Yukon athletes excel in both summer and winter sports, as reflected by winners at the Sport Yukon’s 2012 awards night at Westmark Whitehorse Hotel Thursday evening.
Cyclist Zach Bell and cross-country skier Emily Nishikawa won the prestigious International Athlete of the Year awards.
A split between summer and winter sports was also seen in the Territorial/National Athlete of the Year awards, with rifle shooter Nicholas Rittel winning for male and cross-country skier Katie Peters winning for female.
Bell, a native of Watson Lake who represented Canada at the London Olympic Games, stressed the importance of community support in his acceptance speech.
“In my opinion, those achievements were created by the people in this room,” said the 30-year-old. “I’ve been supported by Sport Yukon and the government, all the different volunteers and coaches that are sitting here tonight, pretty much since before I can remember.
“When I was competing at the Games this time, what was going through my head was that this was for the Yukon, for all the people in the Yukon, for all the support I have received.
“I grew up in Watson Lake, in a very small community, and from the moment that I decided I wanted to be an Olympian, there wasn’t anyone in the territory that made me feel like that wasn’t a possibility.”
Bell, who won the award three times in a row between 2008 and 2010, finished eighth in the men’s omnium at the London Olympic Games in August.
His best result in the six-race omnium was a first-place finish in the 15-kilometre scratch race.
“When things didn’t pan out for me (in the other races) I went into the scratch race thinking: this is where I’m gong to make my mark, this is where I’m gong to make my mark for Watson Lake, this is where I’m gong to make my mark for the Yukon,” said Bell. “I’d like to dedicate this award and all my accomplishments to all the people that stood behind me. This is not mine, this is everyone’s.”
A silver-medal performance by Bell at the 2012 UCI Track World Championships in April not only provided Canada’s track cycling team with a berth into the omnium event in London, it solidified Bell as a strong medal contender for the Olympics. So did podium visits in the two World Cup events he competed in during the season, capturing silver in the omnium in Cali, Colombia, in December and bronze in London in February. Those results put Bell in fourth at the end of the UCI World Cup tour, which he won in 2011.
Cycling for his Canadian team, SpiderTech, Bell won the Challenge Sprint Pro this past September in Quebec City.
It was two in a row for Nishikawa, who won the award last year as well.
“I’m super honoured to win that award,” said Nishikawa, who also won National/Territorial Athlete of the Year in 2008. “When I was a kid, going to that awards ceremony, I would see the big names winning that award. So I’m just so honoured to be among them.”
Nishikawa finished last season by placing third overall in senior women at the Haywood Ski Nationals, the Canadian championships, in March.
She captured silver in the five-kilometre classic before winning gold in the 10-kilometre free technique.
“Last season had tons of highlights,” said Nishikawa. “One of my best races was winning the nationals 10-kilometre. It was a full field of all the Canadian racers and international racers as well, so that was a highlight.”
Nishikawa was one of five Whitehorse skiers to compete at the World Junior and U23 Championships in Erzurum, Turkey last February.
Nishikawa, who was competing in her third championships in U23, finished 17th in the U23 Ladies 10-kilometre individual classic. It was Canada’s highest placement by a female competitor in Turkey. She also placed 27th as the top Canadian in the skiathlon event.
The 23-year-old, who is a member of Canada’s Senior Development Team, won two gold at the World Junior and U23 Championships qualifier event.
Nishikawa also won a gold and a silver at the Westerns and a gold and two silver at the Eastern Canadian Championships.
Territorial/National Male Athlete of the Year
Rifleman Nicholas Rittel was on-target at two national championships last summer.
Competing at the 2012 Canadian Rifle Silhouette Championships last July in Kamloops, B.C., Rittel set two Canadian shooting records and won three divisions. The 21-year-old finished first in two smallbore divisions in the master class and also won the hunter high-power division in the AAA class. (Master is the highest level of shooting, followed by AAA.)
He set a Canadian record for hitting 39 out of 40 animals – steel silhouettes of animals – in the smallbore division. Rittel’s other record was in the high-power division, hitting 10 turkey silhouettes in a row.
His performance in Kamloops encouraged Rittel to enter his first American championships the following month. Competing at the 2012 Silhouette National Championships in Raton, New Mexico, Rittel finished seventh in both the smallbore and smallbore hunter divisions in the master class.
“It was pretty crazy. It was a last-minute idea,” said Rittel of going to the American championship.
“I’d definitely go to the Canadians and definitely try for the American one,” he added of next season.
The Territorial/National Athlete of the Year award came out of the blue for Rittel, who was unaware he was even nominated until a couple days before Thursday’s ceremony.
