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Canada Makes Some ‘Challenging Decisions,’ Announces World Championships Team (Updated)

Winner Emily Nishikawa with runner-up Brittany Webster.

Brittany Webster (Highlands Trailblazers) and Emily Nishikawa (AWCA/NST) at the Sovereign Lake NorAm in December. Both distance skiers were recently named to the 2013 Senior World Championships team.

(Note: This article has been updated to include comments from Andrea Dupont and Brittany Webster.)

One thing you can say about Cross Country Canada when it comes to selection decisions and criteria consideration, they’re one thorough bunch. Two days after NorAm racing wrapped up in Duntroon, Ontario, Canada’s World Championships selection committee reached out to nominated individuals on Tuesday.

The nation’s seven World Cup team members knew they were in, and five others got the email they had been waiting for.

While there were no real surprises, the committee and national-team head coach Justin Wadsworth had to “consider a couple of challenging decisions in selecting the most competitive team,” according to a press release on Wednesday.

In doing so, they had to work within CCC’s selection criteria, and the limitations of World Cup (WC) quota (distance 4 men and 3 women; sprint 4 men and 4 women), World Championships (WSC) quota (4 men and 4 women per event) and their own budget.

Six men and six women were selected to the team – one beyond their originally stated 11-person maximum. CCC High Performance Director Tom Holland explained “the addition and exception was a matter of fairness,” and applied to the selection of two female distance skiers (Emily Nishikawa and Brittany Webster).

All athletes were “nominated for selection” to the 2013 Senior World Championships team, which will compete in the Davos World Cup from Feb. 16-17 and World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, from Feb. 20-March 3.

Joining the men’s squad, with World Cup skiers Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey, Ivan Babikov and Lenny Valjas, Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) teammates Graham Nishikawa (also on the Senior Development Team) and Phil Widmer made the cut.

Nishikawa was essentially a shoe-in after winning both distance races at the World Championships trials over two weekends of NorAm racing in January. In the first in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Nishikawa won the skiathlon. On Sunday, he won the 15 k freestyle individual start in Duntroon, Ontario, to secure his ticket.

One of the sprint favourites, Widmer was somewhat of a unique case after he won the first classic sprint in Thunder Bay then crossed the line first in the A-final at Duntroon. The jury ruled that Widmer’s tangle with AWCA teammate Jesse Cockney near the finish should cost him the victory and relegated Widmer to sixth – last in the heat. Upset with the decision then, Widmer was pleased it didn’t affect his World Championships bid.

“Phil Widmer clearly deserved to be selected to WSC,” the CCC release stated. “[He] was selected for having been the winner of the Lappe sprint race and being the top qualifier in both sprint races.”

“I think it was pretty clear, I didn’t win, I got relegated, but I’ve been skiing well,” Widmer said on the phone Wednesday. “You never know until you know. … It’s pretty exciting, I mean, thankful for the opportunity and looking forward to racing in Europe this year.”

Widmer, 29, has competed at two World Championships previously in 2009 and 2007. At the most recent in Liberec, Czech Republic, he was 30th in the classic sprint.

“I was on the national team three years ago and from there had to evaluate my ski career and what I wanted to get out of it,” Widmer said. “To work my away back kind of makes me thankful for this opportunity. … To be on the outside looking in, it’s kind of nice to be on the inside again.”

He credited his coaches and staff at the World Cup Academy, which had two other World Championships qualifiers in Nishikawa and his sister, Emily. “It’s really been a good year of training that’s resulting in this,” Widmer said.

One of the more notable absences, Jess Cockney (AWCA/NST) was not nominated despite having placed second in the Canmore World Cup skate sprint qualifier in December. He was ninth overall that day in the sprint.

“The selection committee and the Head Coach also recognized that Jesse Cockney’s results in the sprint trial races, as judged by total qualifying times and final performance, were worthy of selection consideration,” the release stated. “The lack of WC and WSC quota was the defining factor in not being able to select Jesse for this event.”

He will be an alternate, called upon if any of the male sprinters get sick or realize they can’t compete before the event. Cockney has also been selected for World Cups in March in Lahti, Finland, and Drammen, Norway.

On the women’s side, Nishikawa, Webster (Highlands Trailblazers), and sprinter Andrea Dupont (Rocky Mountain Racers) will join the three World Cup members (Dasha Gaiazova, Perianne Jones and Chandra Crawford) on the World Championships team.

