Alysson Marshall has a pretty good idea what her strengths are in any given race. Power up the hills, charge down them and conserve energy wherever possible.
The 23-year-old Alberta World Cup Academy skier played Friday’s 1.4 k freestyle sprint accordingly, pacing herself to a qualifying win in 3:31.19 on the first day of the NorAm mini tour in Cantley, Quebec. She was 2.61 seconds ahead of the next fastest woman, Andrea Dupont of the Rocky Mountain Racers.
For Marshall, it was the first time she had won a qualifier since the NorAm opener in Sovereign Lake. At the Eastern Canadian Championships on Friday, Marshall continued to dominate the heats and made a point to keep some reserves for the final.
The top seed in the A-final, Marshall said in a phone interview that she positioned herself in second throughout the race. That way, she could be in control and respond to attacks without having to set the tempo. When it came to the finish, it was game on.
Marshall used her recurring slingshot tactic and passed teammate Emily Nishikawa on the final downhill before the stadium. After one last corner, Marshall jutted ahead and beat Nishikawa to the line. Dupont, who led the A-final until the last uphill when Marshall stepped on her pole, was third.
The tangle gave Nishikawa an opportunity to move ahead of the group after skiing in third for most of the race. Marshall recovered and held her position behind her.
“I don’t like leading,” Marshall said. “I like being in second and feeling in control and being able to move around people later in the race. That’s usually the way I try to play it.”
She knew the finish was her best strength of all, considering she won two previous race in the final stretch. At the NorAm Western Canadian Championships two weeks ago, Marshall won the freestyle sprint and pursuit in Canmore, Alberta.
For Nishikawa, it was the second straight time Marshall outsprinted her to the finish, yet the 22-year-old said she was excited for her best sprint result of the season. Nishikawa previously placed fifth to Marshall in Canmore’s 1.2 k sprint.
“Alysson came up behind and was able to get the win [Friday], but I was still able to hang onto second, which I was pretty pumped about,” Nishikawa said.
Earlier in the day, she qualified in fourth behind Marshall, Dupont and Kate Brennan (AWCA) for one of her better qualifying results of the season.
“I never usually feel that great in the qualifiers and they always get better as the day goes on,” Nishikawa said. “It was sort of the same thing that happened today, but I was able to get on the podium, which is a first for me this year in sprinting.”
Dupont tied a NorAm season best of third in a sprint, and Brennan was fourth. Heather Mehain (Sovereign Lake/BC Ski Team) finished fifth and Erin Tribe (NDC Thunder Bay) was sixth in the A-final.
Brittany Webster (AWCA) won the B-final, ahead of Amanda Ammar (Canmore/Track ’n Trail), who was eighth overall, and Sara Hewitt (CXC) in ninth. Rebecca Reid (AWCA) was 10th.
For Marshall, the win extended her overall NorAm points lead on Nishikawa, who ranked second. Marshall was invited to race in several OPA and Scandinavian Cup races in Europe, but opted to skip the first weekend in Switzerland to try to make it back to the World Cup in March. She needed to secure the top NorAm spot to do so, and said if all went well, she could be leaving for Latvia and the remaining OPA tour on Monday.
Nishikawa said she was most focused on the U23 World Championships and would not race in next weekend’s NorAm in Orford, Quebec, to prepare for Turkey.
Competition resumes Saturday with the women’s 10 k and men’s 15 k freestyle interval starts.
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) 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.