Whitehorse Daily Star

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OLYMPIC BOUND – Knute Johnsgaard, seen here at the 2017 World Ski Cham pionships in Finland, is one of three Yukoners on Cana da’s Olympic ski team. Photo by MODICA/NORDIC FOCUS

Ski circuit reacts to Olympic history

For the first time, three Whitehorse athletes will be competing in the same Olympic Games – all in the same sport, with the same coach growing up, and from the same club.

By Dustin Cook on February 2, 2018

For the first time, three Whitehorse athletes will be competing in the same Olympic Games – all in the same sport, with the same coach growing up, and from the same club.

It was made official on Monday in a release from the Canadian Olympic Committee that Dahria Beatty, Emily Nishikawa and Knute Johnsgaard have been named to Canada’s cross-country ski team.

The three Whitehorse skiers make up more than a quarter of the 11-person team, which has sparked national attention to the small city north of 60. Graham Nishikawa, Emily’s older brother, will also be representing Canada at the Paralymic Games for the second time as a ski guide for Brian McKeever.

Cross Country Yukon head coach Alain Masson said the success of the three athletes is a testament to the community who helps the ski team throughout the year.

“It’s a really nice thing to celebrate as a ski community. It took a lot of people to make that happen,” Masson said. “It’s a sport that’s been really co-ordinated, supported and organized for a long time.”

Masson, who became the head coach in 1995, said Whitehorse has had a full-time paid ski coach since the 1970s, making it one of the first clubs in Canada, before it became more common across the country in the 1990s.

“The support from the Yukon Government has been really good for at least 25-30 years,” said Masson, noting they receive a large amount of funding each year.

The ski community also receives support from the City of Whitehorse to help the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club run the 85 kilometres of ski trails.

Club manager Corinna Warren said they receive funding from the city every year to operate the chalet facility that they lease.

Even though all three skiers met the nomination criteria over a year ago, the official selection and seeing the skiers wear the red maple leaf will have a lasting impact on the young sports community.

“For some of them it’s seeing that it’s possible, that it is a realistic thing to do in the future,” Masson said. “This is one thing that will be helpful for the future, not only cross-country skiers, but athletes in other sports.”

Masson, who competed for Canada at the Olympics in 1988 and 1992, said he hasn’t had much contact with the skiers after being named to the team but did receive a short text from Johnsgaard – who also happens to be his neighbour.

“I’ve known them forever. They all started skiing with our program when they were so small,” he said. “It takes a lot of commitment and dedication.”

The city is already gearing up to cheer up the athletes in Pyeongchang. Sport Yukon teamed up with Yukon Built to make t-shirts with proceeds going directly to the athletes.

The skiers are arriving in South Korea this weekend with the Opening Ceremonies on Feb. 8.

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