FasterSkier’s coverage of the 2015 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Falun, Sweden, is brought to you by the generous support of L.L. Bean, now featuring a complete line of Kikkan Randall training wear.
FALUN, Sweden — With the pressure off, the Canadian women posted some career-best performances on Tuesday in the 10-kilometer freestyle individual start at 2015 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships.
In Emily Nishikawa’s first race coming off illness, which kept her and fellow Canadian World Championships team member Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt back in Östersund, Sweden, until Sunday, recorded her first top 30 at her second World Championships.
“I was sick last week so I didn’t really know what to expect, how my body would react,” Nishikawa said after placing 30th, 2:20.5 behind Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla, who won the 10 k skate in 25:08.8. “It could’ve gone either way and it went well today, so I’m very happy with that.”
Meanwhile, team veteran Perianne Jones notched yet another best distance result at worlds in 32nd after placing 37th in Sunday’s 15 k skiathlon. And in what she anticipates to be her last season of professional racing, and ultimately her last races, Jones, 29, didn’t expect to do any of the distance races.
“I had zero expectations going in,” Jones said after finishing 2:26.7 back from Kalla. “Coming into these championships, I thought I was going to do the sprint and the team sprint … and I ended up doing the sprint and the 10 k and the pursuit.”
Even on the World Cup, Jones hadn’t done better than 32nd in a distance race since placing 30th two years ago in a 15 k classic mass start in Nové Město na Moravě, Czech Republic.
And then there was Nishikawa, 25, who cracked the top 30 for the first time this season on the World Cup, placing 29th in the 10 k classic in December in Davos, Switzerland.
The 54th starter out of 71, the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) and Canadian National Development Team skier faced some of the toughest conditions of anyone in Tuesday’s race, skiing two different loops of a 10 k course in heavily falling, wet snow.
“It was snowing pretty heavily, [but] my skis felt great,” Nishikawa recalled. “I pushed as hard as I could … I was just dying to get here to Falun. I’m so happy to be here and to be racing is a real treat.”
Nishikawa, Jones and Canada’s third woman at the championships, Bouffard-Nesbitt, warmed into their races, with Nishikawa’s 1.5 k time ranking 45th, followed by Jones in 46th and Bouffard-Nesbitt in 53rd.
By 5 k, Nishikawa was up to 35th and 2.8 k later, 33rd, before closing hard for 30th. At the end of the day, she finished 3.1 seconds ahead of Norway’s star skier Marit Bjørgen, who placed 31st (for her first result outside the top 24 in a World Championships in at least 14 years).
Jones, who sped up to clock the 34th-ranked 5 k time and 32nd 6.3 k time, finished 6.2 seconds behind Bjørgen, the 65th starter.
“I was lucky I started early — I was number 22 so I have probably never been that close to Bjørgen in a skate distance race ever,” Jones said. “I just wanted to ski hard and pick a pace up those hills I could maintain. I was pretty sure the girl behind me [France’s Coraline Thomas Hugue] was going to catch me, so I just tried to stay with her for as long as possible.”
While Hugue had a career-best day of her own in 12th, Jones said this race would go down as one she’d remember — and likely her last international race.
“This was my final World Champs, probably my final international ski race,” she said. “After last year, I just kind of wanted to give it another shot, and it has been a good year in a lot of ways — I have been really healthy, more than I have been in the past. I think these last few distance races, too, I have surprised myself a little bit even though they weren’t in the plans.
“This is the first time this week that I skied with teammates, so it is really nice to have the other girls here and for us all to come to the start line together and to have a teammate to hug at the finish line,” Jones added. “It has been a great year and I think there are lots of good ladies coming up and it has been fun to spend a year with them and hopefully pass some things on.”
In her first World Championships, Bouffard-Nesbitt, of Rocky Mountain Racers, placed 52nd, 4:05.4 behind the winner.
“Today was just a really cool experience,” she wrote in an email. “I was loving every second of it. The fans, the atmosphere, the location, the conditions, so many things that made today amazing and memorable.”
Less than three weeks ago, Bouffard-Nesbitt earned her spot on Canada’s World Championships team with a 12th-place finish in the skiathlon at U23 World Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Coming off that performance, she came down with a long-lasting cold.
“The race itself wasn’t great,” Bouffard-Nesbitt wrote of Tuesday’s race. “My movements were lacking power, and I didn’t feel that race fitness that generally leads to good races. I was missing that ability to really push, my body just wasn’t really doing it today.”
She hoped the effort would be good preparation for Saturday’s 30 k classic mass start.
“I was dealing with pretty low energy and a cold last week, but I’ve bounced back from that and am healthy now,” the 22 year old wrote. “I’m not upset about my race. I just raced my first ever World Champs and I’m totally psyched about that. There isn’t much that can take away from how amazing it was to be on the start line! And there was so much to be stoked about today too.
“Today wasn’t about me. I raced, and I was super pumped about being in the race, but I was also super excited for [American medalists] Jessie [Diggins] and Caitlin [Gregg] who had just mind blowing performances, and for Emily having her second top 30 of the year!” Bouffard-Nesbitt added. “It was a pretty great day!”
With three women at World Championships, Canada will not field a relay for Thursday’s 4 x 5 k team event. Instead, Nishikawa and Bouffard-Nesbitt will likely focus on the final race in Falun: the 30 k classic on Saturday.
— Lander Karath and Matt Voisin contributed reporting