Whitehorse skiers fired up for World Cup season

Cross Country Canada isn’t taking the start of the FIS World Cup season lightly.

Cross Country Canada isn’t taking the start of the FIS World Cup season lightly.

The national sport governing body is sending a full contingent — including three Yukon skiers — to Europe to kick off the season in two weeks.

“There are 461 days until the opening of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, and it is now time to step up, and show we mean business,” said CCC high-performance director Tom Holland, in a press release on Thursday.

Whitehorse’s Emily Nishikawa, Knute Johnsgaard and Dahria Beatty are among 10 members of the national team heading to the World Cups that begins in Ruka, Finland at the end of the month.

Last season Nishikawa was Canada’s only female skier to race period one — before New Year’s — on the World Cup circuit.

“There will be four women heading over for the first period of World Cup — last year I was the only woman — so it’ll be a lot more fun to have four of us there this time,” said the Sochi Olympian.

“I am super excited for this upcoming season,” said Beatty in an email to the News. “Heading onto the World Cup for period one is a new experience. The past few years I have spent December racing domestically then I have gone over to Europe in January. Going straight onto the WC will be a great test with lots of opportunities. There are nine World Cup races in period one so it will be a very busy month of racing.”

“For myself and Dahria, it’s our first time starting on the World Cup. It’s pretty exciting because I’ve typically been pretty strong early season, in the November-December time period,” said Johnsgaard. “It’s a good opportunity for me to get some good World Cup results.”

Nishikawa produced numerous top-30 results in World Cup races last season. Beatty and Johnsgaard also gave breakout performances in the first-ever Ski Tour Canada World Cup races last March, with Beatty taking 15th in a sprint in Alberta and Johnsgaard placing 30th in a sprint in Quebec.

Nishikawa and Beatty placed first and second, respectively, in the open women’s aggregate standings 2016 Haywood Ski Nationals, with multiple gold medals each. Johnsgaard won a bronze and placed fourth in the open men’s aggregate standings at the nationals in March.

All three Whitehorse skiers will target spots at world championships this season. Nishikawa and Johnsgaard will hope to qualify for the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland this February and Beatty will aim for a spot at the U23 worlds beginning at the end of January in Utah.

“I just want to have really great performances. The world championships are in February in Lahti, so everything up till then will be working towards that,” said Nishikawa. “We worked hard through the summer, so just putting it together and just having a great performance when it counts.”

“My goal for this first period is to become more comfortable racing and traveling on the World Cup circuit,” said Beatty. “I also hope to have a top-30 result at least once in the pre Christmas races. My big goal for the season is the U23 world championships. This is my last season in the U23 category so I am hoping I can achieve some strong results at U23s.”

Beatty already has a win under her belt for this season. She won the classic sprint race at Frozen Thunder 2016 in Canmore, Alta., on Tuesday. Johnsgaard placed fourth in the men’s sprint race.

Nishikawa decided to sit out this year’s Frozen Thunder races to nurse a lower back injury.

“I had a little bit of an injury a couple weeks ago. It’s all better now, but I just wasn’t sure if I would be ready in time, so I decided not to sign up for them,” said Nishikawa. “I’ve just been focused on training instead.”

The FIS World Cup season will start with races in Ruka, Finland (Nov. 26-27), followed by stops in Norway (Dec. 2-4), Switzerland (Dec. 10-11) and France (Dec. 17-18).

“I’d like to thank everyone back home in Whitehorse for all the support we get,” added Johnsgaard. “We definitely feel the support we get back home, even when we’re in Alberta or over seas in Europe. It’s nice to know people are looking up our results, seeing how we’re doing — it’s comforting to know that.”

Contact Tom Patrick at tomp@yukon-news.com