Four Yukon cross-country skiers took part in a Canadian first over the weekend at the Haywood NorAm Mini-Tour in Rossland, BC.
The first of its kind in Canada at the NorAm level, the mini-tour three-stage event was like a cycling stage race, with skiers starting off in the same position, at the same interval as how they finished in the previous day’s race.
Although not as strong as the previous weekend’s performance, Yukon skier and former national team member Graham Nishikawa logged the strongest result. After finishing eighth in Friday’s sprint, sixth in Saturday’s 10-kilometre skate, Nishikawa moved down a spot during Sunday’s 15-kilometre classic for seventh overall in the open men’s division.
“Honestly, it was not my best weekend of racing, like the weekend before I was in second and third place,” said Nishikawa. “But it was a really strong field with some of the best guys in North America there; a lot of guys came back from Europe to race.
“I guess I’m happy with it, just not really happy with it.
“I was using this weekend as training races. The really important races will be after Christmas in Thunder Bay.”
Competing in the open women’s division was Graham’s sister, Emily Nishikawa, who finished 16th.
Emily, who is recovering from a shoulder injury sustained during training, improved her results from each stage to the next, going from 24th, to 22nd on Saturday, to 16th on Sunday, producing the 14th-fastest time in the final stage.
“I’m really happy with the way it went,” said Emily. “I was injured this fall – I hurt my shoulder – so I only just started training with poles again not even a month ago. So I think I’m in a great position right now, I’m getting stronger and stronger, so I should be in good shape for when the important races come around.”
Coincidently, the Yukon’s other two skiers at the NorAm, David and Janelle Greer, are also siblings.
Competing in the open men’s division, David moved down from 20th to 23rd over the first two stages, but made up lost ground to finish 19th overall on Sunday.
“I’ve had a slow start to the season this year,” said David. “I’m not as fast as I’d like to be, but that’s what the training plan had for me: to start off slow with these races and gain momentum and peak later in the season.
“Each day got better.”
“It was a really fun style of races,” he added of the mini-tour. “You’re starting to see more of that all over and it’s fun to watch.”
Although still just a junior, Janelle managed to squeak into the top half of the field, finishing 29th in open women. After finishing as the second junior in the sprint, Janelle took 32nd overall on Saturday and moved up three spots in Sunday’s 10-kilometre classic – her favourite event.
“The 10-kilometre was OK, but other people had good races too,” said the national junior team member. “It was definitely a close competition.”
At the first NorAm event of the season the previous weekend, Graham Nishikawa skied to a bronze in a classic sprint and a silver in a 15-kilometre skate. At the same event David Greer came fifth in the sprint event.
In the junior females category, Janelle Greer won gold in the sprint and came 11th in a 10-kilometre skate.
Emily Nishikawa, who did not compete in the sprint, finished 16th in the open female 10-kilometre skate.
“I sat out the sprint to give my shoulder more time to heel,” said Emily. “With every race I’m getting stronger and it feels good to be racing again.”
All four skiers will be in Thunder Bay early in the New Year for the Haywood NorAm World Junior/U23 Trials and World Senior Distance Trials.
“There’s a race there, and it’s a 30 kilometre, which is my best event,” said Graham Nishikawa. “So the plan for the season was to use these races to get in shape and really perform at that race to earn my spot on the national team and get to go to Oslo (Norway), to get to go to the world championships.”
“Those are pretty important races because they are deciding races for the rest of the season,” said David, who will compete in the under-23 category. “If I make it, then I go to Estonia and prepare for the world champs. If not, I’ll do a ‘B tour,’ is what we call it, and we’ll go do some European Cup races instead.”
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