The Haywood Ski Nationals held in Canmore, Alta. from March 21-25 took place in cooler temperatures with bright blue skies. Retired National biathlon team member Zina Kocher of Rocky Mountain Racers won the Open Women's 5km race, followed by Jenn Jackson of Lappe Nordic in second.
“I missed the excitement of racing,” said Kocher. “I haven't raced in Nationals since they were in Whistler. I thought they were holding them here, so why not.” Kocher says she has kept in shape: “I want to race, but I don't miss the lactate pain,” she added.
Third went to Sun Valley's Deedra Irwin (USA), while the third-best Canadian was Ontario's Isabella Howden of Team Hardwood.
For the men, the University of Denver did well, with German racer Moritz Madlener grabbing the win by six seconds over Whitehorse Ski Club's Graham Nishikawa, who was crowned the Canadian champion. Third went to Norwegian Eivind Romberg Kvaale, also of the University of Denver, with Jack Carlyle of Soo Finnish coming in next as the second-best Canadian, with Lappe's Michael Somppi fifth overall and the next-best Canadian.
In the junior women's race, Hannah Mehain of Sovereign Lake Nordic claimed the top spot, followed by Zoe Williams of Nakkertok and Darya Sepandj of Foothills Nordic. In the junior men's competition, the Godfrey twins, Ty and Reed, gave Canmore first and second on the podium, with Skinouk's Antoine Cyr in third.
Emily Nishikawa (Nst/whitehorse Ski Club) and Devon Kershaw (NST/ Onaping Falls Nordic) battled through incredibly difficult conditions to climb onto the top of the women's and men's podiums in the 10km/15km Classic-ski interval-start races.
Fresh off competing at the World Cup finals in Quebec City, the two veterans of the National Ski Team handily won their first National titles of 2017.
“It was so hard, hot and the conditions were vicious,” said Kershaw. “I cramped up with five kilometres to go. It was a really hard day, but this is my home. I love Canmore and I think it is important for the kids to see that even after a hard World Cup season, you should come and support the National Championships.”
Winning the men's 15km race, Kershaw shared the podium with two American skiers from the University of Denver. Dag Frode Trolleboe was second, while Madlener skied to the bronze. Graeme Killick (Ptarmigan Nordic/awca) of Fort Mcmurray, Alta. was the second best Canuck, while Davis Palmer from the Black Jack Ski Club clocked the third-best Canadian time.
Emily Nishikawa showed her Whitehorse strength again, winning the women's 10km Classic-ski race. American Mary Rose (Sun Valley SEF) posted the second-fastest time, while Katherine Stewart-jones (Nakkertok Nordique) of Chelsea, Que. was the next-best Canadian, finishing third overall. Quebec City's Frederique Vezina (CNEPH) was the third-best Canadian in the women's field.
Emily Nishikawa and Lappe Nordic's Evan Palmer-charrette went on to celebrate National titles in the Buff Canada sprint races. Emily Nishikawa left little doubt she is the woman to beat in Canada after sprinting to her second-straight National title in the 1.3km Classic competition.
After qualifying third for the round of 30 in the head-to-head heats, the 27-year-old was on a mission for gold while leading the country up and down the steep hills of the Canmore Nordic Centre. Emily Nishikawa cruised through her opening two heats before topping her rivals in the final.
“It was another great day. The conditions got slower and slower as the day went on. I really was just trying not to get tripped up in the deep snow, but I'm so honoured and thrilled to win,” said Emily Nishikawa. “I am so excited and so exhausted. This is my fifth race in six days. It has been a lot, but I couldn't be happier. There has been so many highlights of the season, and to finish it here in Canmore with two National titles is pretty exciting.”
Emily Nishikawa opened a sizable lead on the 2016 women's sprint champion and fellow Whitehorse, Yukon resident Dahria Beatty (Whitehorse Ski Club), who battled to a silver medal. Stewart-jones locked up the bronze.
Later in the day, Palmer-charrette of Thunder Bay, Ont. was crowned Canadian champion after placing third in the men's race as the top Canadian. Germany's Madlener was first to cross the line, while his fellow University of
Denver teammate from Norway, Trolleboe, finished second.
Antoine Briand from Skibec was the second-best Canadian male, while Whitehorse's Knute Johnsgaard (AWCA) was the third-best Canuck.
Vancouver's Annika Richardson (Hollyburn Ski Club) handily won the junior women's sprint event, while Etienne Hebert (Montériski, QCST), and a member of Canada's Junior World Championship team, was crowned junior men's sprint champion.
Emily Nishikawa and Killick became the champions of the cross-country ski marathon as the season came to a close. The Olympic veterans proved they were the top women's and men's cross-country skiers in the field after grinding through the challenging 30km and 50km skate-ski races.
Emily Nishikawa controlled the pace with Kocher, up and down the punishing hills at the world-renowned Canmore Nordic Centre until the final three kilometres, where Nishikawa opened a 47-second lead on Kocher, who took home the silver medal. Vezina won the race for the bronze medal.
“Canmore is one of the toughest places to race. The hills are relentless, and it suits my skiing,” said Emily Nishikawa. “I attacked on the wall of the last lap, which is the toughest part of the course. I just went for it, and didn't look back.”
In the men's, Killick won his first 50km skate-ski distance race at the National Championships. The 28-year-old persevered in a battle to the finish line over the seven-lap course just edging out Lappe Nordic's Andy Shields in a sprint to the line. Michael Somppi, also with Lappe Nordic out of Thunder Bay, Ont., put in a strong effort for the bronze.
Gareth Williams (Telemark Nordic/bcst) of Kelowna, B.C. led the junior men's 30km skate-ski race. Feeding off the experience gained competing in the past weekend's World Cup finals in Quebec City, the member of Telemark Nordic stomped the field to capture the junior title.
Richardson captured back-to-back titles in the junior women's division. Lisle Compton of Kenora Nordic also reached the podium for the second straight race – this time winning the silver medal.