CANMORE, Alta. - Canada's cross-country ski team was once again held off the World Cup cross-country ski podium Saturday, but three top-10 finishes provided the national squad with its best performance of the early season.
Olympic gold medallist Chandra Crawford of Canmore was the lone Canadian to make a final, where she finished sixth.
But the story of the day was an unheralded 23-year-old of Inuit ancestry who was born in Yellowknife.
Jesse Cockney, who moved to Canmore with his family in 1997, was second overall after the qualifiers and was leading in the semifinal before getting boxed in and winding up ninth — his best ever World Cup finish and his first time in the top-30.
"It's bittersweet right now obviously. I've never skied this well in my life and there's a lot more days like this to come," said Cockney.
"Right now I'm a little upset that I maybe wasted a great day. I was really close to having something special today but it's really hard to be disappointed with the best race of my life."
Cockney and Toronto teammate Len Valjas, who finished seventh overall, were in the same semifinal heat.
"It was fun. That was like a roller derby out there. A lot of pushing and shoving," said Valjas.
"It was awesome to ski with my teammate Jesse. He had an unbelievable day."
Cockney wants to be a positive role model for youth growing up in the North and on reserves across the country.
"Hopefully any aboriginal kids who are out there that maybe have some spare time will grab a pair of skis and give it a go because we're pretty good natural cross-country skiers."
Sweden's Emil Joennson crossed the finish line in two minutes 33.6 seconds to win the gold medal. He was followed by Anders Gloeersen of Norway at 2:34.0 and Nekita Kriukov of Russia who turned in a time of 2:34.5.
In the women's race, Maiken Caspersen Falla of Norway turned in a time of 2:57.6, followed by Kikkan Randall of the United States at 2:58.2 and Celine Brun-Lie of Norway who finished at 2:59.6.
Crawford, who didn't have a top-30 finish yet this season, advanced to the final as a "lucky loser" twice. Her third place times were fast enough to advance her into the next heats.
"Whoa. That was wild but it's also a piece of never giving up. Even if the field has skied away I still have to ski my guts out and lunge across the finish line for every split second because it all counts," Crawford said.
Crawford, who says she slept only three hours Friday night, said she suffered through a case of nerves.
"I don't remember the last time I was hit by a wall of nervousness getting into that final. It feels good to have made it to the final and to have made top 30 for the first time this season," she said. "I'm really feeling incredibly grateful that we got to race at home."
Perianne Jones of Almonte, Ont., finished 11th, while Daria Gaiazova of Banff, Alta., placed 20th.
Philip Widmer, also of Banff, finished 15th in the men's race to give Canada six skiers with top-30 finishes.
The 2012 Alberta World Cup wraps up with the men's 30-kilometre skiathlon and the women's 15-kilometre skiathlon on Sunday.
But coach Justin Wadsworth told reporters he has decided to rest both Devon Kershaw of Sudbury, Ont., and Alex Harvey of St-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., prior to the resumption of the World Cup schedule after Christmas.