(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.