—Three Canadian men, Harvey, Kershaw and birthday boy Valjas, ski into top-10—
GALLIVARE, Swe.—Emily Nishikawa will head into the World Cup season with a solid sixth place finish under her belt as many of the world’s best cross-country skiers tested their summer training in Gallivare, Sweden on Saturday.
Posting the fifth fastest time in the qualification round on the one-kilometre classic-ski sprint track, the 26-year-old Nishikawa took advantage of fast skis and ideal race conditions to win her opening heat, and earned a spot in the finals after crossing the line second in the semifinals. Nishikawa, of Whitehorse, met her match in the final where she trailed the pack to finish sixth.
“I was happy to start the season with a good race! I’ve had a good summer of training and feeling strong coming into the race season so I was really excited to race today,” said Nishikawa. “I felt strong in my quarter- and semifinal, but not as good in the final. I made some poor lane choices at the start and got myself boxed out on the first climb and wasn’t able to really do much after that. Overall, I was really happy with how I skied today. I’m looking forward to tomorrow and the start of the World Cup season next weekend.”
Nishikawa – a 2014 Olympian – took a big step forward last year while toeing the start line against the fastest Nordic athletes on the planet. Recognized more for her strengths as a distance skier, Nishikawa regularly cracked her way into the top-30 group last season and is looking to build on that as the lone Canadian woman racing on the World Cup.
American Jessica Diggins celebrated a golden sprint in Gallivare. Diggins was joined on the podium with fellow-American, Sophie Caldwell, in second, while Karolina Grohova, of the Czech Republic skied to the bronze.
Each of the six Canadian men who started qualified for the head-to-head heats with the top-30 athletes, with half of them finishing in the top-10 on the day.
Alex Harvey, of Saint Ferreol les Neiges, Que., was the top Canadian in seventh spot, finishing just ahead of three-time Olympian Devon Kershaw who is looking to rebound into top form this season after a difficult post-Olympic year. Harvey, Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., and Toronto’s Lenny Valjas carried the Canadian colours into the semifinals, but were all eliminated.
Harvey just missed out on earning a spot in the final after crossing the line third in his semifinal heat where Valjas – who was celebrating his 27th birthday – placed fifth, dropping him to 10th in the overall standings. Kershaw was also fifth in the other semifinal heat to put him in ninth place for the day.
Three other Canadians also qualified for the heats, but were eliminated in the opening round. Graeme Killick of Fort McMurray, Alta., was 19th, while Canmore, Alta., boys Ivan Babikov and Jesse Cockney finished 25th and 27th respectively.
Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov handily skied onto the top step of the men’s podium. Andrew Newell, of the United States, was the next best finisher in second place. Russia’s Evgeniy Belov rounded out the podium in third.
The Canadian National Ski Team will be back in action on Sunday for a 10- and 15-kilometre skate-ski race – their final before the opening of the World Cup in Ruka, Finland, November 27-29.
Top-5 Women and Canadian Results:
1. Jessica Diggins, USA; 2. Sophie Caldwell, USA; 3. Karolina Grohova, CZE; 4. Petra Novakova, CZE; 5. Anna Svendsen, NOR
6. Emily Nishikawa, Whitehorse, CAN
Top-5 Men and Canadian Results:
1. Sergey Ustiugov, RUS; 2. Andrew Newell, USA; 3. Evgeniy Belov, RUS; 4. Maciej Starega, POL; 5. Stanislav Volzhentsev, RUS
7. Alex Harvey, Saint Ferreol les Neiges, Que.; 9. Devon Kershaw, Sudbury, Ont.; 10. Len Valjas, Toronto; 19. Graeme Killick, Fort McMurray, Alta.; 25. Ivan Babikov, Canmore, Alta.,
27. Jesse Cockney, Canmore, Alta.