The biggest week of the year for Yukon skiers was also its best. Historic, is another word that pops to mind.
Not only did the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club tie its previous best finish with second place in the club aggregate standings, it accumulated more hardware than it has in its history at the Haywood Ski Nationals last week in Corner Brook, NL.
“It was kind of a magical week with everything coming together and everyone racing well at the same time, which doesn’t happen too often,” said Yukon Ski Team head coach Alain Masson. “It was amazing.
“It was great for the kids. A lot of the young ones won medals as well as our more established ones. It was good all the way around.”
The Whitehorse club placed second out of 59 clubs to tie its previous best from 2007 and 2012. It was runner-up to the defending champs, Nakkertok club of Ottawa, which had about 60 skiers competing.
“It’s a real challenge to compete with them because I think we have a total of 17 athletes,” said Masson. “(Nakkertok) is one of the largest racing clubs in Canada. It’s a huge club and they’ve won four or five years in a row now.”
Whitehorse skiers raced to 19 medals, two more than the club’s previous best set at the 2007 nationals.
The Whitehorse club also set a personal best of 10 different skiers taking home hardware and a total of 32 top-10 finishes, set by 12 skiers across five age-groups.
“We just had more of our athletes racing well the same week, which is the difference,” said Masson. “For all of our athletes to be racing well that week is pretty rare … Near the end of the season athletes are tired or sick or not in the best of shape. Last year Emily (Nishikawa) did one race and was far back, and was very tired at the end of the season.
“Also, I think when there’s success on the team early on, it rubs off on the other ones. Gives everybody self-confidence … everybody has a positive attitude.”
Whitehorse’s Dahria Beatty had the largest haul of the Yukon skiers and set her own personal bests.
The 20-year-old, who is skiing in her final season as a junior, won five medals en route to taking first place in the junior women aggregate standings.
It’s the first time she’s won medals in every event she raced and the most medals she’s won at a nationals.
“I really wanted to go out of the junior category as the aggregate winner, that was a goal of mine going into the week,” said Beatty. “I was really happy to accomplish that.”
Beatty, a member of the national junior team, captured three gold medals at nationals for her first time, winning in the five-kilometre classic, the 20-kilometre classic mass start, and in the classic team sprint with Whitehorse Olympian Emily Nishkawa. Beatty also took silver in the 10-kilometre skate and bronze in the sprint.
The five-kilometre classic “stands out the most, not because I won the junior category, but because I was fifth in the open that day and I was only beaten by Olympians,” said Beatty. “I was only three seconds behind one of our world cup athletes and it was my best open result at nationals.”
The Nishikawa siblings, fresh from the Sochi Games, won three medals each.
Emily Nishikawa won gold in the five-kilometre classic, silver in the 30-kilometre classic, and the gold with Beatty in the team sprint. She placed second in aggregate open women.
Emily was the first Yukon cross-country skier to compete at the Olympics since 1992. She led the Canadian team in two races in Sochi, topping out with a 42nd place finish in the 15-kilometre skiathlon.
Graham Nishikawa, who was in Sochi as a guide for gold medalist Brian McKeever at the Paralympics, took gold in the skate sprint, silver in the 15-kilometre skate and bronze in the 50-kilometre classic in Corner Brook. Those results put him second in the aggregate standings for open men.
Whitehorse’s Knute Johnsgaard took three medals at the Haywood with silver in the skate sprint, bronze in the 10-kilometre classic and team sprint with Whitehorse’s Colin Abbott. Johnsgaard, who is finishing his first season in U23, took fourth in the aggregate standings for open men and first in U23 men.
Annah Hanthorn was another three-medal winner last week with bronze in the five-kilometre classic, the 20-kilometre mass start and the team sprint with Whitehorse’s Kendra Murray. Murray placed third overall in the U23 women’s aggregate standings.
Hanthorn is just finishing her first season on the Whitehorse club, having moved from Fort McPherson, N.W.T., during the off-season.
“Now she lives in Whitehorse and trains with us and she did amazing,” said Masson.
Other Whitehorse medalists include Caelan Mclean with gold in the 15-kilometre classic, taking third in junior boys aggregate; Simon Cash with a silver in the 10-kilometre classic for juvenile boys; and Hannah Deuling with silver in the 7.5-kilometre classic, finishing fifth in juvenile girls aggregate standings.
“It was a great nationals for the whole team,” said Beatty. “It was really exciting to see some of the young skiers doing well, as well as the everyone else who has performed before at nationals. It was a great week for us.”
Yukon athletes also won two ulu medals in cross-country skiing at the Arctic Winter Games last week in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Hannah Jirousek won Yukon’s first medal of the Games with a bronze in the five-kilometre freestyle for midget female on March 17.
Yukon then won another bronze in the 3×3-kilometre freestyle relay last Friday on the final day of competition in cross-country.
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