Last Friday through Sunday, Jan. 20-22, Whistler Olympic Park (WOP) in the Callaghan Valley hosted the NorAm Western Canadian Championships. More than 600 racers attended, making it the largest event the venue has held since 2013 Canadian nationals.
Western Canadian Championships opened Friday with the men’s and women’s 1.2-kilometer freestyle sprints, which national-team members Jess Cockney and Dahria Beatty won, respectively.
On Saturday, Emily Nishikawa (Canadian World Cup B-team) won the women’s 10 k classic interval start, and Andy Shields of Lappe Nordic took the men’s 15 k classic win.
Sunday was team day, with three-person freestyle relays (men’s 3 x 7.5 k and women’s 3 x 5 k) — an event added per the athletes’ request. While a relatively small number of teams participated in the open (elite-level) category (the turnout affected by preparation for U23/Junior World Championships, as well as some athletes departing for the World Cup), 146 total teams competed in the relays. The open victories went to Ontario (Bob Thompson, Jack Carlyle and Shields) in the men’s 3 x 7.5 k and B.C. (Katie Weaver, Anna Goodwin and Hannah Mehain) in the women’s 3 x 5 k.
Here are comments from some of the podium finishers each day:
Friday’s freestyle sprints
Dahria Beatty (Alberta World Cup Academy/Canadian U25 Team), 1st overall (2nd in qualifying):
“It’s always amazing racing at Callaghan on a sunny day. Such a beautiful venue. My qualifier was a bit chaotic feeling, but I was able to calm things down and ski a strong second half of the course in my heats.”
Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt (Alberta World Cup Academy/NST U25 Team), 2nd overall (1st in qualifying):
“I was really happy to secure another win in the qualifier today. I felt like that was really important for me to do after missing the races in Soldier Hollow, so I’m happy I was able to do that.
“Today was a very tactical race. I think the recipe was — you didn’t want to be leading going into the second to last corner, but you definitely wanted to be leading going into the last corner. The final was really played out in that second last corner and the straight away that followed. Up to that point there were basically three of us battling to get into that ideal second spot. I didn’t have a perfect second-last corner, but felt really strong on the straight away. I moved into second going into the final corner and that’s how I finished the race.
“All things considered I can only be extremely happy with how the season has gone so far! I’m very happy that my race shape is better than I expected, and other than that little speed bump of sickness during US Nationals, I think I’m going to be well prepared by the time I get to mix it up with everyone over seas!”
Katherine Stewart-Jones (NTDC Thunder Bay/NST U25 Team), 3rd overall (8th in qualifying):
“I was quite happy with my racing today. My qualifier was not the best, I felt like I didn’t ski that well technically. In the heats I think I skied well tactically, skiing at the back from the start and making my way up. So far my season has been good, I’m feeling more and more ready to tackle on the races at U23 World Champs.”
Jess Cockney (Canadian World Cup B-team), 1st overall (2nd in qualifying):
“I was really happy with today. The course is very short and over before you know it making it really important to start fast. Tactically I tried to be conservative in the final and I made my move on the final downhill which thankfully worked out for the best. I feel as though I’m finding a rhythm this season leading towards big races and looking forward to fine tuning the plan for the rest of the year’s chances. Especially excited for the [World Cup] finals in QC [Quebec City]!”
Julien Locke (Alberta World Cup Academy), 2nd overall (10th in qualifying):
“We lucked out with a beautiful day for racing at WOP. After skiing in a snow storm on Friday, it was a pleasant surprise to arrive to blue skies and hard tracks.
“My day started off on a poor note with some bad luck in the qualifier, first a broken pole and then a crash near the end. However, the legs felt great and I was excited to race the heats. Despite the small field, the race was pretty fast in all of the rounds. We were racing on the short 1.2km course here in Whistler which has a very gentle profile, so the speed was high the entire way. The final started relatively quickly. I stayed near the front and then took the inside to move into the lead around the last downhill corner. However, Jess Cockney came by me in a tuck with good speed and carried it to the finish. I felt good and was skiing well, but had to settle for 2nd today.
