Whitehorse Olympian Emily Nishikawa didn’t qualify for the top 30 finalists in the individual sprint classic ski race in Pyeongchang.
She was not far off.
A finish like that in the sprint race is a positive indication of how she might do in the 10-kilometre free event later today, says Whitehorse cross country ski coach Alain Masson.
“The fact that Emily did that well in the sprint is a really good indication of Emily’s fitness,” said the former three-time Olympian who’s coached all four of the Whitehorse skiers representing Canada in South Korea. “So it (the 10-km) could be a really good opportunity for Emily.”
Masson said in the world of cross country skiing, nobody is under any illusions.
Skiers who don’t normally medal, who don’t normally contend with the top skiers, don’t suddenly sprint from the back of the pack to take on the world’s fastest. It just doesn’t happen that way, he said.
He said the 10-km free is one of Nishikawa’s best chances to do well in Pyeongchang, as it was one her stronger events in the World Cup races.
“Cracking the top 20 for her would be like a gold metal,” he said.
Nishikawa, skiing in her second Olympics, finished the sprint in 34th on Monday, and was 44th in the 15-kilometre skiathlon on Saturday.
Nishikawa, Dahria Beatty and Knute Johnsgaard are in Pyeongchang as members of Canada’s Olympic team.
Graham Nishikawa, Emily’s brother, will again be part of the Paralympics next month as a guide for cross country skier Brian McKeever who is visually impaired. The pair won three gold medals at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. The Pyeongchang Paralympics begin March 9.
Beatty finished the skiatlon on Saturday in 52nd and was 42nd in the sprint Monday.
“Dahria was hoping to crack the top 30 in the individual sprint because that would have been her best chance of doing so,” Masson said, noting he talked to her last week. “She is a bit of a sprint specialist. All of her top 30 in the World Cup so far have been in the sprint.”
Beatty is also penciled in for today’s 10-km.
The Whitehorse coach said there’s a chance Nishikawa and Beatty will be paired up to represent Canada next week in the team sprint event in which the skiers alternate laps with each will skiing three laps of 1.2 kilometres.
Canada has four women skiers in Pyeongchang, so all will participate in the 4x5-km relay event Saturday, Masson pointed out.
He said the road ahead at the Olympics is a little more uncertain for Whitehorse’s Knute Johnsgaard, who did not qualify Saturday in the top 30 for the finals in the men’s 30-kilometre skiathlon when he finished 62nd.
Masson pointed out Johnsgaard’s strength in the World Cup series has also been as a sprinter but he wasn’t selected for yesterday’s men’s individual sprint classic race. Canada has seven men in South Korea, and only four from each country can enter each event so it’s not likely Johnsgaard will be in the team sprint or team relay races, but perhaps he’ll be in next week’s 50-kilometre event, he said.
“That would be my way of think,” said Masson, noting the national team has not yet announced who will be skiing for Canada in those events. “But who knows, anything can happen and things can change quickly but we will see.”
Masson first represented Canada at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 as a cyclist. In 1988, he wore the flag at the Calgary Winter Olympics as a cross country skier and again as a skier at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France.
Masson went to five more Winter Olympics as a wax technician for the cross country team – 1994 in Lillehammer Norway, 2002 in Salt Lake City, U.S., 2006 in Turin, Italy, 2010 in Vancouver, and 2014 in Sochi.
Prior to two years ago, Team Canada had a full-time staff of four or five waxers and every Olympics they’d contract two or three other waxers to help out, including Masson.
He said the team has increased its full-time staff by two of three in the last couple of years so there is no longer any need to contract waxers for the Olympics.
“I would have loved to go but I totally understand that having full-time staff is a better option for the team,” Masson said. “The staff really know the athletes and the equipment.”