Nishikawa, 23, was selected based on force majeure, something beyond reasonable anticipation or control. The AWCA and development-team member sat out Sunday’s 10 k skate with a cold, which she said was a tough decision but one she ultimately had to make.

After winning the skiathlon in Thunder Bay, Nishikawa was in prime position heading into Duntroon’s distance race.

“I had been looking forward to that race for a really long time so I was pretty upset not to race,” she said Wednesday. Fortunately for her, the selection committee reasoned she was one of the best female distance skiers in Canada.

“In order to accommodate the force majeure, the selection committee evaluated the single best distance selection race, based on CPL [Canada Points List] points, of the two winners of the distance trials races – Emily Nishikawa and Brittany Webster,” the release noted. “Emily was selected based on comparing her single best race to Brittany Webster’s best single CPL result: Emily Nishikawa – Lappe skiathlon winner: 90.39 CPL. Brittany Webster – Duntroon 10K skate winner: 89.80 CPL.”

Regardless, Webster – a former national-team member – was also selected.

“Given that Brittany Webster won the second distance 10K skate winner, there was no fair way to judge if Brittany could have been ahead of Emily in the 10K skate trials race in Duntroon,” the release said. “Also considered is that Brittany has had 5 NorAm podiums (up to the end of the Duntroon NorAm), was the top Canadian in the Canmore WC 10K [classic] event and that there are distance quota starts available for women at the Davos WC and the WSC. Based on this examination of performance and opportunity, Brittany was also selected.”

Asked whether she thought she’d make it, Webster wrote in an email that she felt her chances were 50-50.

“It’s always tough when there are so many phenomenal men and women,” she wrote. “I knew Andrea had already gotten a spot, and probably Em too as she is better at sprinting than I am, and I also knew that Jess would be in the mix (I was really rooting for him to grab a spot too). Already, the team spots were filled, so it was a question of whether they were going to take extra people. I am lucky to have some consistent distance results on my side, especially in classic. I knew that would help me.”

The Senior World Championships will be Webster’s first, but she previously made the team in 2006/2007 for the World Championships in Japan. That same year, World Juniors were delayed due to snow and ended up overlapping with senior worlds, so Webster declined her spot.

A U23 World Championships veteran, Nishikawa was looking forward to her first Senior World Championships as well.

“I guess I was relieved because I didn’t race that last race,” she said. “But I felt I raced well and … it was kind of out of my hands.”

As for heading to Val di Fiemme with her older brother: “It’s so awesome,” Nishikawa said. “I’m really happy for him and it’s cool that we’ll both be there together.”

Dupont secured her first trip to Europe for World Cup and World Championship experience after sweeping the NorAm classic sprints in Thunder Bay and Duntroon. Plain and simple: “Andrea Dupont was selected for having been the winner of both of the women’s sprint races,” the release stated.

“I am super excited about the opportunity,” Dupont wrote in an email. “I worked a lot on tactics this year and have finally been able to put together a few good sprints with solid qualifiers and finals. … To me this means that training is actually been effective and the last 4 years of hard work have paid off.”

For a complete explanation and look at CCC’s World Championships selection overview, process and ranking, click here.

2013 Canadian World Championships Team
Dasha Gaiazova - Rocky Mountain Racers -NST
Chandra Crawford  - Canmore Nordic – NST
Perianne Jones - Nakkertok – NST
Andrea Dupont - Rocky Mountain Racers
Emily Nishikawa - Whitehorse – AWCA -NST
Brittany Webster - Highlands Nordic
Devon Kershaw - Ona-Wa-Su – NST
Alex Harvey - Club Nordique M.S.A –CNEPH – NST
Ivan Babikov - Foothills Nordic – NST
Len Valjas - Team Hardwood – CNEPH – NST
Phil Widmer - Canmore Nordic – AWCA
Graham Nishikawa - Whitehorse – AWCA

 

About Alex Kochon

Alex Kochon (formerly Matthews) is the managing editor at FasterSkier and to most people's surprise, not a guy. When she's not writing, you can find her outdoors in upstate New York or doing the gym thing as a certified personal trainer. Follow her on Twitter @active_alex.

Comments

  1. Ben Arians says:

    Interesting how Graham Nishikawa was considered “essentially a shoe-in” after winning both distance races at the Canadian trials, but Torin Koos got left off the US Worlds team after winning a sprint and a distance race at Soldier Hollow. Some bad luck in the skate sprint quarterfinals prevented him from going for a 3rd title that week, so kind of hard to understand, from a purely performance perspective, the USST decision to leave him off the team. Raises some interesting questions for sure.

