Team Canada Takes on the World

2016/17 Sea­son Pre­view

SkiTrax - - Racing Competition - By Gavin Shields

Fol­low­ing last year's suc­cess­ful Ski Tour Canada, the fo­cus for the 2016-17 ski sea­son for Cross Coun­try Canada (CCC) and the Na­tional ski team is the FIS World Cham­pi­onships in Lahti, Fin­land on Feb. 21-March 5. Plan­ning for the 2018 Win­ter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea is also part of the team's strat­egy.

The men's World Cup team of Alex Har­vey, Devon Ker­shaw, Len Val­jas, Jesse Cock­ney and Graeme Kil­lick is truly a se­nior squad with age and ex­pe­ri­ence. On the flip­side, the woman's team, led by vet­eran Emily Nishikawa, fea­tures a much younger crew. The se­nior devel­op­ment team in­cludes Cen­drine Browne, Dahria Beatty, Olivia Bouf­fard-nes­bitt, Maya Macisaac-jones and Kather­ine Ste­wart-jones, all hop­ing to be­come reg­u­lars on the World Cup af­ter ac­quir­ing ex­po­sure and ex­pe­ri­ence at last win­ter's Ski Tour Canada.

CCC'S high-per­for­mance di­rec­tor, Tom Hol­land, has high ex­pec­ta­tions, cit­ing its ob­jec­tives: “Six podi­ums, three ath­letes with top-10 re­sults and a top-five re­lay re­sult for the men.” He sees a “podium at the Se­nior World Cham­pi­onships” as a “pri­or­ity per­for­mance target” and adds, “we would also like to see four top-10's at this event, with some devel­op­ment-team ath­letes in the top 30.”

To achieve these goals, CCC has re­placed re­tired Head Coach Justin Wadsworth with vet­eran racer Ivan Babikov, who will share coach­ing du­ties with Louis Bouchard, Har­vey's long-time coach and head coach of CENPH Na­tional Train­ing Cen­tre, along with Chris Jef­feries of the Al­berta World Cup Academy.

The new col­lab­o­ra­tive coach­ing struc­ture must have “on­go­ing and con­sis­tent com­mu­ni­ca­tion, both in pro­gram plan­ning and ex­e­cu­tion,” notes Hol­land. Bouchard agrees that it is a dif­fer­ent ap­proach. “We don't leave ev­ery­thing to one per­son. We just split the work to­gether. It's more like team­work. It's dif­fer­ent than a head coach do­ing ev­ery­thing.”

Babikov, based in Can­more, Alta., con­curs: “I think it's a re­ally good way to work – the three of us will each cover a lit­tle sec­tion across Canada.”

Bouchard will over­see the East and work with Har­vey, while Babikov man­ages the reins in the West with the rest of the men's Na­tional team, and Jef­feries will pri­mar­ily work with the woman's team and the World Cup Academy.

Babikov is lov­ing his new role with the team. “It's my new pas­sion,” he quips, and as an Elite World Cup racer, he helps to keep things grounded, while Bouchard sug­gests “the ath­letes take more de­ci­sions on them­selves. They know how to do it and how to be good. We just need to get them work­ing to­gether.” Early re­ports suggest that the men's team is train­ing well to­gether and in good shape go­ing into this sea­son.

An­other key piece to the puz­zle, Bouchard adds, is the lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenge of spend­ing a rac­ing sea­son over­seas in Europe. “Right now, we have a man­ager on the World Cup [Joel Jaques], so it makes ev­ery­thing eas­ier. I talked about that a long time ago – when you have a man­ager on the ground in Europe, it's eas­ier for all the coaches.”

Build­ing the Fu­ture

On the do­mes­tic front, build­ing the fu­ture of the Na­tional ski team re­mains an ever-present chal­lenge for Cross Coun­try Canada as World Cup rac­ing takes place in Europe.

With Ski Tour Canada paving the way, Babikov hopes Cana­dian skiers can build on the mo­men­tum. “It's ex­actly what the sport needed here. When you have a home World Cup, there's way less pressure with [its] min­i­mal travel and fa­mil­iar sur­round­ing. It was a great op­por­tu­nity for the younger guys and fans to see such top rac­ing up close.”

An­other op­por­tu­nity for young Cana­dian skiers this year is the FIS Ju­nior/ U23 World Cham­pi­onships at Sol­dier Hol­low, Utah from Jan. 30-Feb. 5. Hol­land be­lieves this event of­fers some im­por­tant op­por­tu­ni­ties and tar­gets for the team, “. . . es­pe­cially for our women . . . . Two top-12 re­sults and two ad­di­tional top-12 to [top-] 20 re­sults at this event.”

