Only 12 cross-country skiers in Canada are good enough to make the national senior team.
Three of them are from Whitehorse.
Emily Nishikawa, Dahria Beatty and Knute Johnsgaard will be skiing for the nation next winter, Cross Country Canada announced earlier this month.
For Johnsgaard, the nomination to Canada’s national team is the fulfillment of a life-long dream.
“I’m very humbled by my nomination to the team. I’ve been working for this my whole life so to finally make the team is a huge pay off,” said Johnsgaard in an email to the News. “I’m really excited for this opportunity.”
Johnsgaard, who made the national junior team in 2010, had a big February. The 22-year-old placed 14th in a sprint race to lead Canada at the FIS Nordic Junior/U23 World Championships in Kazakhstan.
He then won Yukon its first gold of the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George, taking first in the men’s 10-kilometre classic.
“My highlight last year was my gold medal at Canada Games but ultimately it was my 14th place at U23 world championships that got me on the national team,” said Johnsgaard, who also won a bronze at Haywood Ski Nationals in March.
“My nomination to the team will give me more World Cup opportunities where I’ll hope to earn a top-30 placing.”
Next season will be Nishikawa’s fifth consecutive on the national team. The 25-year-old, who competed at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, produced three top-30 results on the FIS World Cup tour in Europe last season.
“I was fairly confident I was going to be renamed to the team after my season, but it’s nice to see it officially, and it’s an honour to be on the national team every year,” said Nishikawa. “I’m very happy to be renamed to the team.”
Nishikawa also raced at her second world championships in March, then won gold in the women’s 10-kilometre classic at the Haywood Nationals.
Beatty, 21, will make it six years straight on the team, if you count four on the junior national team before moving up to senior last season.
“Most of the (team members) are based in Canmore here, so Emily and I are training together here in Canmore and Knute has moved down here,” said Beatty. “We have access to good support through the Calgary Sport Institute and the national team coaching staff.”
Beatty, 21, placed in the 20s in four events in the Scandinavian Cup this season and placed 20th in the sprint at the FIS U23 World Ski Championships in February. She also won three medals on the NorAm circuit over the winter.
Beatty wrapped up the season wining the five-kilometre skate at the Haywood Nationals on her way to a first place in U23 aggregate standings and second for senior women.
“It was a very good week for me overall, especially in my first year as a senior,” said Beatty of the nationals. “I placed fifth and sixth in the other races, so overall I was very happy with the week.”
Next season will be an exciting one for all Canadian team skiers. The greatest skiers in the world will be coming to the Great White North for a series of eight World Cup races – the first World Cup races in Canada in three years – in March.
The Tour of Canada will consist of eight races – four in Quebec and four in Alberta – with overall winners crowned at the end.
“It’s eight races in which all the World Cup racers will be coming over to North America and racing on our home field,” said Beatty. “It’s formatted in a tour, so everyone will start the first race in Quebec and those same people race in all of the following races and there’s a winner of the overall tour.
“That will be an amazing experience for us to have that much World Cup racing at home and hopefully have a bit of a home-field advantage with all the travel. Usually we’re the ones who have to make the big time-change adjustment in Europe.”
Nishikawa, Beatty and Johnsgaard then get to come home to race as Whitehorse hosts the 2016 Haywood Ski Nationals. Between 450 and 500 skiers are expected to compete at the 89th annual event.
“There are a lot of races to look forward to this season, with the Tour of Canada … to finish off the World Cup season,” said Nishikawa. “That’s a big highlight for all of us next year. And to finish off the season with nationals in Whitehorse, there’s nothing better than racing in your hometown. I’m really excited about that.”
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