There was no hiding in Canmore, Alberta, on Sunday. The first to start the 10 k pursuit on the last day of the NorAm mini tour, Alysson Marshall knew she’d have her work cut out for her.
Mostly, it was her Alberta World Cup Academy teammate she’d have to worry about.
Emily Nishikawa started 16 seconds behind Marshall in the Western Canadian Championships finale, and by the first major climb on the first of two laps, Nishikawa said she had caught her.
Marshall continued to lead until about halfway through the second lap, when Nishikawa charged ahead. Marshall stayed with her, and the two continued to play tactical games – testing their strengths and the other’s weaknesses.
As Marshall and Nishikawa ticked off the kilometers, they extended their lead on the 46 women behind them. The pace increased, and as they neared the stadium, both knew they needed to have something left for the finish.
Marshall’s final move proved to be pivotal as she slipped by Nishikawa on the last downhill and kept her distance into the stadium. Nishikawa said she tried to tuck in behind for a slingshot effect, but it didn’t work.
Marshall’s skis were downright fast and she glided away to a 2.1-second victory in 47:17.8. After Nishikawa in second place, Amanda Ammar (Canmore/Track ’n Trail) finished third, 1:30.9 behind the winner.
“I had good skis, for sure,” Marshall said in a phone interview. “I’m used to that hill so I knew I needed to go fast so I hoped she couldn’t get the slingshot.”
Nishikawa knew that hill as well, along with every other twist, turn and descent on their home course at the Canmore Nordic Centre.
“She was out to get me,” Marshall said. “I knew as long as I could stay with her, I could outsprint her to the finish. It was just a matter of sticking with her on the uphills.”
When she couldn’t catch her on the climbs, Marshall said she made up for it on the downhills. The two remained together for the majority of the race, and Nishikawa ended up with the fastest 10 k time of the day.
“I felt super-strong climbing especially so I would attack on the uphill,” Nishikawa said. “She’s more powerful in the downhill and flat stuff [and] she’s just a good two skater. … It’s interesting.”
While the two jockeyed for the top spot throughout the race, Ammar started in third and ended up there after mostly skiing alone. Thirty-eight seconds behind Marshall from the start, Ammar didn’t have anyone chasing her until 36 seconds later (AWCA skiers Marlis Kromm and Janelle Greer of started together five bibs back. Alana Thomas of Nakkertok did not start in her allotted fourth spot).
“I was basically out there doing a time trial by myself,” Ammar said.
At the same time, she knew others were gunning for her. The chase pack grew to seven, which Ammar said she saw several times on the course. She worked especially hard on the downhills to stay ahead, and on the last climb, the group put on a strong surge.
“I think I was running mostly on fear,” Ammar said.
Regardless, she kept her position without much contention, beating fourth-place finisher and junior racer Dahria Beatty (Yukon Ski Team) by 10.9 seconds. Beatty edged Annika Hicks (AWCA) by 0.1 seconds and Andrea Lee (NDC Thunder Bay) finished sixth about 2 seconds later.
Kromm was seventh, Greer placed eighth, Chisa Obayashi (Madshus Japan) was ninth and Heather Mehain (Sovereign Lake) was 10th.
Note: Winning two of three races over the long weekend, Marshall extended her lead in the NorAm standings to 109 points over Nishikawa. While Marshall holds the top spot with 896 points, Ammar ranked third with 430, Kromm was fourth with 419 and Jessie Diggins (USA) was fifth with 400.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.