“I’m off to Korea tomorrow. I will compete in the Korean National Championships at the Alpensia Resort in Pyongchang in advance of the World Cups at the same venue.”
Saturday’s 10/15 k classic
Andy Shields (Lappe Nordic), 1st:
“It’s been great to be battling for wins again after racing against hyper-competitive fields since the start of the season. Obviously happy to get the win today. Jesse and I were both on soft, short pocket classic skis with klister for today’s 15km. Seemed to be the winning skis today. I stayed at altitude in Utah all last week and it was great prep for this weekend.
“Next up for me are Eastern Canadian champs [Feb. 3-5]. Hopefully I can hit some more podiums.”
Emily Nishikawa (Alberta World Cup Academy/NST World Cup B-team), 1st:
“I was happy to have a good race yesterday. I felt good, which is a good sign as I prepare for World Champs. There was some tricky waxing conditions, typical of Callaghan Valley, so I did my best to make my skis work in all sections of the course, but struggled with icing up a little bit in the third lap. But overall I am happy with how I skied and look forward to getting back to Europe soon to join up with my teammates who are doing exceptionally well right now. It is inspiring to watch them!
“I paced it well. It was hard waxing conditions so you really had to make your skis work for you and I felt I did a good job of that.
“I am already back in Canmore now to start my U23 World Champs prep so I won’t be doing the relay tomorrow.”
Maya MacIssac-Jones (Alberta World Cup Academy/NST U25 Team), 3rd:
“I am really happy with my race today. I’ve been struggling to get into race shape this season and today was the first distance race where I felt as if I could push hard instead of just trying to survive. I’m always working on becoming more of an “all-around” skier, and for my first NorAm podium this year to be in a distance race is really cool!
“I think the biggest difference between this race and my other distance races this season was my mental approach. I really just tried to focus on skiing in the moment, approaching every section of the course with a ‘what is the fastest way I can race this part’ instead of worrying about pacing or saving energy for the end.
“I haven’t been very happy with my season to date. I set some big goals for myself this year, and thus far I haven’t been meeting them. That being said, this weekend things started to feel much better, and I’m feeling a lot more confident heading into U23 Championships next week!”
Sunday’s freestyle relays
Bob Thompson (NTDC Thunder Bay), 1st in men’s 4 x 7.5 k with Team Ontario (Thompson, Jack Carlyle & Shields):
“This weekend was starting to feel more like my normal NorAm race form, I am hoping to still find a bit more as I was missing the pace for the semi final but felt my distance was very close to where I want it to be. Conditions made waxing tricky and my tech did an amazing job but the course was behaving fairly different with the grip even just from the hill out of the stadium to the top of the course just on the 2.5km loop
“I think the relay was definitely a success. I haven’t done one since my first nationals in 2006 at Lappe. It’s unfortunate the athletes who needed to be in Canmore for the pre Worlds Camp couldn’t attend or those that did come out couldn’t stay but that was decided it was what was best for them. And while the open categories weren’t that large, a reality of the size of our country and the cost of travel, the younger age groups looked like they had large fields and really enjoyed themselves, which is always great to see. I really blew up halfway through but it was great to then really want to cheer and watch how the rest of the race developed, I think we need more team events like this through the regular season, not just one at nationals.”
MacIsaac-Jones (didn’t race):
“I think relays are a great, and I absolutely think they should be done at this level again. I think they are a great way to keep people having fun and engaged in the sport.
“In the future, having a mixed relay (men and women on the same team) might be better because there sometimes aren’t enough people from both genders from each province to fill a relay team. Unfortunately, Westerns this year was really close to U23/Junior World Champs, which I think contributed to there not being many athletes in the open categories. If Westerns had been later in the year I would guess more athletes would have raced the relay.”
— Gerry Furseth contributed reporting