Nearing the halfway point of the 10 k freestyle interval start at the Eastern Canadian Championships on Saturday, Emily Nishikawa heard a motivating split time: she was 10 seconds out of first.
For different skiers under various circumstances, that might come as a surprise or a letdown. For Nishikawa, it told her exactly how to ski the second lap in order to beat Alberta World Cup Academy teammate Alysson Marshall. Hard.
Fortunately, the 22-year-old Yukon native had prepared for the task ahead, keeping plenty of energy reserves for the second 5 k loop in Cantley, Quebec.
In a phone interview, Nishikawa said she laid it on particularly thick in the last 2 k to win claim her first outright freestyle title in a NorAm this season. Starting one bib ahead of Marshall, Nishikawa skated to the fastest time of 27:00.4, beating Marshall by 8.2 seconds. It was her fifth victory of the season.
“Toward the end of the second lap, I was still feeling really good so I just went as hard as I could up the last couple climbs and was able to get a lead there,” Nishikawa said.
Knowing that Marshall started 30 seconds behind her kept her pushing forward.
“I didn’t want to look back,” Nishikawa said. “I knew she was gaining on me after the first lap, just from the splits, but I just kind of focus on my own race. … I’m really happy with how my distance skiing is going and I’m looking forward to tomorrow. It should be exciting.”
On the third day of the mini tour, Marshall as Friday’s freestyle sprint winner will start first in Sunday’s 15 k classic pursuit, 4 seconds ahead of Nishikawa. According to Zone4.ca, Andrea Dupont (Rocky Mountain Racers) put herself in the third spot after finishing seventh on Saturday and Kate Brennan (AWCA), who was ninth, will start fourth.
On Saturday, Marshall used a different game plan that Nishikawa, racing harder rather than conservatively from the start. She had hoped to build a gap and keep it throughout the race.
“The first lap went well but I couldn’t keep it going on the 2nd lap and lost time to Emily,” Marshall wrote in an email. “I saw her at a few parts of the course and got a few splits so I knew where I was standing most of the race.”
She expected they would be close again on Sunday.
“We will probably ski together most of the race,” Marshall wrote. “It will probably come down to whoever has the most energy left on the last lap!”
The third-place finisher in Saturday’s 10 k, Amanda Ammar of Canmore/Track ’n Trail skied a significantly stronger second lap, making up five spots from ranking eighth at the midway point. She finished 55.7 seconds out of first.
While the former national team member heard she was in third near the end of the race, she tried not to overthink it.
“I just like to take [splits] and toss them as soon as they come in because I don’t like thinking about placing when I’m racing,” Ammar said. “I just want to race my race and see what the results are when I’m done.”
When she found out she was third for the second straight time in a NorAm 10 k (with the other in a pursuit two weeks ago), Ammar said she couldn’t believe it. Several top racers, such as Nishikawa, Marshall and Brittany Webster (AWCA), started behind her, and she feared they’d catch her.
Impressed with her improvements in skating this season, Ammar was also thrilled with third because of what she woke up to Saturday morning.
“I’ve just been feeling kind of tired so I was staying positive, like ‘OK, this might be tough today, but I’m just gonna push through it,’ ” she said. “Once I started racing I felt good … I was just trying to push over every hill as much as I could and just stay strong throughout the whole race. I had a second faster lap which is amazing, especially for me in skate, because usually I die out in the second lap.”
Ammar was slated to start sixth in the pursuit behind friend Sara Hewitt (CXC), who was fourth on Saturday, 3.9 seconds behind Ammar. Andrea Lee (Strathcona) was fifth in the 10 k and Megan McTavish (XC Ottawa) was sixth. After Dupont, Erin Tribe (NDC Thunder Bay) was eighth, and Webster placed 10th behind Brennan.
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.