Nishikawa leads Canadian team in Olympic debut

The Whitehorse skier led the Canadian team with a 42nd-place finish in the 15-kilometre skiathlon – 7.5 kilometres of classic followed by 7.5 kilometres of free technique – on Saturday in Russia.

Emily Nishikawa was the first cross-country skier to bring a maple leaf over a finish line at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

The Whitehorse skier led the Canadian team with a 42nd-place finish in the 15-kilometre skiathlon – 7.5 kilometres of classic followed by 7.5 kilometres of free technique – on Saturday in Russia.

It was Nishikawa’s first Olympic race of her career.

“I was really happy with my race,” she said in an email to the News. “I had such an incredible experience at my first Olympic race. It was an amazing atmosphere, beautiful day and I was able to have a great race.”

The 24-year-old finished in 42 minutes and 04.7 seconds, 3:31.1 behind winner Marit Bjoergen of Norway, who earned her fourth Olympic gold medal in her career.

Canadian teammates Brittany Webster and Amanda Ammar placed 51st and 55th, respectively.

Nishikawa was understandably excited, but she tried to keep it business-as-usual during the race, she said.

“I was very excited to be racing at the Olympics,” said Nishikawa. “I really enjoyed the whole experience, but during the race, I really tried to keep it the same and focus.”

Quebec’s Alex Harvey led Canada with an 18th-place finish in the men’s 30-kilometre skiathlon on Sunday. Teammates Ivan Babikov and Graeme Killick came in 25th and 45th.

Nishikawa will be back in action on Thursday for the 10-kilometre classic. She will likely compete in the 30-kilometre skate on Feb. 22, however, the official decision will be made by the team in the days leading up to the race.

“I thought Emily skied very well,” said Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth, in a news release from Cross Country Canada. “She hung in there with some top girls and put up a good fight. Brittany and

Amanda were maybe not as strong but it was good to get that first race in.”

Nishikawa is the first Yukon cross-country skier to compete at the Olympics since Jane Vincent and Lucy Steele at the Albertville Games in 1992.

Cross Country Yukon head coach Alain Masson of Whitehorse is also in Sochi on Team Canada. Masson, who competed at three Olympics in cross-country skiing and cycling, is at his fourth Games as a wax technician for Canada.

“Sochi has been great so far,” said Nishikawa. “The volunteers are very friendly, the cross country venue is just amazing.

“Thanks to everyone for all of the support and encouragement. It is so incredible!”

Contact Tom Patrick at tomp@yukon-news.com