Whitehorse skiers collect first NorAm medals of the season

The first Haywood NorAm races of the season almost didn’t take place. They were almost cancelled due to cold weather. By midday temperatures rose just above the minus-20 cutoff.

The first Haywood NorAm races of the season almost didn’t take place.

They were almost cancelled due to cold weather. By midday temperatures rose just above the minus-20 cutoff, “But that was in the sun and without wind chill,” said Yukon’s Knute Johnsgaard. “Lots of people got frostbite. Perhaps we had a bit of an advantage coming from Whitehorse.”

Yukon’s hardy skiers prospered in the chill, winning three medals in the NorAm at Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre in Vernon, B.C., over the weekend.

Junior Dahria Beatty sprinted to gold and siblings Graham and Emily Nishikawa each collected a bronze.

“Both days we woke up and weren’t sure if the races were going to go or not,” said Beatty. “But the races went ahead and the Yukon had a really strong showing.”

Beatty won gold in the junior women 1.2-kilometre sprint on Sunday, marking Yukon’s first gold medal of the NorAm season. She also placed fourth in the junior women’s 10-kilometre free – 12th overall for open women – on Saturday.

“I was really happy with today, my qualifier was good and in all three heats I was feeling really strong and won my quarterfinal, semifinal and final,” said the 19-year-old. “It felt good to have such a strong race at the start of the season.

“Saturday’s race felt all right. I felt like I was missing that top speed that I should have been going at. So I was hoping for a little bit better result on Saturday, but all in all I was happy with the weekend.”

Beatty also captured gold in a 10-kilometre classic the previous weekend at the Alberta Cup in Canmore. Her goal for the season is to qualify for the FIS Nordic Junior World Championships at the end of January. There is one qualification spot available for the junior worlds in the two December NorAms, otherwise Beatty will have to qualify in the main trials next month in Canmore. This season is Beatty’s last as a junior.

“My main goal is to qualify for the Junior World Championships, which are in Val di Fiemme, Italy,” said Beatty, who is on Canada’s junior national team. “I’m racing again next weekend at the NorAm in

Rossland, so I’m hoping to have a strong showing there as well to qualify.”

Graham Nishikawa won bronze in the open men’s 15-kilometre free on Saturday, finishing as the top Canadian. He was just 4.5 seconds behind the winner in the individual start race.

Graham went on to take eighth in the senior men’s 1.4-kilometre spring on Sunday.

“Distance is my focus and that was the race I was keying in on this weekend,” said Graham. “It was a good start (to the season). Obviously, being just four seconds (behind the winner), it was super tight.

Just one or two changes can get (me) back to the top.”

Sister Emily won her bronze in the senior women’s 1.2-kilometre sprint on Sunday after taking fifth in the open women’s 10-kilometre free on Saturday.

“I’m definitely happy,” said Emily. “I feel like my form is coming along and is getting better with each race. That’s a great sign for next weekend and for (Olympic) trials after Christmas. So I’m very happy with how the weekend went.”

Emily claimed gold in the senior women’s 11.25-kilometre classic race at the Alberta Cup the previous weekend. She has now had success in both a distance and a sprint race in the young ski season.

“I’m happy to be racing – this is the fun part,” said Emily. “I’m excited for the races to come.”

Yukon was narrowly edged out of a fourth medal over the weekend. Johnsgaard placed fourth in the senior men’s 1.4-kilometre sprint on Sunday for his strongest NorAm sprint result of his career.

He also came ninth in the open men’s 15-kilometre free on Saturday.

“They were two solid races for me,” said Johnsgaard. “There was some good competition with a few fast Americans coming up, so to crack the top ten was good. I skied very efficiently and kept a steady pace for every lap on the skate, not worrying about the few guys that overtook me. I think a lot of people started fast or tried to hang on to stronger skiers and then paid for it on the last lap.”

Johnsgaard’s Yukon Elite Squad teammate, Colin Abbott, did not start on Saturday due to illness, but skied to 12th in the senior men’s 1.4-kilometre sprint on Sunday.

“He had a bit of a cold the week leading up to the races so he chose to save himself for the sprints,” said Johnsgaard. “It was very cold for both race days, which is particularly hard on your lungs. So him being sick, it was probably a good call.”

All five Yukon skiers will compete at the second set of NorAm races this weekend in Rossland, B.C.

The Olympic Games and World Junior/U23 Championships trials will take place Jan. 8-12 in Canmore.

The Nishikawas, who competed at the world championships last season, are hoping to qualify for their first Olympic Games next month.

“Things are good,” said Graham. “The plan is to be skiing really fast in four weeks from now … It doesn’t really matter how I’m doing right now, as long as I’m feeling good and getting better each weekend.

I’ll look for another good race in Rossland next Sunday.”

Contact Tom Patrick at tomp@yukon-news.com