The Olympic and world championship trials are just three weeks away and Yukon skiers look ready for the challenge.
The territory’s top cross-country skiers collected six medals in the Haywood NorAm at Black Jack Cross Country Ski Club in Rossland, B.C., over the weekend.
“The whole Yukon team had a good weekend. There were some impressive results from the younger skiers today, which is great to see,” said Whitehorse’s Emily Nishikawa. “It was a great weekend for all of us.”
Nishikawa and her brother Graham, as well as Whitehorse’s Dahria Beatty, won hardware for the second NorAm event in a row in Rossland.
Emily won her first NorAm gold of the season in the senior women’s 1.4-kilometre free sprint on Saturday. She then won silver, and was the top Canadian, in the open women’s 10-kilometre classic on Sunday.
“I’m really happy with how I performed this weekend,” said Emily. “I’m feeling better with each race but there’s still room for improvement. I’m right where I want to be.”
Emily won a bronze in a sprint and placed fifth in a distance race at the season opening NorAm the previous weekend in Vernon, B.C.
“I feel stronger than last weekend for sure,” said Emily. “We have a little rest right now and I look forward to trials after Christmas.”
Beatty climbed the podium both days in Rossland. She won silver in the junior women’s sprint on Saturday and bronze in junior women for the 10-kilometre classic Sunday, finishing 12th overall in open.
Yukon’s Annah Hanthorn, who moved to Whitehorse from Fort McPherson, N.W.T., during the off-season, was close behind. She took ninth in the junior women sprint and was fourth – one spot behind Beatty – in Sunday’s junior division.
Graham Nishikawa won his second and third NorAm bronzes of the season. He won bronze in the open men’s 15-kilometre classic Sunday, but was the second Canadian, and won bronze in the senior men’s 1.6-kilometre sprint on Saturday as the top Canadian.
Yukon Elite Squad’s Knute Johnsgaard darted to sixth in Sunday’s sprint. He placed fourth in the sprint the weekend before.
“I was sixth place but only a little over one second out of first,” said Johnsgaard. “That sucked to be that close again. Graham and I were the only two Canadians in the final against a bunch of Americans. We were laughing that it was kind of like Yukon versus U.S.A.”
Johnsgaard and Elite Squad teammate Colin Abbott skied to 14th and 11th respectively in Sunday’s distance race. Abbott placed 14th in the sprint.
“I didn’t have an ideal start to the season this year as I was sick going into the season opener last weekend,” said Abbott. “I’ve felt better and better over the course of the first three races and posted one of my best distance results – 11th overall and sixth Canadian in (Sunday’s) race.”
The Yukon Ski Team also had three junior men compete in Rossland. Caelan McLean took 24th, Marcus Deuling 25th and Hudson Lucier 36th in the junior men’s 1.6-kilometre free sprint on Saturday. McLean then skied to 30th overall, second for junior men, in the open men’s 15-kilometre classic while Deuling came 55th overall, 12th for junior men, and Lucier 75th overall, 25th for junior men.
The Olympic Games and World Junior/U23 Championships trials will take place Jan. 8-12 in Canmore, Alta. The Nishikawas, who competed at the world championships last season, are hoping to qualify for their first Olympic Games next month. With his strong sprint finishes the last two weekends, Johnsgaard is also aiming for Olympic glory.
“U23 is my main focus but with my sprint results the past two weeks it looks like I have about as good of a chance as anyone to grab that one of those Olympic spots,” said the 21-year-old. “A lot of guys are going for them though. There’s going to be a lot of shattered dreams. Luckily I’m still young.”
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