Comp Canada: Haywood Ski Nationals
by Julie Melanson
The 2016 Haywood Nordic Ski Nationals, held March 18-26 in Whitehorse, Yukon, had near 500 athletes and 46 Yukon Ski Team athletes competing in the largest event hosted in the Territory. Racing started with the Classic-ski Team Sprint as veteran Canmore, Alta. residents Jesse Cockney and Ivan Babikov of Foothills Nordic won the men's race. Yannick Lapierre and Patrick Stewart-jones from the Nakkertok Club celebrated the silver medal, while Lappe Nordic athletes from Thunder Bay, Ont., Andy Shields and Evan Palmer-charrette, skied to the bronze.
Hometown girls Emily Nishikawa and Kendra Murray stormed to the top of the women's podium. Nakkertok skiers Alexander Slobodian and Claire Grall-johnson finished in second place, while Hardwood Hills athletes Madison Fraser and Isabella Howden rounded out the women's podium in third place.
In the 10km CL Individual Start, Alex Harvey of Saint-ferréol-les-neiges, Que. smashed the men's field, demonstrating that he is still in top shape, winning by nearly 90 seconds. Toronto, Ont.'s Len Valjas skied to the silver medal, while Knute Johnsgaard grabbed the third medal for Whitehorse athletes.
Building on the Team Sprint title, Nishikawa did not disappoint. The hometown crowd who lined the trails saw her capture her second-straight National title, clocking the top time of 14:47.7 in the women's 5km CL race.
“It is so fun to be racing on my home course. It was another great race, and I'm super-happy to win my second gold medal in my hometown. The volunteers are doing an amazing job, and it is a real pleasure to race here,” said Nishikawa. Fellow Whitehorse resident Dahria Beatty had a silver-medal finish, while Katherine Stewart-jones of Chelsea, Que. had a firm grasp on the bronze.
In the men's 15km skate-ski race, Harvey continued his show for Canada's next generation of elite skiers, skiing to his second consecutive National title.
Harvey battled it out with two of his World Cup teammates, with Babikov and Graeme Killick (Fort Mcmurray, Alta.) coming in second and third.
“Of course, we are all a little tired at the end of the season, but I think it is really important for all National Team skiers to come to the championships when the schedule allows,” said Harvey, who had two World Cup podium performances this year.
“I think giving the up-and-coming skiers the opportunity to race against us
shows them the speed and technique they need to be successful internationally. I remember being a junior and juvenile and wanting to compare myself in real life to the top Canadian guys.”
Beatty snagged her first National title in the 10km skate-ski race, finishing ahead of Nishikawa in a battle described by Beatty as a race of “who could suffer the most.” Katherine Stewart-jones skied to her second-straight bronze medal in the women's action.
Beatty and Harvey continued their winning streak in Canada's North in the freestyle sprint. Following a long, competitive season, Beatty somehow discovered another gear to win back-to-back gold medals on the two-lap course for her second-straight victory. She seemed to get stronger as the day progressed, lined up against six of Canada's top female sprinters in the head-to-head women's final of two laps around the 600-metre course that featured one large climb, tight corners and a downhill into the stadium that leads to the uphill finish.
Olivia Bouffard-nesbitt (Morin Heights, Que.) claimed the silver, while Maya Macisaac-jones (Athabasca, Alta.) was third.
It was a clash of the Canadian titans in the men's sprint final. While Valjas was determined to end Harvey's golden run in Whitehorse, Yukon, the duo were matched head-on in the final; but, in the end, it was Harvey securing his third consecutive victory. Julien Locke of Nelson, B.C. skied to the bronze medal.
Nishikawa and Harvey were the big winners as the Haywood Ski Nationals came to a close. The Olympic veterans proved they are the top women's and men's cross-country skiers in the country after smashing the field in the grueling 30km- and 50km Classic-ski races to cap off a long 2015-16 season.
Nishikawa, 26, captured her third gold medal of the week in the women's marathon. The 2014 Olympian led wire-to-wire in the four laps around the track. The hometown girl thrilled the Whitehorse crowd with a golden time of 1:43.12.
“That was a fun way to cap off the season. It has been so great getting the opportunity to race Nationals in Whitehorse,” said Nishikawa. “I had another great race today, and had a lot of fun out there! It has been inspiring watching the up-and-coming racers compete here.”
Cendrine Browne of St-jérôme, Que. was the next best finisher, more than three minutes off the pace. Katherine Stewart-jones continued her steady finish to the season, grabbing her third bronze medal of the week.
Harvey left Whitehorse and the 2015-16 season with a perfect record, having won his first three starts. Working well ahead of the field as a pack of three, Harvey, Killick and Babikov jostled up and down the rolling Whitehorse terrain for the final Canadian Championship crown.
Killick went head to head with Harvey until the finish, but came up a hair short of taking down the leader of the men's team, winning the silver medal. Babikov finished seven seconds off the pace in third.
The nationals also saw Head Coach, Justin Wadsworth, recognized for his contributions as he announced his resignation following Ski Tour Canada. He was one of the most accomplished head coaches in the history of the Canadian National Ski Team with a breakthrough at the 2011 FIS Nordic World Championships while coaching Devon Kershaw and Harvey to historic gold in the team sprint - the first Canadian males