“I didn’t even know I was going there until two days before,” said Rittel.
“It was exciting to say the least. It was right there, like, bam!”
National/Territorial Female Athlete of the Year
Katie Peters was on the other side of the Pacific Ocean in India when her name was called on Thursday. However, her distance from the ceremony did not quash her enthusiasm.
“It was really an honour for me to hear that I was the recipient of Yukon’s National/Territorial Female Athlete of the Year award,” said Peters in an email to the News. “Growing up surrounded by many talented and dedicated athletes, this came as quite a surprise. Our community is so full of young people who are passionate for their sport.”
Peters was one of only two gold medal winners from the Yukon in cross-country skiing at the Arctic Winter Games in March.
At the Haywood Ski Nationals, Peters took fourth in the 10-kilometre free and distance classic, plus seventh in the five-kilometre classic and in the sprint.
“For me, racing has never been about the results, but about getting there,” said Peters. “The skiing, the training, the team – it is all just so much fun! I especially would like to thank my coaches, Alain Masson and Amanda Deuling, for creating such amazing opportunities for us and making it possible for us to shine!”
Team of the Year
All three squads nominated for Team of the Year captured gold at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games, but the winning nominee went on to set a new high-water mark for the Yukon on the national stage.
Yukon’s U19 Men’s Volleyball Team, which includes Justin Dragoman, Mason Gray, Charles Kedziora, Michael Hunter, Albert Spycher, Lowell Tait, John Koltun and Cody Park, took the honour.
Competing at the 2012 Canadian Open Volleyball Championships in May, the team won gold in Tier 3 and finished 17th overall out of 64 of the country’s best 18U teams. It was the highest a Yukon team had ever finished at the nationals in the 18U men’s division.
At the 2012 Arctic Winter Games, the boys won Yukon gold for the first time in 26 years in boys volleyball.
At the 2011 Western Canada Summer Games, Yukon took a set off bronze-winning B.C. and one off Saskatchewan. Both sets were the first Yukon had taken off a province at a major Games competition.
Six members of the team are currently playing at the post-secondary level in schools down south and hope to reunite for next year at the 2013 Canada Summer Games.
“It is important to convey how tough it is for Yukon teams to compete with provincial teams,” said Russ Tait, who coached the team with Shaun McLoughlin. “In an individual sport, a talented, hard working, committed athlete can compete at the national level. In a team sport we must have 10-12 players all the same age that are talented, hard working, committed… and willing to work together for seven years – very tough to do.
“And as far as the goal for them to play college or university ball, it was their goal as well as mine.”
Coach of the Year
Darren Kinvig says he became a dog mushing coach by accident. Following a back injury, Kinvig was ready to give up the sport before his kids got into it.
Helping them, and other young Yukon mushers, culminated in Kinvig getting named Coach of the Year on Thursday.
“I was a musher myself and I ended up in an accident,” said Kinvig. “We were getting out of dogs (mushing) and my kids took over, so I was able to coach. So thanks to the kids, Ben and Rachel, and all the kids that I coached, and especially to (my wife) Leanne, for all the help, to keep the kennel going. Because physically I can’t do it.”
Over the years Kinvig has coached his daughter Rachel to nine gold medals at over three Arctic Winter Games, including three last March, making her the most decorated musher in Games history.
Also winning medals under his leadership during the Arctic Winter Games was the Yukon’s Kat Atmanspacher-Wirth with two gold and a bronze in the juvenile division.
Exemplifying the virtues of sportsmanship, Kinvig even lent some of his dogs to a musher from Nunavut during the Games.
In February, Kinvig also coached Rachel to second and fourth-place finishes at the Junior World Championship, an event in which she won her division at the previous year.
Administrator of the Year
Whitehorse minor hockey tournaments would be smaller and less interesting if not for Whitehorse’s John Grant.
Grant, who was president of the Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association last season, was named Administrator of the Year.
The long-time Mustangs rep team coach has played a major role in getting teams from Yukon communities to compete in Whitehorse tournaments. Grant currently coaches the Midget B Mustangs and coached the Bantam B Mustangs last season.
“I think the best thing I can say about being involved with hockey is (about) the wonderful group of volunteers we have in this community,” said Grant. “Not only from a hockey perspective, but organizing, being part of the organizing of the Canada Winter Games, the Arctic Winter Games – the volunteer base in every sport is absolutely magnificent.
“If you know somebody that is thinking about volunteering – or yourself – you’ll find nothing more gratifying as giving a part of yourself to some of those endeavors.”
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org