Preview: Canadians Prepare to Announce National Ski Team Selections

Kieran JonesMay 2, 2011

Cross Country Canada (CCC) is expected to announce the 2011-2011 National Ski Team (NST) in the next couple of days, and some major personnel changes may be in the works.

According to head coach Justin Wadsworth, there will be three divisions to the National Ski Team in the 2011-2012.

If you are a Canadian athlete, you can be nominated to the World Cup team or the Senior Development Team, while the country’s top juniors skiers will be selected to the Junior National team.

A small change has been made to the make-up of the Senior Development Team, as all athletes will also be members of one of the four Canadian National Development Centers.

Last year, the World Cup team was made up of Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey, Ivan Babikov, George Grey, Chandra Crawford, and Dasha Gaiazova.

The majority of the World Cup team will remain the same. However, with the retirement of George Grey, there is room for additions. This will likely come in the form of breakout sprinter Len Valjas, a 23 year old who surprised many in his first taste of international World Cup action.

Valjas, who was a member of the Pierre Harvey National Development Center (CNEPH) and the Senior Development Team last season, made the most of his eight World Cup starts. He qualified consistently, and finished an impressive 9th at the World Cup in Drammen, Norway. Just a week later, he skied to a 15th place finish at the World Championships.

While Valjas narrowly missed out on recording the two top 12 results that would automatically result in a spot on the World Cup squad as outlined in the CCC 2011-2012 Team Selection Criteria, he is virtually guaranteed to make the team.

The other addition will be CNST veteran Perianne Jones, who will be nominated to the World Cup team due to her achievement of the criteria of a 6th or top half of the field finish in the Team Sprint event at World Championships. After finishing 29th in the individual sprint in Oslo, Jones teamed up with Gaiazova to finish 6th at the World Championship team sprint. Jones further erased any doubts about her shape in Stockholm, Sweden, during the World Cup Final city sprint, advancing to the semi-finals for the first time in her career, finishing 12th.

While the World Cup team sees relatively little movement, the same cannot be said for the Senior Development Team.

Last season, the team consisted of Stefan Kuhn, Graham Killick, Drew Goldsack, Kevin Sandau, Len Valjas, Brent McMurtry, Frederic Touchette, Phil Widmer, Brittney Webster, and Perianne Jones.

With Jones and Valjas moving up, and Kuhn retiring, a large-scale roster change is possible.

Sandau is the only lock to return to the team. His 5th place finish at U23 World Championships achieves the CCC objective criteria of top 12 at that event, thereby guaranteeing him a spot on the team. Sandau also collected two NorAm medals, and three National Championship medals (two Canadian, one American) mean he is one of Canada’s best up and coming distance skiers.

Killick had strong results, including a NorAm podium, but fell short at U23 World Champs, as his best finish was 31st. However, he has a strong chance to be re-nominated based on his two second place finishes at Canadian Nationals, and his young age.

Fred Touchette struggled with back problems throughout the season, and didn’t race after the NorAm weekend in Thunder Bay, Ontario. He is a prime candidate for a force majeure appeal, and it appears likely that he will remain with the team.

Drew Goldsack was the second-best domestic skier in the 2010-2011 season, finishing second in the NorAm standings to Graham Nishikawa. Both veterans of Canadian skiing will likely be pushing for inclusion to the team, however age and a lack of standout international results are working against them.

Two other veterans, Brent McMurtry and Phil Widmer, will hope to hold on to their spots.

McMurtry started his season slowly, failing to capitalize on his status as domestic series leader and the corresponding early-season World Cup starts. At Canadian Nationals he managed to turn things around, finishing as runner-up in both the sprint and the 50 k.

Widmer was the complete opposite. He started out extremely strong, finishing 18th at the World Cup in Davos, Switzerland. He punched a ticket to World Championships, but did not earn a start as Kuhn and Valjas moved ahead of him on the depth chart. Finally, his performance at Canadian Nationals was underwhelming, as his best finish was 7th in the sprint.

And the veterans will be challenged by some talented young skiers.

Jesse Cockney (AWCA) pulled off a surprise 6th place at U23 World Championships in Estonia, thereby earning a berth on the team. After qualifying 30th, Cockney managed to sneak through the rounds and into the final. The 22 year old is a budding sprinter – his two NorAm medals this season were both in sprints, and he finished 4th in a strong field at Canadian National Championships.

Likewise, Michael Somppi (NDC-TB) turned in some impressive performances, including at 14th at U23 World Championships, just 11 seconds out of the magic top 12. He also recorded a 4th place at Canadian Nationals in the 50 k freestyle, and has shown steady improvement over the past couple of years.

Despite struggling for most of the season, Brittney Webster (AWCA) will likely remain on the team. Less than a year ago Webster was considered the top Canadian distance skiing woman. But the 24 year old never seemed to find her form until the very end of the season, where she won the 10 k classic at Canadian Nationals.

Two other women have made strong cases for Senior Development Team nomination.

Alysson Marshall (AWCA) skied well all season, including nailing the all-important 12th place finish in the sprint at U23 World Championships in Estonia. In her one World Cup start of the season she narrowly missed qualifying, finishing 33rd, less than a second from the top 30.

Likewise, AWCA team mate Emily Nishikawa had an excellent season, recording three top 30 finishes at U23 World Championships, a NorAm mini-tour win at Eastern Canadian Championships, and finishing 2nd in the aggregate senior women rankings at Canadian Nationals. While Nishikawa did manage to achieve the objective criteria, she is still likely be named to the team.

In terms of financial support, Wadsworth was confident that the budget would remain quite similar.

“Oslo didn’t hurt us, but we should be expecting the same kind of budget as last year, which with the introduction of some new sports into the winter OTP scene, I think is pretty decent,” he wrote in an e-mail to FasterSkier last week.

Wadsworth agreed to discuss further details following the announcement of the team in early May.

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Kieran Jones

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