Note: This is the fourth and final preview giving an inside look at Canada’s national training centres. We asked coaches to tell us what’s new, whom to look out for and their outlook for the season. Teams were presented in no particular order.
Team: Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA)
Coaches: Mike Cavaliere (program director/men’s coach), Chris Jeffries (women’s coach), Stefan Kuhn (assistant coach)
Athletes: Jess Cockney, Chris Hamilton, Russell Kennedy, Graeme Killick, Yannick Lapierre, Alex Mahoney, Kevin Sandau, Michael Somppi, Patrick Stewart-Jones, Sebastien Townsend, Phil Widmer, Ezekiel Williams; Dahria Beatty, Annika Hicks, Marlis Kromm, Alysson Marshall, Emily Nishikawa, Rebecca Reid, Heidi Widmer.
With 19 athletes (12 men and seven women), the AWCA is down one from last year, but still boasts quantity and quality with eight skiers on the National Senior Development Team (Cockney, Killick, Sandau, Somppi, Phil Widmer, Heidi Widmer, Marshall, and Nishikawa).
Who’s new: Two former Callaghan Valley Training Centre athletes – Lapierre and Townsend – both originally from Quebec. Mahoney hails from Lethbridge in southern Alberta, but has been living in Canmore for the last three years, formerly training with Rocky Mountain Racers. Williams comes from Nakkertok and the Gatineau, Quebec, area.
Who’s missing: Kate Brennan retired and is now working as a manager at the Paintbox Lodge in Canmore, owned by Sara Renner and Thomas Grandi. According to Jeffries, Brennan “was plagued by many health problems in her final years, from which she seems to be recovering from very well,” he wrote in an email. “She was engaged to former ski racer Phil Wood this summer.”
Janelle Greer moved back to Whitehorse, Yukon, and was considering attending nursing school next fall, Jeffries wrote. Suzanne Stevenson is studying at Montana State University, and Jeffries didn’t think she was ski racing, and Brittany Evans is also pursuing undergraduate studies at the University of British Columbia.
Former men’s team leader, Graham Nishikawa – still on the Senior Development Team – has been training with Canada’s Para-Nordic program in the leadup to the 2014 Olympics. Brent McMurtry retired and is studying at the University of Victoria. Matt Wylie also retired and is attending the University of Calgary.
An AWCA coach for a month and a half last season, Mike Vieira took a new job this spring as Cross Country Canada’s manager of coaching development.
“We all resumed our roles from last year and have not missed a beat,” Jeffries explained. “[Former AWCA skier and national-team member] Drew Goldsack was contracted for a week this summer to coach the women during a training camp here in Canmore, which gave the girls a fresh perspective and allowed me time to coach the girls of the Alberta Ski Team.”
The team also brought on an intern, Lars Hanel, a former racer studying to become a coach in Germany. According to Jeffries, he arrived in October and will assist the Academy through the 2013/2014 season.
Top results last season:
Cockney, 24, had a breakout season starting at the Canmore NorAm, where he placed second in the 15-kilometer classic to earn his way to the Quebec and Canmore World Cups last December. In Canmore, Cockney wowed local supporters and international competitors with the second-fastest qualifying time in the World Cup skate sprint, and went on to place ninth overall.
He notched several other podiums throughout the NorAm season, made the top 50 in the Lahti World Cup skate sprint (in 50th), and placed fourth in the classic sprint at Canadian Nationals in Whistler, B.C.
Phil Widmer, who turned 30 last month, and Emily Nishikawa, 24, both earned trips to World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, where Widmer placed 49th in the classic sprint. Earlier in the season, Widmer finished 15th in the Canmore World Cup skate sprint, racked up several NorAm victories, and placed third in the classic sprint at nationals.
At 23, Nishikawa pulled off 57th in both the classic sprint and 10 k skate at World Championships, despite an unusually rapid heartbeat that turned out to be benign. At the Canmore World Cup in December, she placed 34th in the 15 k skiathlon and 48th in both the 10 k classic mass start and freestyle sprint. She ended the season in 46th at World Cup Finals in Falun, Sweden.
After placing 34th in the Canmore World Cup sprint, Heidi Widmer also qualified for U23 World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic, where she notched 28th in the 10 k skate (and subsequently made the senior devo team in the spring). The 22 year old medaled twice at nationals, placing third in the 5 k and 30 k skate races in Whistler.
According to Jeffries, all went as planned throughout the summer and fall, with athletes hitting personal best in field tests and showing “good fitness” on the rollerski-treadmill incremental tests.
The women’s team held seven training camps from May through November, most of which took place around Alberta and British Columbia, but also included trips to Whitefish, Mont., and Whitehorse. The men ventured to similar places, with a total of six camps, including one at home on Frozen Thunder.
Even in an Olympic year, the team’s goals are generally the same.
“As always, we want to qualify athletes for international trips (WJC, U23s, Olympics, World Cup, Scando Cup) and ultimately graduate athletes to national teams (World Cup, SDT),” Jeffries wrote. “One of our big goals as a team is to have athletes positioned on the NorAm to win the FIS regional spots, allowing them to race World Cups. If you ask our athletes what they need to make performance gains internationally, their number one answer is World Cup starts. The FIS regional spot is the most predictable way to earn those starts in a year.”
Looking at the men’s team, Jeffries stated their athletes are “healthy and performing at a very high level.”
“The group is a little more diverse than in previous years, which has likely contributed to a very healthy team environment,” he added. “We have 6 U23 athletes who are all chasing after the older boys, getting stronger in the process. The non-U23 men are very focused as they work towards being in shape for the Olympic trials in January.”
The reigning FIS regional leader, Cockney gets to start this season in Europe with Canada’s World Cup Team.
On the women’s side, Jeffries explained they’ve had a drop in numbers last year: from 12 to seven.
“As a result, the group is very focused this year and more mature,” he wrote. “Dahria is our only junior, but her drive to be successful internationally puts her more in the category of team veteran as she pushes the other girls and keeps them on their toes.”
While the group’s general fitness is “very high,” Jeffries stated their women have suffered more injuries than usual. Hicks has been on an adjusted program waiting for compartment-syndrome surgery on her lower legs this fall. “She raced through a lot of pain last winter and we had her diagnosed this spring,” he explained.
In early September, Heidi Widmer crashed rollerskiing and ended up with her third concussion. She took a few weeks off and was back in action later this fall. “Heidi brought in a great level of fitness from last winter that she has continued to build on this summer, so we are confident it won’t take her long to get ready for the start of race season and the U23/Olympic trials in January,” Jeffries wrote.
“As a coaching team, we are all very competitive people, so we are always looking internally on how we can become better. Our overall philosophy though is pretty simple and helps us maintain perspective. We ultimately try to keep things simple, looking at finding ways to do hard training with high quality, which we generally just refer to as “regular training.” The attitudes and commitment of the athletes is what I think allows us to try and raise the bar each year. We have a great group of athletes with a lot of talent who work extremely hard, which allows us to have success annually.”
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.