Seventeen athletes from the Whitehorse Cross-Country Ski Club pooled their talents to deliver the club’s best-ever showing at the Haywood Ski Nationals last week at Mont Ste-Anne in Quebec.
Despite facing clubs with much larger contingents, Whitehorse preserved its powerhouse status, taking silver out of 66 clubs. The club’s previous best finish was a bronze in 2010.
Whitehorse skied to nine race medals, including five golds, but the record high placement for the club wasn’t just because of hardware.
The Yukon-based club also climbed up the rankings by posting 30 top-10 finishers.
Consistently strong results culminated in two skiers placing in individual aggregate categories and a total of five in the Year of Birth aggregate categories. That’s an additional seven medals for Whitehorse, bringing the total to 16.
In the individual aggregate categories, Whitehorse’s Knute Johnsgaard became the Canadian junior men champion and Emily Nishikawa placed third in senior women.
Needless to say, Johnsgaard was also first in his Year of Birth category in junior men while Nishikawa was first for her Year of Birth category in the U-23 women.
Other strong Year of Birth placings for Whitehorse include David Greer in second for U-23 men, Janelle Greer second in junior women and Dahria Beatty third in junior women.
Johnsgaard snagged two golds in the races, winning the 10-kilometre classic on Day 2 and the 30-kilometre classic on the final day.
“I won both the classic (technique) races and a lot of people might think of Yukon skiers as better classic skiers – maybe it’s true,” said Johnsgaard.
“It was good to come out of a disappointing (World Junior Championships) to rebound and have some success again,” he added. “They were both really good races and great to win.”
Johnsgaard’s performances at the junior worlds last month in Turkey were hindered by a lengthy illness leading up to the event.
In addition to the golds, he won bronze in the 15-kilometre free race last week. Johnsgaard also placed fourth in the team sprint with John Parry on Day 1.
Nishikawa finished third but took silver as the second Canadian in the five-kilometre senior women on Day 2. She then won gold the next day in the 10-kilometre free technique and later took sixth in the distance classic.
“Those two races (I medalled in) are definitely the highlight of my week. To win that 10-kilometre skate race against all the best Canadians – some Americans were there and a few Norwegians too – I was really happy with that,” said Nishikawa. “Our team as a whole had an amazing week, so it was a good time at the nationals.”
A couple days into the Haywoods the competitive level in the senior divisions increased as World Cup skiers returned from Europe. The warm weather didn’t make things any easier either.
“It was about 20 degrees (Celsius) out and I had never raced at that temperature,” said Nishikawa of the 10-kilometre free. “People were wearing T-shirts with the tights rolled up. It was hard to ski in as well because it was slushy and really slow snow.”
Whitehorse’s Fabian Brook, racing in junior boys, snagged his first national medal at the Haywoods last week. It made him a national champion, winning gold in the 10-kilometre classic.
“It’s been a long-term goal of mine, so I was pretty happy,” said Brook. “It was an interval start and I was one of the earlier starters, so I had no idea of how the race was going. I caught the first guy right away and then went as hard as I could for the rest of the race and I never really burnt out.”
Brook, who won two of the Yukon’s four medals the previous week at the Arctic Winter Games, also placed ninth in the 7.5-kilometre free.
Beatty was Whitehorse’s other gold medal winner, finishing first in the five-kilometre classic in junior women. She then came fifth in the sprint and sixth in the 20-kilometre classic.
“It was a good race for me. It actually didn’t feel that amazing but it turned out well, results wise,” said Beatty of the gold. “I pushed hard the whole way and it felt like a consistent race so I was happy with it.
“The other races didn’t feel as good as the ones I’ve been having this season. I was a bit tired from the season. All and all, it was a pretty good week.”
Whitehorse’s Janelle Greer won bronze in the 10-kilometre junior women race. She also narrowly missed the podium with fourth-place finishes in the sprint and in the 20-kilometre distance classic. She also came seventh in the short classic.
Janelle and Nishikawa placed fifth in the team sprint on opening day.
Graham Nishikawa was sixth in the senior men’s 10-kilometre classic, eighth in the sprint and fourth in the 50-kilometre classic on the final day.
David Greer, in the same division, also placed fifth in the 15-kilometre free and ninth in the 10-kilometre classic.
David and Graham won Whitehorse a silver in the open men’s team sprint on Day 1.
Other top-10 performances by Whitehorse skiers include junior girls’ Katie Peters taking fourth in the 10-kilometre free and distance classic, plus seventh in the five-kilometre classic and in the sprint.
Colin Abbott reached ninth in the 50-kilometre classic on the final day, for his best finish ever at the Haywoods in the senior men division. He and teammate, Ray Sabo, came sixth in the team sprint on opening day.
Kendra Murray finished 10th in the five-kilometre junior women race on Day 2.
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