There were tough conditions, tough terrain and a little tough luck, but Whitehorse’s Emily Nishikawa had a blast at the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.
“It was a fantastic experience, I had an amazing time the whole time I was there,” said Nishikawa. “The whole lead-up to the Olympics as well was just incredible. I’m so fortunate for the opportunity to compete at the Olympics.
“It was so special, all the support I had, and feeling all the support from back home from the Yukon. It was special to share my experience with everyone. It was amazing to feel that support.”
The 24-year-old returned from her first Olympic Games on Wednesday and is back in Canmore, Alta., where she trains with the national team.
She led the Canadian team in two races in Sochi, but missed her best event due to illness.
Nishikawa finished the Games with 47th place in the 30-kilometre skate on Saturday. She was the second Canadian behind teammate Brittany Webster in 46th, while fellow Canadians Amanda Ammar and Heidi Widmer placed 49th and 52nd, respectively.
“The 30-kilometre was one of the toughest races I’ve done,” said Nishikawa. “My body wasn’t feeling as good as I was hoping, but I was still able to push myself as hard as I could go. I am proud of myself for toughing it out on a really hard course. It was a huge improvement from last year’s 30-kilometre at the world champs, so I have to be happy with that. It was another beautiful day, but it was fairly hot again as it has been throughout the Games.”
She led the Canadian team with a 42nd-place finish in the 15-kilometre skiathlon on Feb. 8 in her first Olympic race.
She then produced the fastest lap for Canada in the women’s 4×5-kilometre relay a week later on Feb. 15. Unfortunately, Nishikawa’s speed didn’t help the team’s placing, finishing 14th at the bottom of the field.
In between the two races she fell ill with a flu bug and missed her best event, the 10-kilometre classic. She took first place in the classic at Canada’s Olympic trials last month in Canmore.
“I was sick for the classic race, which (technicians) struggled with the wax,” said Nishikawa. “All the races I competed in I had great skis, so I wasn’t really affected by the tough conditions.
“They had two or three bad days, but they really pulled it together and the skis were amazing by the end of the Games.
“It was really tough for everybody. The Norwegians had a team of like 25 wax technicians and they still missed it in the relays.”
Wax technicians had an unsolvable problem on their hands at times in Sochi. Warm, sunny conditions on one side of a mountain would make snow there vastly different from cold, shady conditions on the other side.
Whitehorse’s Alain Masson was on the hunt for fast skis as a wax technician for Team Canada in Sochi.
“We had issues with waxing in some of the events early in the Games, which we corrected, but unfortunately that affected the results,” said Masson. “Because of the location of Sochi being so far south and the intensity of the sun, some sections of the course was amazing and other sections, which were on the north side of the mountain, stayed really cold and dry. So it produced some really challenging conditions.”
Sochi was Masson’s fourth Olympic Games as a wax technician for Canada. He has also competed as an athlete at three Olympics in cross-country skiing and cycling.
“The Games, not talking about cross-country skiing or results, were great. It was very well organized. Our accommodations, the food, the transportation was very good, much higher than expectations. The venue was fantastic. So it was a great Games,” said Masson, who expressed disappointment no Canadian cross-country skier came home with a medal.
“From the performance perspective, we had much higher expectations in cross-country skiing with some of our male athletes, but that did not happen and was disappointing.”
As Emily rests up for the Haywood Ski Nationals next month, her brother Graham is preparing for his trip to Sochi. Graham has been selected for Canada’s team for the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi March 7-16.
Graham will be a guide for famed Paralympian Brian McKeever of Canmore, Alta.
“It’s a totally new and exciting event and I’m very honoured that they wanted me to come along,” said Graham in a recent interview. “It is very rewarding helping other people out. It’s a nice change taking the focus off myself.
“Brian and I have been really good friends the past 10 years. We made a good situation work where I joined their training group and we trained together all summer.”
Emily was the first Yukon cross-country skier to compete at the Olympics since Jane Vincent and Lucy Steele at the Albertville Games in 1992. She and a team of Yukon skiers will race at the Haywood Ski Nationals in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, March 15-22.
“I didn’t get out to any hockey games, but I got to see some speed skating events,” said Emily of Sochi. “Just being part of the Canadian Olympic team was really cool. The closing ceremony was an amazing show. It was really cool to walk in with the whole team and experiencing the feeling of being at the Olympics was really special.”
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