  2. Ben, The USST decision is very understandable, when you consider the fact that Eric Bjornsen was second in two races, and won one, plus is more than a decade younger than Torin. While both of their results were very strong, I would argue that Eric’s were slightly stronger, since in his weak event he was much closer to the top than Torin was. On top of that, the fact that developing skiers for the future is part of the discretionary criteria for the team, taking Eric is a completely understandable decision. In the end, both would have been strong choices for the team, and the choice to take Eric doesn’t really raise any questions at all.

  3. highstream says:

    Age discrimination. Skiers hit their prime from the late twenties into the early thirties, so in terms of performance – and experience – right now Torin has a strong case, and this is probably his last chance. Eric has lots of time and opportunities ahead, he’s skied a couple of World Cups, and it’s not like he’s a head and shoulders standout (e.g., like Jesse Diggins). My sense is that many other countries allow the opportunity for mature skiers to qualify, but that for the past decade the U.S. leadership had had a real problem with that. There’s always going to be someone younger.

  4. I agree with you that the USST has had trouble with letting athletes mature, and kicking them off the team too early. But, in my opinion, being older raises the bar for qualifying. You’ve had more experience, you should be faster. So when someone who is at the start of their career, and someone who is at the end of their career have similar results, you take the younger person. Now add on top of this the race schedule at world champs, classic sprint, 15k skate, 30 pursuit, 4*10k relay, 50k classic. Torin’s results at US nats put him slightly (5 seconds in total) ahead of Eric in the classic sprint and long classic, but 1.5 minutes back in the 15k skate. That gives Eric the edge in the 15k skate, and the 30k pursuit, hence Eric is more likely to contribute given the races.

  5. Good discussion. For World Championships I think the goal would be to bring the athlete who is the absolute best at a single discipline versus the athlete that is very good at several disciplines. They’re not trying to win the overall crystal globe, they’re trying to have one or two (or 10 or 12 if we’re dreaming) fantastic results.

  6. highstream says:

    “So when someone who is at the start of their career, and someone who is at the end of their career have similar results, you take the younger person.”

    I don’t agree with that at all, since there’s almost always someone younger with more or less equal results. Plus, run enough races and you’re going to get a variety of results. Moreover, I think it serves the sport and development program well to recognize older skiers. OTOH, your argument about the assortment of races at this year’s Championships favoring Eric makes more sense. I would hope that was the reason for the leadership’s decision.

  7. Don Freyseth says:

    Eric Bjornsen was a very solid pick and will greatly benefit from his World Championships experience. He has been a training partner with Torin Koos, and Koos has spoken publicly of Bjornsen’s potential and the liklihood of his long term international success. It is going to be enjoyable watching the World Championships unfold, and seeing the US team realize success. My understanding is that Koos traveled to Switzerland following the Minneapolis SuperTours, and will be in Europe training and racing until Spring Series. He’ll be racing the late season World Cups as the SuperTour leader. If there is an opening, I’m guessing he’s available at short notice for any other starts. His girlfriend lives in Davos, and will be racing for the homecrowd and Koos when the World Cup comes to town.

  8. Doug, why keep bringing Bjornsen into this? Nowhere does Ben mention Erik’s name. Erik deserves his spot on this team, nobody is questioning that. The question isn’t Bjornsen, it’s the USST coaches and their bias towards certain athletes and dare I say, clubs. What other country does a guy win two races, a sprint and a 30km, and not get selected to the world championships? Seeing how things unfolded, even if Koos won all four races at Nationals, the USST coaches probably wouldn’t have taken him. You talk about age and giving the youngsters a chance. Leif Zimmerman qualified for the 2006 Olympics in Torino straight up, meaning he wasn’t an alternate, he earned his spot on the team, having turned 22 couple months earlier. Not once did he race at those Olympics. Why is that? He was a young guy, still U23, skiing well that whole year (beat both Newell and Koos at a SuperTour skate sprint that November), raced well at the Canmore World Cups in December and had a solid US Nationals, not to mention having excellent credentials as a Junior racer, with a 5th place at World Junior and several other top 25 results AND being a National Champion in the sprint as a first year senior beating Swenson, Newell and Koos in the process. Now we look at the other end of the spectrum. Sarah Konrad was kicking ass and taking names in the 2002/2003 season, including Rumford Nationals but isn’t selected, giving way for ‘young’ athletes who she regularly beat that season. I am not really sure we can play the age card, and the USST shouldn’t either. It doesn’t matter if you are 20 or 30 or 40, it matters if you are fast in the qualification period and are capable of winning races, no matter the distance. The Canadians have a good, consistant system. The US doesn’t have that, they keep changing things from year to year, and are often not very clear on what they are looking for. In the past they would say they needed skiers who are ranked high on the NRL, now they are saying they need people who can win races. Koos has shown in the past and has showed it again this year that he can win races. I am not sure what happened to the USST since Christer Skog left, but there have been many thought-provoking decisions. Which races at World’s do you think Koos wouldn’t fare well in? The pursuit is a mass start races, so that theory might not be great, especially given that it starts off with a classic portion, even if it didn’t though, it still wouldn’t make a difference. Sprint qualification results also shouldn’t be more analyzed than the final sprint results. You can qualify in the 20′s and still win races, just ask Renato Pasini, Ola Vigen Hattestad, Tobias Angerer and many others.

