats, Valjas took advantage of his fast skis in the six-man final. The 23-year-old from Toronto jumped to the front of the pack early on and hammered the flats lined with thousands of passionate Nordic ski fans.

"I never would have thought I'd win a medal this early in my career, but to have the first medal come in Norway is really special," he said. "This country has been really good to me over the last couple of years. I just wanted to get to the front and attack on the hills. I had great skis and was able to do that. I felt good all day."

The 6-foot-6 Valjas, who is in his third season on the World Cup, placed fifth at an event in Finland earlier this year.

Canadian teammates Alex Harvey of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., was 16th Wednesday and Devon Kershaw of Sudbury finished 23rd.

"Training with Alex and Devon has had a huge influence on me and me getting to the podium," Valjas said. "Just watching how these guys train with such intensity is huge for me."

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The silver medal moved Valjas to 34th in the overall standings. Dario Cologna of Switzerland has a healthy lead on Petter Northug of Norway in the overall race. Kershaw is right behind in third place and Harvey is sixth.

In the women's classic-sprint race, Chandra Crawford of Canmore, Alta., crossed the line fifth and Daria Gaiazova of Banff, Alta., finished eighth. Both were career-best results in the discipline.

"I was not expecting it [to]go that well," Crawford said. "I have been relentless on improving my classic skiing. My stride has opened up and is much longer. I am very happy, but more excited to see Lenny get on the podium today. It couldn't happen to a better guy and I'm so happy for our program."

Overall standings leader Marit Bjoergen won the women's race in 3:32.9.

Fellow Norwegian Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen was 1.7 seconds back in second place. Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland was 7.5 seconds behind in third.

Alysson Marshall of Salmon Arm, B.C., was 52nd and Perianne Jones of Almonte, Ont., finished 61st.

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The Canadian Press

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