Yukon North Of Ordinary

Sports archive for January 8, 2014

Nishikawa siblings begin Olympic pursuit

The Yukon’s top two international athletes began the most important race period of their careers today in Canmore, Alta.

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RACING TOWARDS SOCHI – Whitehorse cross-country skier Emily Nishikawa, right, and her brother Graham will attempt to bring a Yukon presence to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The Olympic trials began today. Photo courtesy SHELLEY PEACHELL PHOTOGRAPHY

The Yukon’s top two international athletes began the most important race period of their careers today in Canmore, Alta.

Ski siblings Graham and Emily Nishikawa are hoping their race results this week propel them onto the Canadian Olympic Team.

Representing Canada at the Olympics has been a childhood dream for the two skiers who grew up in the Riverdale neighbourhood of the Yukon’s capital city.

The next five days will be one of the most significant blocks of racing for Canadian skiers for the season, and the next four years.

The Haywood NorAms and Buff sprints in Canmore will serve as the final selection races for Team Canada, and it is expected that two male and two female skiers will be chosen from this week’s trials – one sprint racer and one long distance skier.

To date, three women and four men have met the Olympic standards. A minimum of four men and four women will head to Sochi to represent Canada, with a maximum team size of 12.

The Nishikawa siblings appear to be in excellent form heading into the trials.

“I’m feeling great. I’m just so excited to start racing tomorrow,” Emily Nishikawa told the Star yesterday. “I’m going to go out there and do my best and we’ll see what happens.”

The 24-year-old said despite the enormity of the races, she will do her best to focus on technique and form rather than the selection process.

“That’s all I can do,” she said of the potential to join Team Canada in Sochi. “The distance races are definitely my focus. That being said, I will race the sprints as well. Anything can happen, but I’m stronger in distance racing for sure.

“Both Graham and I have had a good start to the season and I think we’re both in great shape right now,” Emily added.

“I think this is a great opportunity for us. It’s so exciting and I think it’s pretty cool that we both have this opportunity. We’re both healthy and happy and ready to go.”

Graham Nishikawa, 30, could not be reached for this story.

The trials will include two sprint races today and Saturday, and two distance races Thursday and Sunday. The Olympic roster will be fleshed out using a combination of distance results, and sprint results.

This morning, Graham finished third in the A final of the men’s sprint in 3:36.25, less than one second behind leader Bob Thompson. Emily (3:19.60) was fifth in the women’s A final.

Yukon ski coach Alain Masson said that if the Nishikawas are successful, they will become the first Winter Olympic athletes to represent the Yukon in 22 years.

“It would be huge,” Masson said. “We’ve only had a couple of skiers qualify for the Winter Olympics, and that was more than 20 years ago. And that was the first time ever, so basically we haven’t had anybody for 22 years. Just that in itself would be a huge achievement. If we had one or we had two – it would be phenomenal.”

If Graham Nishikawa cracks the Winter Olympics roster, he would be the first Yukon male in history to do so, said Masson.

Masson’s wife, Lucy Steele, and Jane Vincent were the last Yukoners to compete at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.

Masson said the Nishikawa siblings appear to be relaxed and confident heading into the trials.

“So far, so good,” the coach said. “They’re both feeling well physically and are in a good place mentally.

“I think they have a fairly realistic chance of doing it,” he added. “It always comes down to whoever can do it on the day, but I think they have as good a chance as anybody.”

Alongside the Nishikawas, Yukon Elite Squad member Colin Abbott is also competing in the Olympic trials while Knute Johnsgaard is hoping his results push him onto the team that will compete at the FIS Nordic Junior and U-23 World Ski Championships taking place in Val di Fiemme, Italy Jan. 29 to Feb. 3.

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