Cross country skiers face a difficult field

During the Canada Winter Games, if you want to bet on the Yukon put your money behind a cross-country skier.

During the Canada Winter Games, if you want to bet on the Yukon put your money behind a cross-country skier.

Home-trail advantage, and the healthy snowfalls since November are just a couple of factors in our favour.

Doing well and winning medals, however, are different things, according to Yukon Ski Team coach Alain Masson.

“It’s always difficult, because people just think in terms of medals — but there’s only three,” said Masson, who competed in the 1984, ’88 and ’92 Olympics.

Each province will bring 10 skiers, and, he added, “every province has a strong program, and top 10, top 15 is a good result, especially for skiers that aren’t on the national team.”

“If any Yukon athletes crack the top 10, that would mean best-ever results for them,” he said. “I hope people keep that in mind.”

The format of the competition itself — a wide-open under-23 field, means cracking that top 10 will be even more of a challenge.

“We don’t have anybody that’s close to 23. Our oldest athlete, Britany Greer, is 20; other than that, all our athletes are juniors (19 or younger),” said Masson.

 “If she is here, she’s likely our best chance for a medal,” said Masson. “Our relay team, with Brittany here, would be competitive — definitely top five.”

Greer skis for the University of Alaska in Anchorage, and if that team makes the NCAA finals, (which run the same week as the Games), Yukon may lose its best skier.

Three others will return from schools Outside to rejoin the team: Ray Sabo and John Parry from Fairbanks, and Sam Lindsey from Camrose, Alberta.

David Greer and Colin Abbott round out the boys team, with Logan Potter and Nansen Murray standing by as alternates.

It’s a young team, with 16-year-old Abbott being the most green.

 “I’ll be racing against guys six years older than me,” Abbott said, before a training run on Monday at Mount McIntyre.

The team got a preview of some of their rivals at Canada’s World Junior and Under-23 Championship trials in Rossland, BC. “We raced against them a few weeks ago, and we were in the back of the pack — so now we know where we stand on the Canadian stage,” said Abbott.

Masson said the boys’ side is in a rebuilding phase, after the departure of skiers like Graham Nishikawa.

“At the last Canada Games, in New Brunswick, our men’s team was prime, three of the five skiers were in their 20s, and we were quite competitive, finishing fourth in the relay, ” recalled Masson.

The girls team contains three veteran skiers who have been to the Games before: Brittany Greer, Bryn Knight and Emily Nishikawa.

“It’s definitely an advantage for them, to have been there before, because it’s quite different, the multi-sport games — the environment.”

Janelle Greer and Heidi Brook will be skiing in their first Canada Games, and Sarah Murray and Brittany Smith are the alternates.

In this kind of multi-sport event, with a communal living situation, it’s key for his skiers to stay healthy over the next month, and that they remain well-rested before moving into the athletes’ village in the second week of the Games, said Masson.

With that in mind, the Games skiers will skip the Western Canadian Championships next week, which involves a road trip to Smithers, BC.

The younger Yukon skiers, and those who didn’t qualify for the Games team will make the trip, however; it’s a chance for them to qualify for the National Championships, which all 14 Canada Games Skiers have already done.

Although the competition will be tough, this Yukon team has had a lot of opportunity to improve in the last four years, said Masson.

“It’s probably the best-prepared team we’ve ever had, because we’ve had access to additional funding through the best-ever program, we’ve worked with a sports psychologist, done glacier training in the summer, and we know the trails, we’ve raced the trails.”