Whitehorse is teeming with Canada’s best cross-country skiers ... though many of them already live here.
Flights carrying just over 470 top skiers and 100 coaches touched down at Erik Nielsen airport on Wednesday as the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club gets set to host the 2016 Haywood Ski Nationals.
“We’ve been worried about snow all winter, but the guys have done a huge amount of work, so we’re going to be OK,” said chief of competition Claude Chabot. “I bet we’ve put a 1,000 man-hours into shoveling so far this season ... I was out skiing some of the courses today and it’s looking good.”
The Canadian cross-country ski championships, which begin Saturday, will be the biggest event ever hosted by the Whitehorse club - bigger than when the club hosted the nationals in 2010 and even bigger than when it hosted the first-ever World Cup races in North America in 1981.
A number of Olympians will hit the trails including Canada’s Alex Harvey, Devon Kershaw, Ivan Babikov and Whitehorse’s own Emily Nishikawa.
The Sochi Olympian and fellow Whitehorse skiers Dahria Beatty and Knute Johnsgaard are back on home turf following a series of eight FIS World Cup races in the first-ever Ski Tour Canada this month.
Nishikawa led the Canadian team in most of the races and finished with a 37th-place finish in the women’s 10-kilometre classic-ski pursuit in Canmore, Alta., last Saturday to finish as the team leader.
“There were lots of highlights along the way, but I think I’m just most proud of how this women’s team has come together,” said Nishikawa in a news release. “We started with 12 women and ended with five, but I’m very proud to be a part of these girls and hope this will help us continue to build a strong team well into the future.”
Beatty and Johnsgaard both delivered breakout performances on the tour.
Johnsgaard opened the tour with his first-ever top-30 finish in a men’s sprint event in Gatineau, Que, on March 1. He qualified in 29th and finished in 30th.
Beatty notched a career best 15th place finish in sprints in Canmore, Alta., on March 8, the day after her 22nd birthday. She missed a spot in the semifinal by the tiny margin of 0.3 seconds.
“It was amazing. It was probably one of the best things of my racing career,” said Beatty. “I thought that course was a good course for me and the best chance to make the top 30. And when I qualified in 29th I was really pleased. I had so much excitement and adrenaline going into the heats I skied as hard as I could and ended up third in my heat and 15th overall.”
Beatty is currently at the top of Haywood NorAm standings and hopes her performances this coming week will end with her crowned overall season champ.
However, she has decided to sit out the opening team sprint races on Saturday.
“I’ve been having some issues with my lower back and my hip since January, and in one of the races during the tour I crashed and it made it a little bit worse, so I’m just trying to monitor it so it doesn’t become a lasting injury for next season,” said Beatty.
“I’m really looking forward to racing at home in front of family and friends and sponsors, and just being able to race on the home trails again.”
The action will kick off with the opening ceremony at 9:45 a.m. Saturday followed by the team sprints at 10 a.m.
Individual start classic technique will get underway Sunday at 10 a.m.
After a day’s break, the individual start free technique will get rolling at Tuesday 10 a.m.
Wednesday’s long sprints and Thursday’s short sprints will start with qualification rounds at 9:30 a.m. and heats at noon both days.
The championships will wrap up with the always exciting mass start classic races at 9 a.m. on March 26. (All times are subject to change.)
“The real exciting days will be the team sprint Saturday, Wednesday and Thursday individual sprints, and Saturday is the mass start,” said Chabot. “Those will be the best days for spectators.”
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