Yukon’s powerhouse status in cross-country skiing is evident with a read through the national team nominations.
Whitehorse will be represented by four skiers over three national teams, Cross Country Canada announced on Friday.
Graham Nishikawa, Dahria Beatty, Annah Hanthorn and, not surprisingly, Olympian Emily Nishikawa were included in the team and development centre nominations.
Next ski season will mark a change in course in Graham’s ski career.
The 30-year-old has been nominated to Canada’s Para-Nordic World Cup Team to continue his work with famed Paralympian Brian McKeever, who is legally blind.
Graham helped McKeever win three gold medals at the Sochi Paralympic Games in March. He doesn’t plan to compete individually any more.
“I will be just guiding from now on,” said Graham. “It’s a little bit of a shift. Things aren’t totally set in stone, but I’m nominated as a guide because of our success in Sochi at the Paralympics and I’ll continue to guide Brian over the next couple years.”
Graham has been on the senior development team the last six seasons. He pocketed a gold, silver and bronze at the Haywood Ski Nationals – Canada’s cross-country championships – in March. Those results put him second in the aggregate standings for open men.
Last year he became the first Yukon male to compete at the Nordic World Ski Championships.
“Lots has been going on and happening pretty fast, but I’m super excited about guiding and moving forward,” said Graham, who is one of two guides for McKeever. “I’ll still be in the ski scene so it’s a great situation. I’m happy to help Brian do what he does, to keep winning races.”
Emily and Beatty were nominated to the senior development team and the Alberta World Cup Academy in Canmore last week.
Next season will be Emily’s fourth straight on the team.
“It’s an honour to get on the national team,” said Emily. “I’m really happy about it.”
Emily was the first Yukon cross-country skier to compete at the Olympics since 1992 this past February in Sochi. She led the Canadian team in two races in Sochi, topping out with a 42nd place finish in the 15-kilometre skiathlon.
“That was a pretty incredible experience,” said Emily. “That first race – the 15-kilometre pursuit – I had a great race and everything came together. It was my first race at the Olympics and everything about that race was so memorable.”
Emily teamed up with Beatty to win gold in the open women’s team sprint at the nationals. She also won a gold and silver in individual races and placed second in aggregate open women.
Last season Emily was the first female from the territory to reach the world championship since 1997.
“I have some big goals in mind for this coming season,” said Emily. “I’ve had these great opportunities to get experience at the world championships and the Olympics now and I’m really looking to improve on those results internationally – specifically to get some top-30 results on the world cup this year.”
Beatty has skied for the national junior team the last four seasons and will be in her first as a senior skier next season.
The 20-year-old, who has competed at three junior world championships, was nominated for the development team’s new under-23 subcategory.
“I’m very pleased,” said Beatty. “It was a goal throughout last season. Obviously it wasn’t something I was solely focused on, but I was hoping to have a strong enough season to qualify for the senior team. I knew coming out of the junior world championship, placing 15th and 20th there, that I had met the criteria. So I was hoping to be nominated and I was really excited to be named to the team.”
Beatty had the largest medal haul of the Yukon skiers at the Haywood Nationals. She won five medals, including three gold, en route to taking first place in the junior women aggregate standings.
Next season will be Hanthorn’s last as a junior and her first on the national junior team.
“I was very excited, very surprised,” said Hanthorn. “I immediately wrote an email to my mom.”
This past season was the 19-year-old’s first on the Yukon Ski Team, having moved to Whitehorse from Fort McPherson, N.W.T., last summer. Training in Whitehorse has helped her along, she said.
“It was definitely a huge bonus moving here,” said Hanthorn. “Alain (Masson) and Amanda (Deuling) are such good coaches and I have really good teammates. The waxing is phenomenal, and the training.”
Hanthorn’s goal for next season is to qualify for the junior worlds. She captured three bronze medals at the Haywood Nationals in March.
“I hurt my ankle a bit before … and I wasn’t sure how it would play out,” said Hanthorn. “I didn’t have any expectations. I wanted to just go there, have fun and race my heart out.”
Two other Whitehorse skiers have been recognized by Cross Country Canada recently.
Caelan McLean and Marcus Deuling have been named to Canada’s National Talent Squad, which identifies up-and-comers between the ages of 15 and 18.
McLean and Marcus were on the Yukon Ski Team last winter. McLean won a gold and placed third in junior boys aggregate at the Haywood Nationals.
“It’s great that we still have athletes from the Yukon being named to the national team,” said Yukon Ski Team head coach Alain Masson. “It’s nice to see we have some young up-and-coming athletes who are knocking on the door to national teams. It looks good for the next few years.”
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