At Eastern Canadian Championships on February 11, 12 and 13, held in Cantley, Quebec, if your last name wasn’t Nishikawa, the chances of you standing on the top step of the podium were slim.
In the Open men’s field Graham Nishikawa of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) took the top spot twice – in the 3 k prologue event on Friday, as well as the 30 k classic handicap start on Sunday. In between, he finished second in the skate sprint.
During the prologue, Nishikawa bested Kevin Sandau by almost 10 seconds, while American Tim Reynolds of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP) crashed the Canadian party finishing third.
On Saturday, Nishikawa looked again to be the strongest on the day, as he won the qualifying round by over a second. However, as the heats got under way, it was clear Nishikawa was going to be hard pressed to earn another win. While Reynolds dominated the A-Final, taking the lead on the narrow course and controlling the pace, it was Jesse Cockney (Foothills), who managed to slip by on the final descent to take the skate sprint win, while Nishikawa settled for second, and Reynolds crossed the line third for the second day in a row.
However, Nishikawa put on a real display during the 30 k classic handicap start. Starting with a big lead over his competitors, he skied the entire 30 k alone, and never once faltered, increasing his lead to over two minutes by the time he crossed the finish line.
Behind him, the chase pack was shattered by an assault by Sandau, and the group was strung out. Sandau proved impossible to track down, while Mike Somppi of NDC Thunder Bay (NDCTB) put on a charge to climb into third place, 24 seconds back of Sandau.
“It was very difficult mentally to stay focused and push in every section,” said Graham Nishikawa in an e-mail to FasterSkier. “I was happy to see the finish line.”
After Eastern Canadians, Nishikawa had raced three mini-tour events in three weekends – far more than any athlete usually encounters in a season.
“I definitely need some rest now,” he said. “The travel took the biggest toll.”
Untouchable Emily Nishikawa
While her brother just barely failed to sweep the weekend, Emily Nishikawa was in control from Friday to Sunday.
After putting 12 seconds into second place Heidi Widmer, and nearly 18 into third place Alysson Marshall during the 3 k prologue on Friday, it was clear Nishikawa was going to be difficult to beat, especially with Brittney Webster (AWCA/CNST) sidelined due to injury.
Nishikawa had a brief scare Saturday, as she qualified second behind Andrea Dupont of Rocky Mountain Racers (RMR), but then skied a strong final, finishing clear of Widmer, while Erin Tribe (NDCTB) crossed the line third.
Nishikawa then started Sunday with a sizeable lead over Widmer, and simply skied away over the 15 k, leaving Sarah Daitch (Fort Smith Ski Club) 49 seconds behind in second position, and Alysson Marshall 50 seconds back in third.
The female Nishikawa is undoubtedly in the best shape of her life at the moment – she just returned from Otepaa, Estonia, where she was a part of the Canadian Under-23 World Championship team, and finished in the top 30 three times, including a 16th place finish in the 10 k freestyle.
NorAm World Cup Spot
Eastern Canadian Championships was the final NorAm event of the season before Canadian National Championships is held in Canmore, Alberta, in March. As a result, the Canadian selections for the post-World Championship World Cup events have now been decided.
With his strong results, Graham Nishikawa cemented his position at the top of the NorAm leader board, and earned himself a berth on the World Cup circuit for the events following World Championships.
Nishikawa entered the weekend neck in neck with his closest competitor, Drew Goldsack (AWCA), however Goldsack faltered. In the three races, the Canadian National Ski Team (CNST) veteran couldn’t find his form, finishing 5th in the prologue, 6th in the sprint, and finally pulling the plug in the 30 k.
The other athletes who were close – George Grey (CNST) and Stefan Kuhn (CNST) – are headed to World Championships in Oslo, and were already in Norway preparing for the big event.
Nishikawa will train in Canmore until he heads to Lahti, Finland, for a World Cup weekend on the 12th and 13th of March, and then on to Falun, Sweden, for the World Cup Final.
“I have time to set up for Lahti this year,” he said. “The goal will be to show up healthy and crack the top twenty.”
Despite her big win on the weekend, Emily Nishikawa failed to make the World Cup a brother-sister event.
Perianne Jones (CNST) remained the NorAm leader after dominating the field during Western Canadian Championships in Kelowna, B.C., and like Grey and Kuhn, Jones is headed to World Championships in Oslo. She will then head on to the World Cup circuit following World Championships, and will race in Lahti, as well as possibly the city sprint in Stockholm, Sweden.