Nishikawa goes the middle distance for gold

It’s been six years since Graham Nishikawa last competed in Whitehorse, but this weekend’s homecoming at Mount McIntyre couldn’t…

It’s been six years since Graham Nishikawa last competed in Whitehorse, but this weekend’s homecoming at Mount McIntyre couldn’t have gone better.

He’s back in town for the Northwestel Western Canadian Ski Championships, along with several other members of the national cross-country ski team and athletes from Alaska, BC, and Alberta.

“It would have been the Arctic Winter Games in 2000,” said Nishikawa, of his last race on his home course.

“People were cheering, it was a lot of fun … it was a pretty good race, I think I won it,” he said right after finishing. He considers the classic his strong suit.

“10k, mid-distance — that’s where I’m best.”

Although he was the final skier to leave the gate in the open men’s 10-kilometre classic race on Sunday, he managed to post the fastest time, 28:04.1, beating second place finisher Stefan Kuhn of Alberta by 11.5 seconds.

He’s still a member of the Yukon Ski Team, but Nishikawa is competing as a member of the national team at the Westerns, sporting the white and red uniform.

He’s also wearing the red bib as the leader of the Haywood Canada Cup series.

Sunday’s first-place finish means he will most likely win the Haywood title.

Nishikawa is not the only notable skier at the Westerns.

National team members Amanda Amar, Drew Goldsack, Chris Jeffries and Dan Roycroft represented Canada at the Torino Olympics in February.

“It’s wonderful to have these guys here,” said chief of race Claude Chabot.

Watching these top athletes in action is a real eye-opener, he said.

“They’re doing a different sport than the rest of us.”

The Olympians didn’t dominate, however, as Roycroft finished third in the open men’s, and Goldsack took fifth spot.

Perhaps the cold temperatures and wind had something to do with it.

The classic race was originally scheduled for Saturday morning, but due to the extreme cold, it was pushed to the afternoon, and then pushed again to Sunday afternoon.

“We didn’t want to compromise skier safety,” said Chabot. “We knew it was dubious heading in.”

Sunday was a bit better, but minus-13 temperatures and a strong headwind coming into the stadium made conditions rough for the skiers.

Despite the weather, the Westerns are going smoothly according to Chabot.

“I’m just really happy we pulled through today,” he said. With two more races to run, the schedule will be tighter than ideal for the athletes.

Sprints will run today, which was originally set aside as a rest day. Tuesday’s freestyle races will finish the event.

Racing three days in a row is tough, but Chabot said it’s not a huge problem.

“It’s the end of the season, these guys are fit; they can handle it.”

Unfortunately, because of the schedule shift, the Alaskan skiers will miss the last two races as they head home Monday.

With 240 skiers, aged nine and up, the Westerns are the biggest event to be held at Mount McIntyre.

“It’s very unusual, to have a large competition at home,” said Yukon Ski Team coach Alain Masson.

“We’ve had high-level competitions, world cup events, but they were smaller in size.”

The Westerns are serving as a Canada Games test event, and the athletes are happy with Mount McIntyre’s setup.

“They’re completely ready,” said Nishikawa. “People were really nervous about it, but I’ve been to races that weren’t as organized, like the nationals.”

As the final competition of the season for the Yukon Ski Team, the Westerns will also serve as the Yukon championships. Standout skiers this year included midget Janelle Greer, who won four gold ulus at the Arctic Games, and skied in the juvenile division on Sunday and won; and Ray Sabo, who posted his best-ever results at nationals, and finished second in the junior division on Sunday.

Here are the top finishers of Sunday’s classic races:

Open men’s 10-kilometre

1st Graham Nishikawa,

Canada, 28:04.1

2nd Stefan Kuhn, Alberta,

28:15.6

3rd Dan Roycroft, Canada,

28:19.5

4th Eric Strabel, Alaska,

28:20.9

5th Drew Goldsack, Canada,

28:40.1

Masters men’s 10-kilometre

1st Marcus Waterreus, Yukon,

33:09.0

2nd Bobby Burton, B.C.,

34:05.0

3rd Jim Lokken, Alaska,

34:19.4

4th Dan Shier, Yukon, 37:54.1

5th Scott Fraser, Yukon,

37:57.3

Junior boy’s 10-kilometre

1st Max Treinen, Alaska,

29:41.9

2nd Ray Sabo, Yukon, 30:50.4

3rd Curtis Merry, Alberta,

31:06.6

4th Georg Jalkotzy, Alberta,

31:17.4

5th Patrick Johnson, Alaska,

31:27.2

Open women’s 7.5-kilometre

1st Tasha Betcherman,

Canada, 24:12.8

2nd Tara Witten, Alberta,

24:42.0

3rd Brittany Webster, Ontario,

24:49.6

4th Rhonda Sandau, Alberta,

25:01.6

5th Jacqui Benson, B.C.,

25:03.7

Masters women’s

7.5-kilometre

1st Karen Gillis, Alaska,

27:48.7

2nd Liz Holdyk, B.C., 32:22.1

3rd Andrea Wulf, B.C., 34:46.3

4th Christine Birnie, B.C.,

37:28.9

5th Kristy Leighton, B.C.,

39:19.9

Junior girl’s 7.5-kilometre

1st Christina Gillis, Alaska,

26:46.5

2nd Bryn Knight, Yukon,

27:22.7

3rd Emily Nishikawa, Yukon,

27:28.5

4th Zoe Braul, B.C., 27:41.8

5th Sarah Murray, Yukon,

29:02.7

Juvenile girl’s 3.75-kilometre

1st Janelle Greer, Yukon,

13:16.2

2nd Alison Clarke, B.C.,

13:45.9

3rd Andrea Lee, B.C., 13:57.5

4th Allyson Cummings, B.C.,

14:16.0

5th Brittany Smith, Yukon,

14:22.0

Juvenile boy’s five-kilometre

1st Lex Treinen, Alaska,

14:37.2

2nd David Norris, Alaska,

14:39.4

3rd Colin Abbott, Yukon,

15:52.9

4th Ricky Nelson, Alaska,

15:59.8

5th Tristan Flock, B.C.,

16:11.2

Midget boy’s 2.5-kilometre

1st Eric Ryan, Alaska, 8:25.5

2nd Scott Patterson, Alaska,

8:28.6

3rd Steven Hollenberg, B.C.,

8:32.9

4th Jeff Wood, Yukon, 8:41.7

5th Geoffrey Richards, B.C.,

8:42.3

Midget girl’s 2.5-kilometre

1st Megan Hall, Alberta,

9:18.7

2nd Samantha Reid, Alberta,

9:21.3

3rd Heidi Brook, Yukon,

9:24.2

4th Kendra Murray, Yukon,

9:56.1

5th Breanne McClusky, B.C.,

9:59.2

Mini-midget boy’s

2.5-kilometre

1st Fabian Brook,

Yukon, 9:35.5

2nd Jake Burton, B.C., 11:09.6

3rd Jan Grzeda, Alaska,

11:20.0

4th Trevor Bray, Yukon,

12:30.7

5th Erich Hoefler, Alaska,

13:30.9

Mini-midget girl’s

2.5-kilometre

1st Dahria Beatty,

Yukon, 9:00.8

2nd Holly Bull, Yukon, 11:39.8

3rd Marie-Louise Roy, Yukon,

12:02.4

4th Alicia Lenze, Alaska,

12:41.1

5th Michaela St.Pierre, Yukon,

12:44.6

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