Yukon North Of Ordinary

Sports archive for January 15, 2014

Nishikawa’s road to Sochi began with gymnastics

Before Emily Nishikawa was a competitive cross-country skier, she was a Polarette.

By Marcel Vander Wier on January 15, 2014 at 2:20 pm


Photo by Whitehorse Star

CELEBRATING EMILY – Selkirk Elementary School’s Grade 6/7 ‘V’ class spent yesterday afternoon working on their ski technique at the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club. New Yukon Olympian Emily Nishikawa is a graduate of both Selkirk and F.H. Collins Secondary School. Photo courtesy CATHY HOEHN

Before Emily Nishikawa was a competitive cross-country skier, she was a Polarette.

Growing up in Riverdale, the newly-minted Yukon Olympian’s first major medals came thanks to her talents on the balance beam, vault and uneven bars.

While Nishikawa first strapped on the skis at age four, she didn’t turn her focus to competitive skiing until she was 14, when she decided to follow in her older brother Graham’s ski tracks.

Yesterday, the now 24-year-old became the first Yukoner in 22 years to be named to Team Canada’s roster for a Winter Olympic Games.

Cat O’Donovan, head coach of the Polarettes Gymnastics Club, said Nishikawa’s success is an inspiration for her current athletes and the territory as a whole.

“I’m so proud of her,” she said today. “She’s very dear to me. It couldn’t have happened to a better person and I can’t think of a better athlete to point my kids to, to be inspired by.”

According to O’Donovan’s recollections, Nishikawa joined the gymnastics program at age eight.

“She was an excellent gymnast,” O’Donovan said. “I remember she racked up quite a few medals at one meet – I think it was in Calgary. She was an incredibly hard worker and she did quite well. I’m glad we got our time with Emily and I’m so proud of where she’s going.

“Gymnastics is just the beginning ... I always tell my athletes there’s so much you can do after the sport. If you work hard, you can set yourself up to take on anything. Emily’s a good example of that.”

O’Donovan, who remains good friends with Nishikawa, said gymnastics serves as a good base for most sports.

“We condition the entire body,” she explained. “Our sport requires total body fitness, so you just create that core base of strength.

“We always tease the cross-country ski team that they send their athletes to us, we make them nice and strong, and then they steal them back,” she laughed. “At one point, I think I had four ex-athletes of mine on the national ski team. It’s all in good jest.”
The reverberations of yesterday’s announcement were also felt at the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club.

“It’s amazing. It’s so exciting,” longtime Yukon ski coach Alain Masson said of Nishikawa’s inclusion on Team Canada. “It’s fantastic because it will be a great inspiration for other athletes coming up, just to see that it’s possible through hard work, dedication and passion.”

Nishikawa began training under the former Olympian 10 years ago.

Until then, Nishikawa had focused mainly on gymnastics, but when she became a teenager, her promise on the ski trails earned her an early nomination to Masson’s competitive ski team.

“When she was 13, she was nominated to the team that I coached – a year earlier than usual,” Masson said, citing Nishikawa’s readiness, talent, and maturity as reasons she made the grade.

“She had success nationally right away,” he recalled. “Being a skier, but also combining competitive gymnastics where they do a lot of training – a lot of it is very muscular – she was very successful in skiing right off the bat.”

Nishikawa’s parents, Bob Nishikawa and Joan Stanton, watched the announcement at their Riverdale home with a group of friends.

“It’s a great day,” Stanton said. “In the last couple of years, Emily’s fitness and strategy ... just everything has come together for her in terms of her ability to race.”

After graduating from F.H. Collins Secondary School, Nishikawa left the territory to continue her training.

“To see her make the leap to the Olympics is just so wonderful,” Stanton said. “It’s everything she would have wanted and everything we had hoped for her. We’re all just thrilled.”

While it remains to be seen how Nishikawa will fare against the best in the world in Sochi next month, Masson said the experience alone will do wonders for the Whitehorse native.

“It’s Emily’s first Olympics,” he said. “She’s young. She’s going there for the experience. There’s no expectation in terms of results, other than skiing her best races possible.

“This time, we’re going into the Olympics with the men’s team being the best chance of a medal,” he said.

While Nishikawa will represent the Yukon in competition, Masson will also be in Sochi, providing his expertise to the team in the wax room.

Whitehorse massage therapist Stephen Waterreus will also be putting his fingers to work in Russia, in an attempt to keep athletes in the best shape possible.

Star Sports Editor

CommentsAdd a comment

Ross Burnett

Jan 15, 2014 at 3:52 pm

And of course, Emily’s experience at orienteering will help ensure she doesn’t get lost on the Sochi ski trails! Good luck.

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