Sochi bound: Nishikawa cracks Olympic roster
Emily Nishikawa is going to the Olympics.
Photo by Whitehorse Star
A DREAM FULFILLED – Whitehorse cross-country skier Emily Nishikawa was named to Canada’s Olympic team this morning in Calgary, Alta. The 24-year-old (pictured skiing in the Olympic trials) will be the first Yukon athlete in 22 years to compete at the Winter Olympic Games. Photo courtesy MARTINE ZILLIGEN
Emily Nishikawa is going to the Olympics.
The 24-year-old cross-country skier from Whitehorse was named to the Canadian team this morning during an announcement at an elementary school in Calgary.
When her name was read out by a student, Nishikawa entered the gym to the Mission Impossible soundtrack and high-fived young students on her way to the gymnasium stage, where she joined her teammates.
A broad smile was on her face as she donned the Team Canada jacket.
Nishikawa will become the first athlete in 22 years to represent the Yukon at the Winter Olympic Games.
Lucy Steele and Jane Vincent represented the Yukon at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.
Nishikawa struggled to put her feelings into words this morning.
“It was such an exciting morning,” she told the Star. “It’s kind of hard to put into words, but definitely I’ve always dreamed of going to the Olympics and it’s happening now, so it’s so exciting and quite surreal.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Nishikawa said. “I’ve definitely been working really hard towards this goal for a long time. It’s been a long time and it’s super exciting for cross-country skiing in the Yukon. I’m very excited to represent the Yukon and also come back after the season and share my experiences with the kids in Whitehorse.”
Nishikawa was one of five women named to the 11-member ski squad that will represent Canada at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Feb. 7 to 23.
Other female skiers include Chandra Crawford, Daria Gaiazova, Heidi Widmer and Perianne Jones.
The six men named to the team are Alex Harvey, Devon Kershaw, Ivan Babikov, Graeme Killick, Jesse Cockney – originally from Yellowknife – and Lenny Valjas.
From the female roster, Nishikawa and Widmer earned their roster spots through exceptional performances at the Olympic trials held in Canmore, Alta., last week.
Nishikawa won the 10-km individual start classic-ski race Thursday by a margin of 55 seconds, but struggled to keep up her top form Sunday in the 15-km skiathlon.
She finished sixth in that race, more than two minutes off the pace of winner Amanda Ammar.
Her body didn’t respond the way she expected it to in the skate portion of the race, she said.
That set up some tense moments, as it came down to overall points standings between Nishikawa and Ammar.
“I had a really tough day Sunday,” Nishikawa admitted. “Trial races are really stressful, and there’s a lot on the line. There was tons of emotions that day, but I fought hard and I didn’t give up. My performance on Thursday – which I’m really proud of – was enough to land a spot on the team.”
As joyous a day as today was for Nishikawa, she said the moment wasn’t exactly as she had imagined it in her dreams on the Chadburn Lake and Mount McIntyre ski trails.
The absence of her older brother Graham from the Olympic roster hurt, she said.
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” she said. “I would have definitely loved to go to the Olympics with my brother, but he had a tough week. It was hard, but he’s really excited for me and I think it will still be a great experience. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Older brother Graham had nothing but kind words for his younger sister.
“I’m just so happy for her,” the 30-year-old said when reached in Montreal. “It was an incredible performance she put on in the trials. She deserves it.”
After finishing seventh in the men’s 15-km individual start Thursday, Graham faced an uphill battle as far as Olympic qualifications were concerned. He didn’t fare much better in Sunday’s 30-km skiathlon, crossing the finish in 11th place, about four minutes back of Killick.
Despite his personal struggles, he said this moment is all about Emily.
“It’s not bittersweet at all,” Graham said. “Our goals were the same, but it didn’t happen for me this week. I’m just ecstatic for her. She worked super-hard and it was pretty black and white. You had to step up and perform last week and she did that in her first race, exceptionally well.
“Everybody should be thrilled for her. She’ll represent the Yukon in Sochi amazingly well.”
By MARCEL VANDER WIER
Star Sports Editor