MONT SAINTE-ANNE, Québec –Anyone trying to follow the women’s 10-kilometer freestyle individual start at Canadian Ski Nationals on Tuesday might have found the live splits a little confusing.
Emily Nishikawa led at 5 k. No wait, Perianne Jones did. Ragnhild Haga sat in second, but Alysson Marshall later bumped her from that spot.
Randomized seeding put some of the closest competitors considerably far apart on the start list, making it difficult to determine where athletes ranked until most of the 110-person field finished.
The sixth starter, Nishikawa preferred to have it all behind her anyway. Without any backsplits on Jones, Marshall and several others, the 22-year-old Alberta World Cup Academy skier focused on the task ahead.
A day after placing third in the 5 k classic sprint, Nishikawa won the 10 k in 32:02.5 for her first outright national title. Last year, she was the top Canadian in the 5 k skate at nationals, but this time, the overall gold was hers.
“I just wanted to go for it,” Nishikawa said. “I knew I had the potential to win so I just said, ‘Hey, give it a shot. Let’s see what happens.’ ”
Throughout the season, Nishikawa frequently talked about skiing her own race and never looking back. All that practice materialized into several NorAm victories and a trip to the U23 World Championships, where she had a best result of 17th in the 10 k classic.
Perhaps most importantly, it paid off at nationals. Her Academy teammates and NorAm rival, Marshall finished 0.5 seconds behind in second. Haga of Norway was third (+8.1) and Jones finished fourth (+11.0).
“I pushed as hard as I could for the whole race,” Nishikawa said. “I was gaining ground after the first lap so I was like, ‘OK, hold this for as long as I can,’ and I made it to the finish.”
At the halfway point, Jones led Nishikawa by 2.9 seconds in first. Haga, who flew into Québec City with several Norwegians and the Canadian National Ski Team late Monday night, was 4.7 seconds back in third. Marshall was almost six seconds behind her in fourth.
On the second lap, things got interesting.
Jones said she faded largely as a result of the extreme heat, which soared to almost 20 degrees Celsius (61 Fahrenheit) on Tuesday afternoon.
“I was pushing so hard but I was so hot, I’ve never experienced anything like that,” Jones said. “It just got slower and slower or maybe I just got more tired and more tired, I don’t know. It really makes you appreciate minus 15.”
The fact that Nishikawa and Marshall fared so well was a great sign for them, Jones said. She was looking forward to training with them in the summer in Canmore, Alberta, where both the World Cup Academy and National Ski Team are based.
Marshall hadn’t been sold on racing Tuesday after flying in with the national team late Monday night. Upon wrapping up her international season at the World Cup Finals a few days ago, she was ready for some recovery time.
“This morning I decided that if I felt good in the warmup then I would race,” Marshall said. “I felt OK warming up, not amazing, but good enough and decided to just go for it.”
She skied the first lap conservatively to get a feel for conditions and later decided it was time to go.
“I was still feeling good so I pushed the pace,” Marshall said. “Died a little bit on the last couple kilometers, but managed to hold on.”
In her first trip to Canada, Haga said the warm conditions reminded her of when she used to do orienteering races in the summer.
“It was a tough race, really slow,” said Haga, 21, who competed in a few World Cup races this season. “I had two [Norwegian] coaches out there so they told me I was second or something on the first lap and I was quite close in the end. I did all I could, but I was quite happy with third.”
She had hoped for the top five in her first race at Canadian nationals, but wasn’t sure about expectations after the longest flight of her life. Haga said she was looking forward to seeing more of Canada on Wednesday as an off day.
“This is the first I’ve seen of Canada,” Haga said.
Rounding out the top 10, Caitlin Patterson (University of Vermont) was fifth, and Jaqueline Mourao (Brazil) placed sixth.
Chandra Crawford (CNST) was seventh in her first race back after flying in on Monday, Britt Ingunn Nydal (NOR) was eighth, Amy Glen (UVM) finished ninth and Maya MacIsaac-Jones (Rocky Mountain Racers) was 10th.