At the start of last season, Canadian cross-country skier Andy Shields specified two goals on his personal blog: 1.) to be the NorAm leader and earn World Cup starts by 2016, and 2.) to race the Ski Tour Canada.
Though several of his fellow Canadian competitors may have had similar ambitions, Shields was one of the few who lived them out. He emerged the 2015/2016 NorAm overall men’s winner, besting runner-up Kevin Sandau of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) by just one point.
With some of his early season results –including a first place finish in last year’s NorAm skate sprint at Sovereign Lake, B.C. –Shields earned the opportunity to compete for Canada in two World Cup races in Planica, Slovenia. They were his first.
A little less than a month later, Shields returned to Canada to compete in more domestic racing, and before he knew it, he found himself living out his second goal of racing in his native country’s Ski Tour.
While last year marked his debut appearance on the international World Cup, this season is the first time the 25-year-old Shields has joined Cross Country Canada (CCC) for Period 1 of the World Cup.
“I’ve know I have had these World Cups starts for several months now, so I am really prepared for the day to day racing weekend after weekend,” Shields told FasterSkier after the men’s freestyle sprint last Sunday in Davos, Switzerland. “I am just not as recovered as I would like to be to actually compete against the best in the world … it’s not like Ski Tour Canada last year where they were on their last legs, and I was in top form.”
Shields is also venturing into new territory after leaving his national training centre and returning to his original coach — his dad. For the last six years, Shields was a member of the Thunder Bay National Development Centre (now the National Team Development Center). Before that, he skied for Waterloo Region Nordic Ski Club.
“I joined my club where my dad is the coach,” Shields said of his father, Kevin Shields, who coaches at Lappe Nordic, north of Thunder Bay. “I kind of am … focusing on some of the things I felt like I needed to improve, rather than what the team was doing. I had been [with] the training centre for six years, so it was time for a change for sure.”
Though no longer affiliated with NTDC Thunder Bay, Shields indicated that he maintained a good relationship with Thunder Bay’s head coach Timo Puiras. Throughout the summer and fall, he jumped into team training sessions, which he said Puiras had “no problem with.”
After making the switch, Shields does not feel he has lost any opportunities, but rather gained some.
“It was what I needed,” Shields said. “[I’m] starting to get into the last half of my career now so I kind of have an idea of what I want to be doing.”
A change for Shields this season was not just starting the season on the World Cup, but doing so after having worked with his dad as his club coach. With a few weekends of World Cup racing behind him, Shields sees himself as headed in the right direction.
“I am always a little slow for the first couple races of the season so you know [Saturday’s 30 k], even though it wasn’t that great it was still a big improvement over how I was racing in Ruka and Lillehammer,” Shields said on Sunday, referring to the first two weekends of World Cup racing in Finland and Norway leading up to last weekend in Switzerland.
His next stop will be France for the men’s skiathlon and relays. Following those races, he will fly back to Canada for the holidays and then to Utah for the 2017 U.S. nationals race series at Soldier Hollow.
With goals of competing at 2017 World Championships in Lahti, Finland, Shields is simply focused on racing fast, unconcerned at this point with any criteria qualifications.
“I don’t even know what the criteria exactly is or if there [will] even going to be spots up for grabs at trials down there,” Shields said, referring to U.S. nationals. “I just want to race fast and see what happens, I don’t really need to see the criteria.”
— Chelsea Little and Ian Tovell contributed
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Gabby Naranja considers herself a true Mainer, having grown up in the northern most part of the state playing hockey and roofing houses with her five brothers. She graduated from Bates College where she ran cross-country, track, and nordic skied. She spent this past winter in Europe and is currently in Montana enjoying all that the U.S. northwest has to offer.