Johnsgaard helps Canada to ninth in World Cup relay race

Whitehorse's Knute Johnsgaard admits he didn't have his best races at the FIS World Cup the last couple of weekends, but he certainly made his mark. 

Whitehorse’s Knute Johnsgaard admits he didn’t have his best races at the FIS World Cup the last couple of weekends, but he certainly made his mark.

The 23-year-old helped Canada place ninth in the 4×7.5-kilometre relay for the national team’s second best ever result in a World Cup, on Sunday in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic.

“These were my first ever European World Cups so it was great to finally get to race against the best,” said Johnsgaard in an email to the News. “I was racing super fast the week before the World Cups in the OPA (European Continental Cup) races but unfortunately my shape kind of wore off before I got to race on the World Cup. It was an awesome opportunity nonetheless, and I had some respectable results, most notably the relay where we finished ahead of some pretty strong nations like Sweden and Finland.”

Johnsgaard, along with Canadian World Cup veterans Devon Kershaw and Len Valjas and Sochi Olympian Graeme Killick, came in at 1:09:44.1, just 1:15.1 behind gold-winning Norway.

On Saturday Johnsgaard placed 76th out of 84 in the men’s 15-kilometre free with a time of 39:18.2.

The previous weekend, at a World Cup in Slovenia, Johnsgaard placed 54th in a sprint and helped the Canadian team to 16th in a sprint relay.

Just competing in the women’s relay was a win for Canada. With Whitehorse’s Emily Nishikawa and Darhia Beatty bringing the women’s team to five, Canada competed in the women’s relay for the first time in eight years, taking 12th out of 13 in the 4×5-kilometre relay.

For the first half of the season Nishikawa was Canada’s only female skier on the World Cup circuit.

“The past few weekends have been really fun to have four more female teammates,” said Nishikawa, 26. “It was great that we could get a relay team in Nove Mesto. It was the first female World Cup relay team for Canada in many years. It was a great experience for us, and we are excited to build off this momentum. I did the first leg of the relay and had a great race. It was fun to be in the mass start, and push hard for five kilometres. I learned a lot, it was a real ‘elbows out’ aggressive race.”

Nishikawa skied to 44th out of 62 in the 10-kilometre free at 27:30.2 and was Canada’s top finisher Saturday.

Beatty, 21, was a minute and a half behind Nishikawa and placed 57th in Saturday’s 10-kilometre.

“I caught a small cold leading into Nove Mesto so neither the 10-kilometre skate or the relay were my best races,” said Beatty. “It was still wonderful to be a part of the first women’s relay team on the World Cup in eight years. I am looking forward to many more relays in full health and improving on our 12th place result.”

The previous weekend in Slovenia Beatty produced a 32nd-place finish in a sprint race, missing the heats by just 0.8 seconds.

“In Planica, Slovenia I was fully healthy and I had a really great race on the sprint day. It gives me a lot of hope for the future knowing that I came so close to qualifying for the heats,” said Beatty. “To have another Canada teammate (Maya Macisaac-Jones) finish 31st that day is great encouragement for us both. Our 31st and 32nd in the sprint are the top women’s results so far this year for Canada on the World Cup.”

Beatty and Johnsgaard have returned to Canada, but Nishikawa is currently training with the American team in Norway and will next race the epic 30-kilometre Holmenkollen FIS event on Feb. 7.

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