It may sound a bit strange, but skiers representing the Whitehorse Cross-Country Ski Club won more medals than last year, while the club dropped a couple spots in the rankings at the 2013 Haywood Ski Nationals. The event, held at B.C.‘s Whistler Olympic Park, ended on Saturday.
The Whitehorse club placed fourth out of 67 clubs, down from second last year - the club’s best finish.
Whitehorse skiers accumulated 16 race medals, not counting aggregate hardware, but had fewer top-10 finishes from last year.
“The more athletes you have, the better you can do,” said Yukon head coach Alain Masson. “The top two clubs had 35 - Nakkertok had 35 and Canmore had access 36 - and we only used 15 or 16 all week.
“Looking at top-10s and medals, this is probably the second-best nationals we’ve ever had. Our best was in 2007 at Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, where we had so many medals by so many different athletes.”
Whitehorse had five skiers reach the podium in aggregate divisions.
Kendra Murray took first in the Year of Birth aggregate division and was sixth for junior women.
Competing in his first nationals, Caelan McLean claimed second in Year of Birth aggregate and in juvenile boys aggregate. Whitehorse teammate Marcus Deuling placed fourth overall in juvenile boys.
“It’s nice to see two young kids coming up and doing so well,” said Masson. “Juvenile is the youngest category at the nationals and it’s good for the future to have young athletes doing so well early in their careers.
“Marcus Deuling and Kendra Murray were the two big surprises.”
Graham Nishikawa placed second in the senior men’s aggregate division with fellow Yukoner David Greer not far behind in fourth.
Knute Johnsgaard, in his first year competing in senior men, was seventh overall and first in Year of Birth aggregate results.
Dahria Beatty, a member of the junior national team, came in fourth for junior women and second in Year of Birth.
Murray had a few more medals available to her as a student of Ottawa’s Carleton University. The 19-year-old and Carleton teammate Ingrid Hagberg won bronze in the team sprint on opening day March 23 in the CCUNC division (Canadian College and University Nordic Championships).
Murray then took gold in the open female 10-kilometre classic in the CCUNC division on March 26. That result also earned her a silver in junior women, a spot up from Beatty taking bronze.
She then placed fourth in Thursday’s sprint, two spots back from silver-winning Beatty.
“It was a really good year for me,” said Murray. “I didn’t race too many races, I raced two major - easterns and nationals - and I think that helped. I was more rested than the girls who have been training all year.
“I just had a really good week.”
Murray placed second overall at the eastern Canadian championships and won two medals at the nationals in 2011, “but I broke through with these results this year and I’m super happy with that,” she said.
McLean won gold in the juvenile boys 7.5-kilometre classic on March 26 and silver in the sprint the following day. He also raced to fourth in the five-kilometre free, just 0.2 seconds from a bronze, on March 24.
“Caelan, we expected to do well, but not as well as he did,” said Masson.
The Haywood nationals marked the last event in what Nishikawa views as his best season yet.
Nishikawa took silver in the senior men’s five-kilometre free on March 24, just 11.6 seconds behind the winner, and bronze in the 15-kilometre classic on March 26.
But what’s surprising is Nishikawa, who usually excels most at distance races, claimed silver in the senior men’s sprint on Thursday.
“It was one of my best sprint days of my career,” said Nishikawa. “That was probably the highlight of my nationals: being a distance guy and having a good sprint day.”
Nishikawa also teamed up with Whitehorse’s Colin Abbott to win bronze in the team sprint on opening day.
“It was a fun week, for sure. I got four medals. I definitely was looking for a gold medal, but it didn’t happen,” said Graham. “But I’m happy with the week.”
Greer and Johnsgaard won the silver in the team sprint on opening day.
Greer also won silver in the 15-kilometre classic on March 26, placing a spot ahead of Nishikawa.
Deuling was the last one to add to Whitehorse’s medal count, winning bronze in the juvenile boys 10-km freestyle mass start on Saturday. He won bronze in the 7.5-kilometre classic on March 26.
“The best thing about these championships is we had eight athletes winning at least one medal, which I think has never been done before for the Yukon,” said Masson.
Whitehorse’s Emily Nishikawa - Graham’s sister - competed in two races at the Haywoods. However, having just returned from competing in the FIS World Cup circuit in Scandinavia, she was fatigued and placed 32nd in senior women’s 10-kilometre classic on March 26 and did not finish Saturday’s mass start race.
“She had a great season, but by the time she got to nationals, she was completely done,” said Graham.
The Nishikawas both competed at the 2013 Nordic World Ski Championships a month ago but struggled with illness. Graham was the first male skier from the Yukon to qualify for the worlds and Emily was the first female from the territory to compete since 1997.
Both also registered their best-ever finishes in a world cup race in Canmore, Alta., last December.
“This is probably the best season of my career,” said Graham. “Canmore was for sure the breakthrough race, and then going to worlds. Yeah, (there were) some issues with getting sick there, but I did some good training and came back for nationals.
“Overall it was the best season ever and am looking forward to next year.”
Contact Tom Patrick at email@example.com