This past spring, nine Canadians learned they prequalified for their nation’s World Cups in December. Most had an inkling they were in the mix; last season’s NorAm winners Kevin Sandau and Alysson Marshall automatically guaranteed themselves starts in every Québec and Alberta World Cup race, as did the second-place finishers Brent McMurtry and Emily Nishikawa.
But then there were some wild cards, like Canadian national-team biathlete Rosanna Crawford. In March, Crawford jumped into a couple races at Canadian Ski Nationals. After sweeping biathlon nationals a few days before, she figured, what the heck? Might as well have fun with some straight-up cross-country.
In the skate sprint at Mont Sainte-Anne, Québec, Crawford posted the seventh-fastest qualifying time – the fourth best among Canadians. She went on to race her sister, 2006 Olympic gold medalist and national ski team member Chandra Crawford, in semifinal and later finished 10th overall (sixth Canadian) in the B-final.
In the end, her qualifier made the difference, prequalifying her for every Canadian World Cup sprint in December. Not long after nationals, her sister told her the good news.
“Chandra had just sort of mentioned that I prequalified and I didn’t really believe her,” Crawford said in a phone interview from Canmore, Alberta. “Then finally we had decided that we needed to make a decision and Roddy Ward, my coach, got in contact with [Cross Country Canada High Performance Director] Tom Holland and got all the details with him.”
“I really thought about it and talked about it with my coach whether or not we thought it would be a good idea to come home,” the Biathlon Canada B-team member said. “It doesn’t really work out. They’re going to pick our world champs team before Christmas so I kind of have to do all the biathlon races before Christmas.”
If she left Europe for the races, Crawford said she’d miss the second and third biathlon World Cups and third IBU Cup, which were critical in her quest to make Biathlon World Championships in February.
While she wished she could do both, she said the decision wasn’t hard.
“Biathlon’s my sport and it’s the one that I love and the one that I chose,” she said. “It’s something I’ve put so many hours and so much dedication [into] that switching isn’t anything that I’ve ever really wanted to do.”
If the opportunity came up again, say after the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Crawford wouldn’t think twice. “I would definitely skip a biathlon World Cup to be able to qualify for [another Canmore World Cup],” she said. “But with Sochi being so close I’ve got to put my focus into biathlon right now.”
On the flip side, Crawford’s gracious decline of World Cup starts opens up an opportunity for another Canadian woman to qualify for the sprints. Canada as the host nation of the Québec and Alberta World Cups can enter 14 competitors per race. Four of those starts come from the usual World Cup quota (i.e. national team members) and up to 10 more are allowed as national quota (the U.S. gets five additional entries for its nation’s group).
That’s a lot of racers, and Cross Country Canada (CCC) has every intention to fill those spots, according to Holland. “Giving developing athletes an opportunity to compete in World Cup events is one of the objectives having WCs in Canada,” he wrote in an email.
Athletes have to meet FIS standards to do so. For a breakdown of international-points requirements, refer to “World Cup Entry requirements” of 2012/13 Canadian NST Selection Criteria (page 4, figure 5.5).
To determine whom to award the remaining national-quota starts, CCC will use the Canmore NorAm (Dec. 1-2) as trials for the Québec and Alberta World Cups. Those races include a skate sprint and 15/20 k classic, and coaches will select racers based on top results and qualifying times.
Starting with the Sprints
At this point, close to eight openings for Canadian men and nine for the women remain for the individual sprints in Québec and Canmore. The top male and female qualifiers and finalists from the Canmore NorAm sprint will be selected to the final ranking list, which will be reviewed by Canadian National Ski Team Head coach Justin Wadsworth and the high-performance selection committee.
Essentially, the top eight males and nine females, with the exception of those who prequalified, should make the cut for the individual World Cup races, but Wadsworth can use discretion under unusual circumstances (i.e. a top-projected finisher gets sick).
Phil Widmer of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) prequalified for all the sprints as a leading qualifier and top-six finisher at nationals, and Sandau and McMurtry get dibs on every Canadian World Cup race.
