The only thing worse than being expected to lose a race is being expected to win it.
Whitehorse’s Graham Nishikawa, overcame the challenge, living up to expectations by winning both his races last weekend at the Eastern Canadian Cross Country Championships in Cantley, Quebec.
“I was kind of a heavy favourite there, so I definitely went there to win both races and I did,” said Nishikawa. “I’m pretty happy, I guess.”
In the open men category, Nishikawa took gold in both the 10-kilometre free technique race on Saturday and a 30-kilometre classic race Sunday.
“I was in the top three for the whole time,” said Nishikawa of the 30-kilometre event. “I was able to ski away from the other guys with about two kilometres to go.
“For that race I was the favourite to win, so I didn’t want to spend a lot of energy. I was trying to just win, instead of going full-tilt.”
If Nishikawa wanted to celebrate his win with a fellow Yukoner, he didn’t have to look far – just down a step or two on the podium.
Competing in the same events, Whitehorse’s David Greer took bronze on Saturday and silver Sunday.
“The 10-kilometre skate wasn’t too great for me, I don’t think I was in good enough race shape so I suffered pretty good in that race,” said Greer in an e-mail to the News. “My position in the results was OK, but I was a lot further back from Graham than I would have liked.
“The 30-kilometre was much better for me, I didn’t really know what to expect going into the race because I haven’t done a 30-kilometre race yet this year and my race the day before wasn’t the greatest but I ended up doing really well.
“I wasn’t too disappointed about missing out on the gold medal – I wasn’t expecting to beat Graham – but it was pretty fun to have the Yukon finish top two in the Open Men category. That doesn’t happen too often!”
Greer’s sister, Janelle Greer, was another Yukoner to reach a podium step – the top step – winning gold in the junior female 15-kilometre classic on Sunday.
With 600 skiers attending the Eastern Championships, about 200 more than are expected in Whitehorse next month for the Haywood Ski Nationals, divisions were large and competition fierce. Nonetheless, the Yukon had a number of skiers achieve top-20 results, including Kendra Murray, Heidi Brook, Brittany Pearson, Katie Peters, Holly Bull, Fabian Brook, Jeff Wood, Knute Johnsgaard, Logan Potter, Lee Hawkings and Colin Abbott.
“Top 20 is a great result in these huge fields,” noted Cross Country Yukon head coach Alain Masson in a media release.
“The team is strong, we have lots of depth and we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with when we compete on our
home turf in the Haywood Ski Nationals in March.”
Nishikawa was fresh off World Cup events in Russia and Estonia, where he finished 17th in a 30-kilometre pursuit in the former and 31st in a 15-kilometre classic in the latter.
His results in Russia and Estonia secured him a spot in the North American World Cup events this spring.
“It’s been hectic travel and racing for me,” said Nishikawa. “My Focus is on the World Cups, but you still have to win the smaller races, like the Eastern (Championships) to get to the World Cup. It’s all part of the cycle to get to the World Cup.”
Currently Nishikawa is in Canmore, Alberta, for another World Cup event where he will be taking on many skiers heading to the Olympics. On Friday he will be competing in a 15-kilometre skate followed by a sprint race on Saturday.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow for another good result,” said Nishikawa.
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org