Dreams do come true.
One spanning two decades just did for Whitehorse cross-country skier Emily Nishikawa.
She is one of 11 athletes named to Canada’s cross-country ski team for the Sochi Olympic Winter Games, Cross Country Canada announced Tuesday morning in Calgary, Alta.
“I’m so thrilled to be on the Olympic team, it’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid,” said Nishikawa. “For it to all come together for me this week, I couldn’t be happier.”
Nishikawa will be the first Yukon cross-country skier to compete at the Olympics since Jane Vincent and Lucy Steele at the Albertville Games in 1992. (Yukon has never had a male skier make the Olympics.)
Nishikawa’s spot on the team was far from assured following the final selection races at the Haywood NorAm and Buff Sprints last week in Canmore, Alta.
The 24-year-old killed it in the first distance race of the trials, placing first in the open women’s 10-kilometre on Thursday.
However, she finished the trials with sixth place in the 15-kilometre skiathlon on Sunday.
“I had a very tough day on Sunday, it was not one of my best races,” said Nishikawa. “But because of my performance on Thursday, that was enough to get the spot on the team.”
She had worried that Sunday’s finish might have erased her chances. “That definitely crossed my mind,” said Nishikawa. “So it was a bit of a stressful day, but it all worked out in the end.
“Thursday’s race was a strong race for me and that was enough to get the spot on the team, so I’m just totally thrilled.”
Nishikawa began the Olympic trials with fifth place in the open women’s 1.3-kilometre free sprint last Wednesday.
She secured one of the four spots remaining on the team, with the rest all but guaranteed to Canada’s World Cup skiers before Tuesday’s announcement.
While the announcement no doubt sent the Nishikawa household into celebration mode, on the other side of the coin brother Graham wasn’t on the team list for Sochi.
“Right now I’m just super happy for Emily,” said Graham. “That’s amazing that she had some great races at the trials and was nominated to the team. I’m just ecstatic for her.”
Graham didn’t make the team after placing seventh in the open men’s 15-kilometre classic on Thursday and 11th in the 30-kilometre skiathlon on Sunday. A third place finish in the open men’s 1.7-kilometre free sprint last Wednesday also wasn’t enough to make the team.
“It’s hard to say right now, but it didn’t come together for whatever reason,” said Graham, 30. “I wasn’t at my peak racing ability that I’ve shown in the past. I’m just trying to digest everything right now…
“I can’t go back and change things, but I’m still happy I spent all these years chasing this dream and laid it on the line. It just didn’t happen, that’s just part of life.”
“It definitely is very bitter-sweet,” said Emily. “Graham had a tough week and I would have loved nothing more for both of us to go to Sochi together. But I’m proud of how he raced and I think it’ll all work out. He definitely gave it all he could but just didn’t have the best week of racing.”
Although her brother isn’t going to Sochi, Emily won’t be the only Yukoner there with the ski team.
Cross Country Yukon head coach Alain Masson will be in Sochi on Team Canada.
Masson, who competed at three Olympics in cross-country skiing and cycling, will be at his fourth Games as a wax technician for Canada.
“It’ll be awesome to have Alain there,” said Emily. “He was my coach the whole time I was on the Yukon Ski Team. It’s very exciting.”
Canada’s cross-country team will leave for a training camp in Italy at the end of the week and will compete in a World Cup at Toblach in northern Italy just before the Sochi Games.
The events Nishikawa will compete in at Sochi will be determined as the Games near.
The Sochi Games begin Feb. 7 in Russia.
“It’s so exciting to share this with everyone in the Yukon community and everyone in Whitehorse,” said Emily. “There’s so much support I’m feeling from the Yukon.
“Thanks to everyone who supported my dream over the past 20 years, especially my parents,” she added. “It’s a dream come true.”
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