CANMORE, Alta.—Emily Nishikawa and Graeme Killick are the champs of the cross-country ski marathon as the Ski Nationals and 2017 season came to a close on Saturday.
The Olympic veterans proved they were the top women’s and men’s cross-country skiers in the field after
grinding through the challenging 30- and 50-kilometre skate-ski races to cap off a long 2016-17 season.
Nishikawa, 27, captured her third gold medal of the week for the second straight year after winning the women’s long distance race. The 2014 Olympian served notice she’ll be the top Canadian on the women’s squad heading into next season after leading the country in four loops around the 7.5-kilometre track. Nishikawa clocked-in at 1:21:50.2.
“I had three good races this week. It was a tough end to the season, but nice to finish on a positive note here. It is incredible to win all three,” said Nishikawa, who has had a heavy race load over the last two weeks after coming off the World Cup Finals.
“The 30 kilometre is the hardest race all week. It is so tough. It is such a sense of accomplishment just to cross the line let alone to win, so it feels amazing.”
Nishikawa controlled the pace with three-time Olympic biathlete, Zina Kocher of Red Deer, Alta., up and down the punishing hills at the world renowned Canmore Nordic Centre until the final three kilometres where the young gun put the throttle down.
“Zina was really strong and we were taking turns leading and pushing each other,” said Nishikawa. “Canmore is one of the toughest places to race. The hills are relentless and it suits my skiing. I attacked on the wall of the last lap, which is the toughest part of the course. I was trying to save some energy before that. I just went for it, and didn’t look back.”
Nishikawa opened a 47 second lead on Kocher who took home the silver medal at 1:22:37.52. Quebec’s Frederique Vezina won the race for the bronze medal at 1:24:19.83.
Meanwhile, Graeme Killick of Fort McMurray, Alta., won the first men’s 50-kilometre skate-ski distance race of his career at the National Championships.
The 28-year-old Killick persevered in a battle to the finish line over the seven-lap course. Killick edged out Andy Shields in a sprint finish with a time of 1:56:40.21.
“I’ve always wanted the 50 kilometre title so it was really special to be able to do it today here in Canmore,” said Killick, who finished second to Alex Harvey in the long distance race at last year’s Ski Nationals.
“I definitely had some trouble out there. The body was really tired from the last quarter of the season, but I was really happy to be able to have a little sprint left for the finish. It was a great atmosphere with so many people cheering. I think the domestic World Cups have brought a lot of attention to the sport, and it’s really exciting to see a level of engagement that will propel the next generation of Canadian skiers.”
Shields, of Waterloo, Ont., who now trains in Thunder Bay, Ont., finished a fraction of a second behind in second place at 1:56:40.43. Michael Somppi, of Thunder Bay, Ont., also put in a strong effort for the bronze medal with a time of 1:56:46.49.
Speaking of that next generation, Gareth Williams of Kelowna, B.C., led the baby Canucks in the junior men’s 30-kilometre skate-ski race. Feeding off the experience gained competing in last weekend’s World Cup Finals in Quebec City, the member of Telemark Nordic stomped the field to capture the junior title with a time of 1:23:19.10.
“It was a great experience to learn from the best in the country in Quebec. Hopefully one day I will be at that level,” said Williams. “It is a big step to get to the next level. It will be a lot of work, but I’m willing to take it on and see how the next couple of years go. I’m really happy with the results here (in Canmore). It was a really good week.”
Philippe Boucher, of Skibec Nordique, punched the clock at 1:24:50.08 to take the silver medal in the junior men’s race. Thomas Manktelow celebrated the bronze medal on his home trails at the Canmore Nordic Centre, stopping the clock at 1:26:44.54.
Vancouver’s Annika Richardson captured back-to-back titles in the junior women’s division. Fresh off a sprint victory on Wednesday, the 19-year-old Richardson was rock solid in the 20-kilometre skate-ski distance race on Saturday, stopping the clock at 1:04:36.92.
Lisle Compton, of Kenora, Ont., also reached the podium for the second straight race – this time winning the silver medal at 1:05:29.01. Zoe Williams, of Cantley, Que., rounded out the podium in third place with a time of 1:05:49.37.