Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a series about expected changes within the structure of the Canadian National Cross-Country Team, starting with the departure of women’s coach Eric de Nys. While official decisions will likely be announced later this month, here’s a sense of what’s to come in Canada. This article has been updated to include notes and quotes from WinSport’s press release.
CANMORE, Alberta — Eric de Nys, the current coach of the Canadian World Cup women’s team, is leaving the Canadian National Team coaching staff to start a new training program in Canmore for juniors looking to bridge the fitness gap to the senior level. The WinSport Junior Cross Country Ski Team, a year-round program for older juniors, was officially announced in a WinSport press release on Monday.
De Nys has been a member of the National Team coaching staff for the last 10 years and the coach of the women’s World Cup team for the last two years. This past year, however, he worked directly with just one athlete, Perianne Jones, as Chandra Crawford and Dasha Gaiazova, the two other members of the World Cup team, decided to pursue alternative training options.
Gaiazova trained alternately with the B2Ten organization and the Pierre Harvey National Training Centre, while Crawford temporarily left the National team in the spring of last year to train independently with Team Ninja.
Since the end of this season, the Canadian National Team has had to look hard at its structure and organization. According to the published selection criteria for this coming year, none of the Canadian women meet the objective standards to qualify for the World Cup team. A team for next year has not yet been named, and official decisions and announcements aren’t expected until later this month.
“You could look at our criteria and our website and put together guesses based on that, because that’s what we’re going to use, more or less,” Canadian Head Coach Justin Wadsworth said in a phone interview. “But I can’t tell you anything because we’re still in the process and none of that stuff has been decided officially.”
Crawford recently announced her retirement, making next season’s team officially one man (or more specifically, woman) down. Gaiazova and Jones did not make the World-Cup team requirements of at least two top-12 results or one top 6 last season.
Own The Podium, a sports organization that financially supports Canadian athletes who produce top-level results, has cut back on funding across all winter sports, according to Wadsworth.
According to de Nys, this combination reduced funding and an expected smaller team meant that the current coaching staff — with Wadsworth as head coach, de Nys as women’s coach, and Louis Bouchard as assistant men’s coach — would be a bit excessive for next year.
“With the World Cup team being what it will be next year, it just can’t justify having that many coaches there,” de Nys said. “We had to do some restructuring and part of that was eliminating a job.”
Wadsworth said the decision was based on “a combination of budget restraints and also travel, coaching and travel obligations and family.”
Cross Country Canada (CCC) High Performance Director Thomas Holland could not be reached for comment.
Looking forward, De Nys said the situation allowed him to move in a new direction, one that he hopes will help raise the level of skiing in Canada.
“There’s been a noted gap in Canada,” he said. “For top level [junior] athletes to make a training centre is a really big step … Some of the training centres have taken junior athletes and often they’re overshadowed because most of the athletes are seniors. So they’re junior athletes trying to adapt to a senior plan, and it doesn’t work very well.”
De Nys is working with WinSport, a Canadian winter-sports nonprofit that funds world-class facilities and services, to set up a junior academy in Canmore. The idea is for skiers graduating high school to spend a maximum of two or three years in the program, with the end goal of moving on to an athlete-funded program at one of the four National Training Centres, the National Senior Development Team, or the World Cup team.
“It’s a short window, and it’ll be a fairly intense program,” de Nys said. “But [the idea is] you have two years to do something, and then that’s it — you move on.”
De Nys said he’s been developing this program for the past few months, although the program has been in the works over the last year. “I actually had no say in planning the program up until the point that I got wind of it and thought about perhaps applying, which would have been a couple months ago,” he said.
“We know there’s a need for this program,” he added. “I hope that I have some education [to offer to] coaches and athletes across the country. But when I’m gone 145 days a year it’s pretty hard to do that, and now I hope, if I can cut that down to 70 days on the road, that’s 70 other days that I’m around Canmore or other clubs that come to Canmore or to the glacier. I can speak to them, help them out, whatever. I mean it’s going to be a really valuable asset, and I look forward to being around the home.”
The program will start as soon as next month, and the application process for interested juniors should open within a week, pending finalization of details.
“Eric has played a critical role in developing many of Canada’s top skiers,” CCC Executive Director Davin MacIntosh said in the press release. “He is a proven performer, and his leadership of the WinSport Junior team will ensure that there is alignment and collaboration with national team programming — this represents a significant advantage for the future success of our program. Eric will bring a wealth of experience to the athletes at WinSport’s Junior Ski Team.”
According to the release, the program is “fully aligned” with Cross Country Canada’s Long Term Athlete Development Program.
“This new initiative is a very exciting project, we look forward to building this program and working with Eric as our head coach,” said Mike Norton, WinSport’s sport manager in Canmore.
De Nys explained he hopes to continue working with Perianne Jones in some capacity next year, although the intricacies of this are still being hammered out. Jones, who is currently building a schoolhouse in Nicaragua with several other Canadian skiers, was unsure of her plan for next year.
“We will continue to work together,” De Nys said. “That’s what she would like, and I’ll be happy to help her out.”
While meetings are still underway regarding the National team structure for next year, decisions are set to be released within two weeks.
As for Wadsworth’s role, he said CCC hasn’t made anything official, but “the plan is that I’m going to stay on with the team and have maybe a slightly changed role,” he said. “[I’ll] still be the head coach of the World Cup and the national team, potentially work in some other areas as well.”