Canada Na­tional Team Pre­view

SkiTrax - - Contents - By Gavin Shields

by Gavin Shields

The 2015-16 World Cup sea­son will be a spe­cial one for Canada's Na­tional Ski Team. Sig­nif­i­cant, not be­cause of where it be­gins – in Ruka, Fin­land on Nov. 27-29 – but rather be­cause of where it ends . . . in North Amer­ica with Ski Tour Canada 2016 on March 1-12.

The prospect of cap­ping off the 2015-16 World Cup sea­son with eight races on home snow – in Que­bec's Gatineau, Mon­treal, Que­bec City and in Can­more, Alta. – prom­ises to be a high­light for both North Amer­i­can teams and spec­ta­tors alike.

Cana­dian Head Coach Justin Wadsworth made it clear, say­ing, “This year, ev­ery­thing goes into the Ski Tour Canada – ba­si­cally it's our World Cham­pi­onships.”

Cross Coun­try Canada (CCC) High-per­for­mance Di­rec­tor Tom Hol­land echoed those sen­ti­ments: “In or­der to pre­pare and be rested for Ski Tour Canada, the team will skip the World Cup in Lahti, Fin­land, Feb. 20-21. A train­ing camp [at al­ti­tude] will be held in Can­more, and fol­low­ing this, they'll swing back to Gatineau for the start of the Tour across the river from Par­lia­ment Hill.

“Our tar­get for this event is three podi­ums,” Hol­land con­tin­ued. “We also have a goal of hav­ing one ath­lete in the top six or higher in the over­all World Cup rank­ing.”

Fur­ther­more, Ski Tour Canada opens up in­ter­est­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for top­tier do­mes­tic skiers with a quota of 14 male and 12 fe­male starts. Cana­dian skiers will be itch­ing to hit the snow come March 2016 to gain World Cup ex­pe­ri­ence and to garner re­sults good enough to move them onto the Na­tional Ski Team.

To the list of Team goals, Hol­land added, “We would also like to achieve five top-30 re­sults in this Tour from non-world-cup-team ath­letes.”

Team Out­look

The se­nior World Cup team com­prised of Alex Har­vey, Devon Ker­shaw, Ivan Babikov and Len Val­jas will be joined by Emily Nishikawa, Graeme Kil­lick and Jesse Cock­ney. Last sea­son's No­ram leader, Michael Somppi, will also race dur­ing Pe­riod One.

Har­vey has proven to be one of the top cross-coun­try skiers in the world, and af­ter a suc­cess­ful leg surgery in the spring, his train­ing is re­port­edly go­ing bet­ter than ever. He is primed for the 2015-16 sea­son, which will cli­max with home­town sup­port, par­tic­u­larly in Que­bec City. If Har­vey is sit­ting in con­tention for the over­all World Cup ti­tle, it could be a colos­sal sea­son end for Canada and a huge boost for the sport across the coun­try.

While Har­vey is the tip of the spear, Wadsworth is hop­ing other ath­letes shine as well, say­ing, “I re­ally want to get mul­ti­ple ath­letes on the podium again. Last year, we only had Alex.”

The task of get­ting more in­ter­na­tional re­sults lies with Na­tional Ski Team coaches Wadsworth and Louis Bouchard. Ac­cord­ing to Hol­land, “Tor-arne Het­land's [from Nor­way] one-year coach­ing con­tract last sea­son served as a good pro­gram stim­u­lus and brought some de­sired en­ergy to help us meet our ob­jec­tive of podium suc­cess.”

Ker­shaw, 32 and Babikov, 35, are World Cup vet­er­ans, and Wadsworth aims to cap­i­tal­ize on their ex­pe­ri­ence while op­ti­miz­ing their train­ing to get them back into the top-20 con­sis­tently and hope­fully onto the podium.

“Both [Devon and Ivan] have so much base work un­der their belts from over the years that they don't have to keep pump­ing out huge hours like the younger ath­letes. I think we re­al­ize some of the mis­takes we made last year, and we're ready to learn and move for­ward to get them back on the podium where they both be­long.”

The next gen­er­a­tion of 26-year-olds – Val­jas, Kil­lick and Cock­ney – has shown real prom­ise. Val­jas, al­ready a World Cup medal­ist, is now into his sec­ond sea­son of in­jury-free train­ing. Kil­lick had a su­perb 19th-place fin­ish in the men's 50km CL at Falun last win­ter, while Cock­ney shocked ev­ery­one with a sec­ond-place qual­i­fi­ca­tion time in the skate sprint at the World Cup in Can­more back in 2012.

“We're all train­ing to­gether as a team,” says Wadsworth. “Ivan and Devon were a big part of get­ting Lenny on the podium [in 2012 and 2013]. And now, Ivan has been train­ing a lot with Graeme, and he has a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence he can pass along.” Wadsworth pre­dicts Kil­lick is ready to take a ma­jor step

for­ward in his ski ca­reer. “Over­all, our team just needs to be strong and keep work­ing to­gether. I'm re­ally pleased with where ev­ery­body's at,” he added.

