Yukoners start year with handful of medals

Less than a week into the New Year, Yukon cross-country skiers are already establishing themselves as world-class competitors, accumulating five…

Less than a week into the New Year, Yukon cross-country skiers are already establishing themselves as world-class competitors, accumulating five medals and securing spots in world competitions while racing at a NorAm meet in Canmore, Alberta.

After taking a gold, silver and bronze in meets at the end of last year, Graham Nishikawa continued to shine, winning a gold in the open men’s 30-kilometre pursuit Monday.

“It’s the race I’ve been focusing on all year and it went pretty well for me,” said Nishikawa. “I stayed relaxed and managed to win the sprint finish — I had a big finishing kick.”

The race, which consists of a 15-kilometre classic-technique section followed by a 15-kilometre skate-technique section, earned him a spot at the World Cup next week in Whistler, BC, at the Olympic site. If he’s successful there in another 30-kilometre pursuit, Nishikawa may qualify for the World Championships held in the middle of February in the Czech Republic.

“It’s like you qualify for one thing and it moves you on to the next,” said Nishikawa. “You keep moving up … This is how you get to the Olympics, so that’s my goal in the end.”

The day before Nishikawa earned a silver in a 15-kilometre skate. However, Nishikawa’s silver finish comes with a tad of disappointment since he fell into the second-place spot after taking a fall and losing the lead. The sting of the lost opportunity is heightened by the fact that late last year Nishikawa fell four spots to sixth in a sprint race after falling while taking a slope.

“I was going down a hill, I was in first place and everything was going well then I just wiped out again, which is kind of a rookie move,” said Nishikawa, of Sunday’s event.

“If I stayed on my feet, I don’t know what would have happened.”

Siblings David and Janelle Greer together won Yukon’s other three medals, with David taking the top spot in a junior men’s 15-kilometre free technique Sunday followed by a silver in a 20-kilometre. Janelle picked up a bronze in a 10-kilometre junior women’s race Monday, just 13 seconds behind Marliss Kromm who finished second. On Sunday Janelle narrowly missed the podium’s bottom tier, taking fourth in the junior women’s 10-kilometre pursuit.

David’s success has earned him a spot at the World Junior Championships staring January 31 in France.

“There’s a lot of Yukoners down here and they’re all racing pretty well,” said Nishikawa. “It’s good for the team.”

Yukon’s Colin Abbot also had a strong showing, finishing in 12th place in the junior men’s 20-kilometre pursuit.

Tuesday afternoon the Greers and Graham Nishikawa’s sister, Emily, who is recovering from an injury, were scheduled to compete in sprint races to wrap up the meet.

Contact Tom Patrick at tomp@yukon-news.com