A record five Yukoners represented Canada at the World Junior and U23 Championships last week in Erzurum, Turkey. They are contented with their results but they all believe they could have performed better.
That’s just part of being a high-level competitor, said Yukon head coach Alain Masson, who was a wax technician for Team Canada in Turkey.
“It’s rare that you see people totally happy about their performance,” said Masson. “It does happen, but they are always looking for better.”
Whitehorse’s three female skiers at the championships had the most to be happy about. Emily Nishikawa, Janelle Greer and Dahria Beatty all had at least one race in which they were Canada’s top finishers.
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, junior or U23.
“I was really happy with the 10-kilometre classic in which I finished 17th,” said Nishikawa, who also took 27th in the skiathlon. “There was a lot of good competition from all over the world. I was hoping to place a little bit higher, but considering how the race went, I was happy with that.”
Beatty took in two top-25 performances in the junior female division. Competing in her second junior worlds, Beatty raced to 25th in five-kilometre individual classic for Team Canada’s top spot in the race. The 17-year-old also placed 23rd in the skiathlon, five spots back from Canada’s top finisher, Anne-Marie Comeau, and 48th in the sprint.
“I was pretty happy with my races in Turkey,” wrote Beatty in an email to the News. “I didn’t feel like I had my best races of the year, which I had been hoping to have, but I put everything I had into each race. The high elevation really had an effect on my racing.
“I was hoping to break the top-20 but that didn’t quite happen. I am still happy with placing in the top-25 in both the distance races.”
Greer, 19, finished 28th in the junior women’s skate-sprint for Canada’s strongest finish and also placed 28th in the five-kilometre classic, three spots back from Beatty.
“I am mostly happy with my races in Turkey,” wrote Greer in an email to the News. “Overall I didn’t get the results I had hoped for going into the competition - top-20 - but at the same time I did the best I could each race, given the different circumstances, so I have to be happy with my races.
“I think the sprint 28th is a bit more significant because even though it wasn’t the top-20 I wanted, I was the only North American to qualify. And that feels pretty special.”
The Yukon’s two male skiers, David Greer in U23 and Knute Johnsgaard in junior, both produced Canada’s second best results in races. They too were hoping for better - Johnsgaard most of all.
Johnsgaard’s first trip to a world championship was marred by a lengthy illness leading up to the event. He was even hospitalized for a day and given fluids intravenously.
“I thought it was food poisoning at first - and maybe it was - but the final verdict was gastroenteritis,” said Johnsgaard. “I think it started with food poisoning and I was really sick for about a week ... It wasn’t pretty.”
Johnsgaard, nonetheless, placed 49th in junior men skiathlon and 51st in the sprint for the second best Canadian finish.
“I was really disappointed but at the same time, when I was in a Turkish hospital a week before, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to race,” he said. “So I was happy just to race.
“I was hoping for a top-20 finish, so I was really far from that, but I’m confident it was just the sickness - bad timing, bad luck.”
David Greer came 35th in the skiathlon (15-kilometre classic and 15-kilometre free) and 36th in the 15-kilometre classic. He also placed 47th in the sprint on Feb. 21.
Though not placing as high as he would have liked, this year’s championships had a tougher field than usual.
“My races didn’t go as well as I was hoping for. My goal was to place in the top-12, but I think even if I had raced to my full potential that still would have been hard to achieve,” wrote David in an email to the News. “Usually the U23 men category isn’t as competitive as the juniors since most of the best guys are off racing the world cups but this year was different. This year was by far the most competitive year in a long time since there was break in the world cup circuit so almost all the top U23 men in the world were racing in Turkey.
“Just to put it in perspective, some of the top guys that were racing in Turkey had just come off the world cup circuit with recent top-10 finishes.”
In addition to their individual results, the junior skiers competed in relay events with their Canadian teammates.
Johnsgaard, whose health improved as the championships went on, helped Team Canada finish 10th out of 19 teams, posting the seventh fastest time on his leg.
Janelle Greer and Beatty helped Canada’s junior female team to ninth, skiing 10th and eighth fastest in their legs.
Counting the five skiers from the world championships, the Yukon will have 18 athletes competing in the Haywood Nationals, Canada’s cross-country ski championships, at Mont Ste-Anne, Quebec March 17-24.
“It was a great experience - challenging with the travel, the time-change and the altitude,” said Masson. “Overall I think some of them raced as well as they could, considering the challenges of getting there.”
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