2017 Canadian Ski Nationals (Canmore, Alberta): 30/50 k freestyle mass start
On the final day of racing at 2017 Canadian Ski Nationals, the men’s 50-kilometre freestyle mass start came down to a two-way battle for first and the women’s 30 k win went to the champion of two other individual races this week — Emily Nishikawa — on Saturday at the Canmore Nordic Centre.
Graeme Killick, of the Canadian World Cup Team, outlasted Andy Shields (Lappe Nordic) by 0.22 seconds at the line to win his first national title at that distance in 1:56:40.21. Shields placed second and Michael Somppi (NTDC Thunder Bay) finished another 6.28 seconds back in third.
“I’m super happy to get a 50 k win. That’s something that’s been a big goal of mine,” Killick, 28, told FasterSkier during an in-person interview. “I didn’t feel so good coming into this week, so I’m just really happy that it worked out today.”
Last year at nationals in Whitehorse, Yukon, he finished second to teammate Alex Harvey in the 50 k classic mass start.
“I don’t think I’ve ever beaten Andy in a sprint. He’s got some speed,” Killick said on Saturday. “I knew it was my only shot. I tried attacking a couple of times and never really had the energy to go away with it, so I just decided to sit in and see what happened. Luckily, Shields had a good attack on the last climb and he pulled us away from third place. It was just between us on the finish. I wasn’t counting on myself in the sprint, for sure.”
The defending champion from last year’s 30 k classic mass start in her hometown of Whitehorse, Nishikawa (World Cup Team) rocketed to a 47.5-second victory over retired biathlete Zina Kocher in Saturday’s 30 k skate. She crossed the finish line first in 1:21:50.2 for her third victory in as many races she’s competed in at this year’s nationals.
“I had three good races this week,” Nishikawa, 27, told FasterSkier. “It was a tough end to the season, but nice to finish on a positive note here. It is incredible to win all three.”
According to a Cross Country Canada (CCC) press release, Nishikawa controlled the pace throughout Saturday’s race with Kocher before accelerating over the last three kilometres.
“Zina was really strong and we were taking turns leading and pushing each other,” Nishikawa said. “Canmore is one of the toughest places to race. The hills are relentless and it suits my skiing. I attacked on the wall of the last lap, which is the toughest part of the course. I was trying to save some energy before that. I just went for it, and didn’t look back.”
While Kocher finished 47.5 seconds back in second, Frédérique Vézina (CNEPH) followed in third (+2:29.81).
“The 30 kilometre is the hardest race all week. It is so tough,” Nishikawa said. “It is such a sense of accomplishment just to cross the line let alone to win, so it feels amazing.”
In the junior men’s 30 k, Gareth Williams (Junior National Ski Team/Telemark Nordic) won by 1 1/2 minutes in 1:23:19.10. Philippe Boucher (Junior NST/CNEPH) placed second (+1:30.98) and Thomas Manktelow (AWCA) reached the podium in third (+3:25.44).
“It was a great experience to learn from the best in the country in Quebec,” Williams told CCC. “It is a big step to get to the next level. It will be a lot of work, but I’m willing to take it on and see how the next couple of years go. I’m really happy with the results here [in Canmore]. It was a really good week.”
Annika Richardson (Junior NST/NTDC Thunder Bay) racked up her second-straight title of the week, after winning Wednesday’s junior sprint, with the women’s 20 k skate victory in 1:04:36.92 on Saturday. Richardson finished 52.09 seconds ahead of her NTDC teammate Lisle Compton in second, and Zoë Williams (Junior NST/Nakkertok) placed third (+1:12.45).
— Gerry Furseth contributed reporting