Graham and Emily Nishikawa were born six years apart, but the Whitehorse siblings gave their best performances yet on the same day.
Competing at the Alberta World Cup, which featured 221 of the best skiers from 20 countries, the Nishikawas produced their strongest world cup showing on Sunday in Canmore, Alta.
Facing the best in the world, Graham raced to 15th in the 30-kilometre skiathlon – 15 kilometres of classic followed by 15 kilometres of skating – in senior men.
Graham’s previous best at a world cup was 27th last year in Sweden. (Graham also placed 17th in a world cup in Russia in 2010, but that race only had about 23 entered due to cold weather.)
He was also the second Canadian over the finish line on Sunday with Ian Babikov placing 12th.
“That was a really special day. That was probably my best-ever race and was my best result ever in a world cup,” said Graham, who finished just 22 seconds behind the winner. “It was just a really memorable day.
“It shows I can be competitive with the best in the world. For me, I’ve been at this for a while, and this is the breakthrough I’ve wanted for a long time. I’m just really, really happy.”
Graham also placed 38th in the men’s 15-kilometre mass start classic on Thursday, coming in 2:22 behind the leader.
“Thursday was super hard and I think that effort got me to the next level in my fitness and Sunday it all came together,” said Graham. “I had really good skis and really good shape and I was able to hang in with the guys for 30-kilometres (on Sunday).
“I was just so surprised when I crossed the line. It was so good for my confidence, knowing I can compete with them.”
Emily sped to 34th in the 15-kilometre skiathlon with a time of 46:30.7 in the senior women division on Sunday.
She was the top-Canadian ahead of 11 others and just 15 seconds from cracking the top-30.
“It’s a big benchmark: to get into the top-30 is really a big achievement and I was really close to that,” said Emily. “I’m kind of hungry for more now. I’m looking forward to getting into that top 30.
“It was definitely one of my best world cups ever and it felt great during the race, so I’m really happy with it,” she added. “The winner, (Poland’s) Justyna Kowalczyk, had a huge lead. She broke away from the whole field … I was about three minutes back from Justyna, but she was about a minute ahead of the second place finisher.”
Emily’s previous best finish at a world cup was 46th in Estonia last year.
She also placed 48th in a field of 63 in the 10-kilometre mass start classic technique on Thursday and 48th in the sprint on Saturday.
“It was good to get that experience in and it was good for me to give a hard effort on Saturday – it set me up well for Sunday,” said Emily.
The Nishikawas were joined at the world cup by Whitehorse’s Darhia Beatty and David Greer.
At just 18, Beatty’s presence in her first world cup was an achievement on its own.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Beatty. “I was really nervous for the first race because I was just so new and there were so many amazing competitors there. It was hard to think of it as just any other race. In the races after that I was able to calm my nerves and they went a lot better.
“I learnt so much from it.”
As the third youngest skier in the senior women’s division, Beatty placed 57th on Thursday, 55th in the sprints Saturday and 54th in the skiathlon.
“The sprint, for me, felt the best,” said Beatty. “It was a really exciting atmosphere and because it was so much shorter, you could go so hard for the whole time.
“There were people lining the entire course the whole time. That race went the best for me; I think I skied it really well. I left everything out there.”
Unlike the other Yukoners, Greer opened with his best result, taking 47th in the 15-kilometre classic in open men on Thursday.
It was Greer’s first world cup appearance. He qualified for world cups last year but went to races in Europe instead.
“I didn’t have the best performances of my life, but it was still a fun experience,” said Greer in an email to the News. “The level at the world cup is really high, racing against the best skiers in the world, but it was actually encouraging to see that I could keep up with the leaders for a couple laps even though I wasn’t racing my best.
“I would like to get another world cup start sometime soon because I know I can do better.”
Greer, who is a member of the new Yukon Elite Squad based out of Whitehorse, went on to take 51st place in Sunday’s skiathlon.
“Thursday’s race was OK, nothing special, but a solid race nonetheless,” said Greer. “Sunday’s race wasn’t so hot. I felt terrible in the classic portion – for a moment I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to finish the race!”
Last-minute entries Knute Johnsgaard and John Parry, who are also on the Yukon Elite Squad, placed 56th and 61st respectively on Sunday.
Up next for Yukon’s top skiers is a Haywood NorAm in Thunder Bay, Ontario, early January. The event is another big one. In addition to being the Junior/U23 World Championship qualifier, it is also a World Senior Championship qualifier.
“Those are the races I have to do well in to make the world championship team,” said Emily. “I’m looking ahead to that already. But my result on Sunday is definitely a good confidence builder going into that.”
Beatty, who has already competed at two junior worlds, is eligible for two more before going into the under-23 division.
Contact Tom Patrick at email@example.com