Fur­ther­more, two sprint spots are up for grabs for the First Pe­riod of the World Cups in Europe that will be de­cided at the Frozen Thun­der sprints on Nov. 1-3. Hol­land ex­plains, “Amongst the male sprint­ers in Canada, there are a lack of sprint starts – they need more races each sea­son (12-14 sprint starts). Given that we have a larger 2016-17 quota (males: six ver­sus four last year), this group of sprint­ers has an equal op­por­tu­nity for the ad­di­tional starts.”

Babikov notes the devel­op­ment pipe­line needs at­ten­tion: “It is a tough time and a chal­lenge, of course, but hope­fully with the new coach­ing struc­ture and work­ing to­gether, we can bring some of the younger guys' lev­els up to be com­pet­i­tive at the world level.”

Bouchard be­lieves clubs will play a key part in the long-term picture. “The only so­lu­tion to pro­duce the next gen­er­a­tion of skiers is not just good train­ing cen­tres – ski clubs are su­per-im­por­tant and probably the big­gest part of the sys­tem. We have to work re­ally closely with clubs for train­ing and com­pe­ti­tions. We need good train­ing cen­tres, but if the clubs aren't part of the equa­tion, you're not there. We need to close the gap be­tween the clubs and train­ing cen­tres.”

Race Sched­ule

The World Cup cir­cuit will be a sim­i­lar sched­ule to years pre­vi­ous. Pe­riod One starts in Scan­di­navia, first in Ruka, Fin­land on Nov. 26-27, then to Lille­ham­mer, Nor­way on Dec. 2-4, fol­lowed by stops skip­ping across Europe in Davos, Switzer­land on Dec. 12-13 and La Clusaz, France on Dec. 17-18.

The Tour de Ski kicks off World Cup Pe­riod Two af­ter Christ­mas and vis­its venues in Switzer­land, Ger­many and Italy from Dec. 31, 2016 through Jan. 8, 2017. Fe­bru­ary pro­vides a pre­view of the Olympic venue in Pyeongchang.

Pe­riod Three cu­mu­lates with Se­nior World Cham­pi­onships on Feb. 21-Mar. 5 in Lahti. Pe­riod Four of the World Cup is back in Nor­way for the Dram­men sprints on March 8 in Oslo March 11-12.

Then the World Cup fi­nal is con­tro­ver­sially sched­uled to take place in Tyu­men, Rus­sia on March 16-19.

In North America, the pre-christ­mas do­mes­tic cir­cuit kicks off with the USSA Su­per­tour in Boze­man, Mont. on Dec. 3-4, 2016. The Hay­wood No­ram then be­gins in Ver­non, B.C. at Sov­er­eign Lake on Dec. 1011, 2016, and stops in Ross­land, B.C. at the Black Jack Ski Club from Dec. 16-18, 2016.

Cana­dian World Ju­nior/u23 Tri­als pick up af­ter the Christ­mas break and will be held in con­junc­tion with U.S. Na­tion­als on Jan. 7-10, 2017 in Park City, Utah at Sol­dier Hol­low. The same venue will then host the 2017 Nordic Ju­nior/ U23 World Ski Cham­pi­onships two weeks later from Jan. 30-Feb. 5, 2017.

Mean­while, the Hay­wood No­ram con­tin­ues with Western Cana­di­ans on Jan. 20-22, 2017 in Whistler, B.C. in the Cal­laghan Valley. It's then to the Hay­wood No­ram East­ern's to be held on Feb. 3-5, 2017 in Cant­ley, Que. – this year with the prom­ise of good snow con­di­tions af­ter Nakker­tok Nordic won Kraft's Project Play $250,000 grand prize, which will go to­ward snow­mak­ing.

Fi­nally, the 2017 sea­son fin­ishes off with Ski Na­tion­als at Can­more Nordic Cen­tre on March 18-25 and the USSA Su­per­tour finals from March 27-April 2 in Fair­banks, Alaska.

Team Canada 2017: (back row l-r): Len Val­jas, Julien Locke, Jesse Cock­ney, Graeme Kil­lick, Chris Jef­fries (coach); (front row l-r): Dahria Beatty, Maya Macisaac-jones, Emily Nishikawa, Knute Johns­gaard, Ivan Babikov (coach)

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