Yukon’s Graham Nishikawa, 25, may have finished his cross-country ski season with an eighth-place finish, but he has no regrets.
Last week while wrapping up the season with the US National Cross Country Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska, Nishikawa received word that he has won the NorAm Canada Cup Race circuit. Months of race results had to be tallied before determining him the champion. Winning the circuit automatically qualifies him for the World Cup next fall in Scandinavia.
“That was my goal for the year,” said Nishikawa, who just arrived back in Whitehorse. “I won twice and hit the podium about six times, so I would say my consistency—always close to the win or on the podium—was the highlight.
“It’s the best season of my career. I was really consistent, from November right to now, always fighting for a podium spot. I’m happy with how it went.”
Nishikawa began last week’s US nationals with his best result, taking bronze in the 10-kilometre classic last Tuesday, just 11 seconds out of first place.
It was a solo race, but more solo than usual for Nishikawa.
“It was really weird because I went there by myself, with no coach or wax technician, so I was doing everything on my own,” he said. “Normally I have a guy to wax my skis, so I was at a bit of a disadvantage.
“I skied around the course but I didn’t get any information. Normally your coach is there and he’ll give you splits (or updates) on how you’re doing. So I just skied as hard as I could and crossed the line … they said I was third.
“A little information on the course, to tell me it was that tight, would have been nice.”
Taking silver was Canadian teammate Stephan Kuhn, who Nishikawa teamed up with the following day to represent Canada in the sprint relay. In another tight finish, the two Canadians finished fourth.
“We were just inches from the bronze medal,” said Nishikawa. “It was a bit of a disappointment but there was some really tight racing out there.
“Everybody thought that I got it, but then I didn’t.”
Then came the big ones. On Thursday, Nishikawa skied a 30-kilometre race followed by a 50-kilometre race Sunday, taking eighth in both.
“We were racing at 6 p.m.—in the night time—which is pretty rare,” said Nishikawa, speaking of both distance races. “Usually we race in the morning so it was kind of difficult to adjust to eating and waiting around all day to race. I think it kind of threw me off a bit.”
Nishikawa prefers the longer races, so the eighth-place finishes were, obviously, a bit of a disappointment. However, one gets the sense when talking with Nishikawa that he’s ready for a break.
“These were the last races of the year,” he said. “It’s been a long season and I think my body had just had enough by then.
“I was just trying to fight my way to the finish line and finish the season,” he added, speaking of Sunday’s race. “It was a long, long day.”
Despite the warm, snowless months ahead, Nishikawa is eyeing next season.
After taking some time off, he will keep in shape with jogging, track-skiing and by hitting the gym. He may also take a trip to the Canmore, BC, during the summer to do some skiing on nearby glaciers.
“I go there every summer for about a week,” said Nishikawa. “It’s nice to ski in the summer, get the feeling back.”
Chasing the Olympic dream, Nishikawa has some December trial races in his sites, which may be the first stepping-stones towards reaching the Games.
“That will be my big focus from now on,” he said. “I’ll focus all my energy on racing really fast there.”
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org