A lifelong dream has come true for two Whitehorse cross-country skiers.
Siblings Graham and Emily Nishikawa have been named to Team Canada for the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, Feb. 20 to March 3.
The Nishikawas received the news from Cross Country Canada on Tuesday.
“I’m really happy,” said Emily. “I just got the email a little while ago and I’m just thrilled with the news.
“It’s a great honour to get selected for the world championships. I’m really excited about this trip. I think it’s a great opportunity and it’s cool my brother was also selected.”
“I had a good feeling after Sunday’s race that I would get the call,” said Graham. “It’s just nice to have it official.
“I’m super pumped. I’ve been working for this a long time and it feels great.”
Reaching a world championship is a feat accomplished by very few Yukon skiers.
In fact, Graham, 29, is the first male skier from the territory to do it.
“I didn’t know that, but that’s very interesting,” said Graham.
Emily, 23, is the first female Yukoner to make the worlds since Olympian Lucy Steele-Masson competed in 1997.
“It’s the world championships for skiing and that’s what we’ve worked for,” said Graham. “And that Emily gets to go is an amazing bonus, too. I’m so happy for her. She’s worked really hard.”
The Nishikawas, who are members of Canada’s senior developmental team, made the worlds team with medal performances at two sets of trials, in Thunder Bay, Ont., Jan. 3-6 and in Duntroon, Ont., this past weekend.
In Thunder Bay, Emily won gold in two distance races and a bronze in a sprint for senior women, Graham won gold in the senior men’s 30-kilometre classic and placed fourth in two other races.
This past weekend, Graham captured bronze in a classic sprint on Saturday and then gold in the 15-kilometre free with a large 32.7-second lead over the second-place finisher on Sunday.
Emily skied to silver in Saturday’s sprint for open women, but fell ill and missed Sunday’s 10-kilometre free race. Missing Sunday’s race could have cost her a spot Canada’s worlds team if not for her terrific results in Thunder Bay.
“I had been looking forward to that race a long time,” said Emily. “Then I woke up that morning and I definitely had a cold and I wanted to race but my body said no. So I had to sit that one out, which was rough.”
This season looked like it could be the Nishikawas’ best yet from the start.
On the same day, they both had their best international result while skiing at the Alberta World Cup in Canmore this past December.
Facing the best in the world, Graham raced to 15th in the 30-kilometre skiathlon. 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.)
Emily sped to 34th in the 15-kilometre skiathlon at the Alberta World Cup. She was the top Canadian, ahead of 11 others and just 15 seconds from cracking the top 30.
So what’s making this season such a good one?
“I’m loving the sport right now; I’m having so much fun with it,” said Emily. “I love racing, I love travelling with my teammates and just having a good time with it – I think that makes a big difference.”
“I had a great summer of training and over the years I’ve been improving every year, and I’ve built a solid base,” said Graham. “It took one good race on the World Cup in Canmore for me – I had a total breakthrough when I was 15. After that it gave me the confidence to be right there.”
Emily, Graham and a handful of other Yukon skiers will be competing in the Eastern Canada Championships this weekend in Cantley, Que.
“I’m still a little bit sick, but I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to race this weekend,” said Emily.
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