  9. Ben Arians says:

    So, I just re-read my opening comment, and I have to agree with Davord in that there was no mention of Erik Bjornsen in it. In fact, I think there might be one or two other team members who don’t have as good an argument for selection as Erik did, but that’s not really the point I was trying to make. Mainly, I was just wondering what the actual selection process is for the team, and how someone who won two out of four races at Nationals wasn’t on that team. Not a Torin Koos fan, nor am I a Torin Koos hater, just a fan of good, transparent sport. I can see why Torin wouldn’t be named to the actual US Ski Team as a year-round member, as I think the age aspect probably does factor into that, but for qualification to an actual event like World Champs I don’t see a strong argument against it.

  10. t’s interesting that it takes the Canadian Team selection to get into some very good and serious discussion about what the US has been doing in this regard for the past several years.

    I do not sponsor or favor any particular athletes. I do not know many of them, or much about their capabilities, not having seen them ski or race a whole lot. All I do is study the WC results and the ages of the skiers–emphasis on “ages.” Then I tell some of the younger skiers I DO know that they should not be impatient, that they should not expect significant results on the WC circuit until they are older. You should ask why.

    A simple study of WC results shows that the majority of the top 30 finishers are between the ages of 25 and 30. About as many are older than 30 as there are that are younger than 25, but these two groups make up only about 1/3 of the total. (Please note that the successful women mature a bit earlier and their ages–for success– are a bit younger than the men’s.)

    I have seen virtually no examples where our skiers mature earlier than their counterparts from Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, and so on. (Exception: Bill Koch. Northug is a Norwegian example.) Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to me to expect our younger skiers to perform really well. It’s going to take time. Now what the coaches do to optimize the time needed to reach maturity is their job. It does seem many of the older skiers have been abandoned in the past years in favor of younger stalwarts. It’s also noteworthy that our older skiers–Randall, Newell, Freeman, Brooks and even Stephen (26?)–are getting the best US results.

  11. Ben Arians says:

    Had to reread my opening comment to make sure that I hadn’t mentioned Erik Bjornsen in it, and I have to agree with Davord that I didn’t. To be completely honest I had nobody in particular in mind when I made it, so I was fairly surprised to read Doug1′s comment. I just have to say that it is strange that someone who won two out of four races at Nationals didn’t get named to the team. I would guess that if Torin was 25 years old, he would have. I can understand why Torin at this point in his career wouldn’t be nominated as a year-round supported USST member, but when it comes down to qualifying for something like Worlds, I think you need to take the people who have shown themselves to be the fastest at the time. I’m not a Torin Koos fan, but neither am I a Torin Koos hater. I am however a fan of clean, transparent and fair sport, and like him or not Torin made a pretty strong case for being named to the Worlds team.

  12. davemccallum says:

    The Canadian system of selection their championship team is a sharp contrast to the American system. The Canadians state which races will be used as trials, have a panel which selects the skiers on the merits of these trials, and the panel then explains the reasoning behind the decision. In America, if you have not been selected to the early season World Cups, you have no shot at objective criteria. The Finns will use the Davos WC as a final trial for selecting their 4th sprint slot. It seems logical to give Koos a chance to race in Davos as he currently is the SuperTour leader and has put up impressive results this year. The other alternatives are to put a distance skier in the sprint to finish outside the top 60 or not use up the quota (like racing only 1 skier in the skiathlon yesterday). The US has nothing to lose in giving Koos a chance to race, and it isn’t going to cost them anything if he’s already there. Let the kid race and show what he can do.

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