Re­build­ing the Women's Team

With Pe­ri­anne Jones re­tir­ing at the end of last sea­son, which fol­lowed the loss of Chan­dra Craw­ford and Daria Ga­ia­zova the pre­vi­ous year, the 2015/16 sea­son sig­nals an im­por­tant time in re­build­ing the women's team.

Canada was once a pow­er­house in woman's cross-coun­try ski­ing, with Becky Scott and Sara Ren­ner lead­ing the charge, but times have changed, as the men's team has moved into the spot­light.

“CCC is mak­ing sure the op­por­tu­ni­ties are there. If you look at our de­vel­op­ment team, it's weighted very heav­ily to the women's side,” says Wadsworth.

One such ini­tia­tive put forth this year was a women's-only train­ing camp held at Mont-ste-anne, Que. over the sum­mer. World Cup Academy Coach Pavlina Su­drich elab­o­rated: “The re­cent Na­tional Women's Team camp in Que­bec re­minded us that Canada has a strong co­hort of pas­sion­ate and ded­i­cated fe­male skiers from ju­ve­nile all the way to se­nior.”

Su­drich con­tends that Nishikawa, Canada's top fe­male skier, had her best World Cup sea­son last year. “She broke into the top 30 and posted a ca­reer-best 23rd-place re­sult in Lahti,” she com­mented. “This sea­son, Nishikawa aims to break into the top 15.”

Su­drich is also con­fi­dent about Na­tional Ski Team ath­letes such as Dahria Beatty, Cen­drine Brown, Olivia Bouf­fard-nes­bitt and Kather­ine Ste­wart-jones, who are de­vel­op­ing into World-cup-cal­i­bre ath­letes.

In Jan­uary, they will get their first taste of rac­ing abroad with the B Tour, along with some Pe­riod Two and Pe­riod Three World Cup starts. “What CCC is also try­ing to bal­ance is mak­ing sure the women who do have World Cup starts are pre­pared enough to make it a pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence,” Su­drich ex­plained.

Wadsworth knows that Canada can't com­pare num­bers yet with the U.S. or Nor­way. “We have ath­letes who can do it, but it's not go­ing to hap­pen over- night. We re­ally need a group of skiers who want to bond and work to­gether and be in it for the long term . . . then we'll have a woman's team.”

Wadsworth and Su­drich are op­ti­mistic and ex­cited to be a part of the process, while agree­ing that to break through in­ter­na­tion­ally is largely a mat­ter of con­fi­dence for younger ath­letes who of­ten aren't ex­posed to com­pe­ti­tion against the best ath­letes in the world. “It's clear the CCC has rec­og­nized and iden­ti­fied that Cana­di­ans don't get to race against fast-enough skiers do­mes­ti­cally, and we are work­ing to change that.”

That's why Ski Tour Canada at the end of the sea­son is so im­por­tant, and as Wadsworth says, “We need to have lots of skiers there, with lots of op­por­tu­ni­ties, and to work hard to cap­i­tal­ize on it.”

Race Sched­ule

The World Cup opener be­gins in Ruka on Nov. 27-29 with four stops un­til the 10th an­nual Tour de Ski that runs from Jan. 1-10. Pe­riod Three starts with the sprints in Nor­way on Feb. 3, with Lahti, Fin­land on Feb. 20-21 the last stop be­fore the Ski Tour Canada fi­nale from March 1-12.

On the do­mes­tic front, Cana­dian skiers open their sea­son at the U.S. Su­per­Tour in West Yel­low­stone, Mont. on Nov. 27-28, while in Canada, the Hay­wood No­ram Se­ries gets un­der­way in Can­more on Dec. 5-8 and makes one more stop in Sov­er­eign Lake, B.C. on Dec. 12-13 be­fore the Christ­mas break.

Some Cana­di­ans will at­tend the U.S. Na­tion­als in Houghton, Mich. on Jan. 3-10, then Lappe Nordic hosts the World Ju­nior/un­der 23 Tri­als in Thun­der Bay, Ont. on Jan. 14-17. The Hay­wood No­ram Se­ries vis­its Mont-ste-anne on Jan. 30-31, fol­lowed by the Eastern Cana­dian Cham­pi­onships in Cant­ley, Que. on Feb. 5-7.

The Western Cana­dian Cham­pi­onships take place in Prince Ge­orge, B.C. on Feb. 18-21 and then it's off to the FIS Nordic Ju­nior/u23 World Ski Cham­pi­onships in Ro­ma­nia on Feb. 23-28. Fi­nally, the do­mes­tic cy­cle comes to a close in White­horse, Yukon with the 2016 Hay­wood Ski Na­tional Cham­pi­onships on March 19-26.

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