Sandau explained in an email that he would not be racing the Québec World Cup sprints to cut down on travel and better prepare for distance races (men’s 15 k classic and 30 k skiathlon) in Canmore.
“The goal in Canmore is a top-12 in either of the distance races,” Sandau wrote before leaving for Europe for early season World Cups at the end of November. “Depending on how the energy is I may travel to Sovereign Lakes for that weekend of NorAm racing as a last primer before Canmore World Cups. I decided to skip Québec simply just because they’re sprint races.”
That could open up another spot for a sprinter at the Canmore NorAm trials at the end of the month. Holland wrote that any athlete has the right to turn down an entry after the NorAm events in Canmore. “At that time, they will be asked to accept or decline,” he said.
That makes a putting a concrete number on the amount of World Cup starts left for hopeful Canadian skiers slightly tricky. Among the prequalified athletes who probably aren’t concerned: Para-Nordic World Cup Team member Erik Carleton (made the 15 k classic and skiathlon), Graham Nishikawa (skiathlon) and Alana Thomas (skiathlon). And of course, the Canadian World Cup team (with four men and three women).
Then there’s the team sprint in Québec, in which Canada can have four teams (two per World Cup quota and two for national quota). Without a team-sprint trial beforehand, Wadsworth said picking the second, third and fourth teams could potentially be difficult.
“As soon as the races are over here in Canmore we’ll have a sprint list and we’ll start to talk about that with out high performance committee,” he said. “Myself and Tom Holland and [women’s World Cup coach] Eric [de Nys] will get together, we’ll put together a list, based on the criteria, of who should race. It goes to the high-performance committee for clearance. It’s worked well in the past; I think it’s pretty straightforward.”
According to Holland, here are the remaining spots in the national quota:
10/15 k classic (Canmore): 8 males and 9 females
Skiathlon (Canmore): 7 males and 8 females
Distance specialist Emily Nishikawa (Senior Development Team/AWCA) couldn’t confirm that she’d be doing all the races, but thought she would. Marshall planned to do all the events in Québec and Canmore.
“I love the atmosphere, people are always so excited to have World Cups in North America,” Marshall wrote in an email. “I think it will be a great opportunity for me to post some good results.”
McMurtry said in a phone interview that had his sights set on all the Canadian World Cups, even though he had to pay the bulk of his way to do so. The government’s carding system covers living expense for senior development skiers like him, but not travel and racing, he said.
“I work part-time and I should have some sponsors, but I’m not very good at chasing them down,” he said. “So it’s 100 percent me and my earnings that pays for what I do.”
Regardless, he’s excited to kick off his race season at the Canmore NorAm and follow up with the big efforts in Québec. By the time he gets to Canmore for the distance World Cup races, he’s hoping for a top-12 performance to make World Championships in March.
“If that doesn’t work out then there’s trials in Thunder Bay and Duntroon [Ontario] in January,” he added. “Goal is to be skiing really fast in Canmore and I really enjoy racing in Canmore. I think the 15 k classic mass start is a race I’m going to be looking forward to. I don’t know, top 12 is a pretty big result, but a lot of it depends of the field of guys who are here. There’s lots of factors, but I think that’s within my reach.”
Meanwhile, top skiers like Michael Somppi, a Senior Development Team member who recently joined the AWCA, will be shooting for qualifying results at the Canmore NorAm. To do so, Somppi wrote in an email that he needs to find good racing form early, which is why he bumped up his intensity work this summer.
“I don’t want to get stuck worrying about numbers though, I just want to focus on skiing to the best of my abilities and things should work out if I can do that,” he wrote. “My goal for the Canadian World Cups is to get in the points, a top 30 result. There’s lots of racing left after Christmas and of course I am aiming to be strong all the way through to Canadian National Championships, but for now, one step at a time.”
For skiers champing at the bit before the start of the season, Wadsworth gave a few words of advice.
“Fourteen deep is deep, if you can’t make that 14 then I don’t know what to say,” he said on the phone. “There’s lots of options so I don’t think there’s too much pressure for those athletes. If they can win the spot at Canadian Nationals last year, if they were even that good, 14 deep would not have been an issue for them.”
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.