Aiming for Sochi, Hoping for Italy

For the majority of skiers, the trial races are the most important of the year. For a few, they’re second only to the event that the trials actually them for.

This year we had four races in five days that would ultimately decide the Canadian Olympic team, as well as the World Junior and Under 23 World Championship Team. The Olympics were in the back of my mind, but the focus for me was to make the Under 23 World Championships.

I started the with one of two skate sprints. Since sprints can sometimes be unpredictable – and crashes and broken poles not uncommon – there were to be two identical sprint races . After all, some athletes have been preparing for these particular sprint races for the past four years (since the last Olympics). To have those four years of punishing training end with a broken pole in the Olympic qualifying race… well that’s why there are two races.

Sure enough, the first sprint was full of disappointment and upset. I made my contribution to the disappointment by finishing 13th. I qualified in good position, but for the first time in I don’t know how long, I didn’t make it past my quarterfinal.

The next day wasn’t much better. In the 15 km classic I felt like I was moving along at a pretty good pace, but when I passed my coach, he yelled “20th place Knute, pick it up!”

I did pick it up, but still finished a miserable 14th.

The next sprint: “Ok redemption time,” I thought. “The first two races were crap and I’ve got to have a good one.”

But as luck, or bad luck, would have it, I broke a pole in my semifinal and that was that.

With Olympic qualification out of the equation, I was just hoping I could make the under 23 team. I had one race left, one chance to go to Italy for the World Champs. I felt like garbage warming up, but if I learned anything from the 15 km race, it was that apparently feelings don’t mean anything. If I can feel great and race terribly, there’s no reason I can’t feel terribly and race great. And wouldn’t you know it, I did race great, just missing the medals by five seconds in the hour-and-a-half long race.

Now I’m in Italy preparing for the Under 23 World Championships, and although I didn’t make the Olympic team I can proudly say there is one Yukoner going to Sochi. Emily Nishikawa is the first Yukon winter Olympian in 22 years. Hopefully we’ll make it a more regular occurrence in the Winter Olympics to come.

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