CANMORE – With less than a year until the next Winter Games begin, Canada’s newly selected national ski team (NST) eagerly awaits show-time.
Nordiq Canada announced its 26-athlete-strong-team for the upcoming 2021-22 season, in which some athletes are locks for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing, while others vie for a spot.
“I’m aiming to get top 10 performances at the Olympics and world cup circuit,” said Maya MacIsaac-Jones, who was selected for the fourth time to the NST last week.
“I think it’s a very exciting year to be part of an Olympic year and we have set high ambitions for ourselves.”
Along with MacIsaac-Jones, Canada’s senior team includes Dahria Beatty; Cendrine Browne; Antoine Cyr; Rémi Drolet; Pierre Grall-Johnson; Olivier Léveillé; Katherine Stewart-Jones; and Graham Ritchie.
After two seasons absent from the NST, 25-year-old sprint-specialist MacIsaac-Jones said it’s a big relief to be back again as thousands of dollars in federal grants are guaranteed for those athletes selected.
The two seasons off the team were stressful and forced MacIsaac-Jones to adapt while navigating the world of being a high-level athlete. The COVID-19 pandemic led to periods of depression and anxiety for MacIsaac-Jones, but taught an invaluable lesson.
"It's given me a more well-rounded understanding of mental health, and, particularly, in terms for strategies with dealing with mental health challenges and how that relates to performance at a high-level," MacIsaac-Jones said.
This past season, she approached the COVID era of sport with a new perspective and understanding. It wasn’t about what was owed to her, but what she needed to do to make her dreams happen.
Less than a month after team Canada arrived in Europe for the world cup and world championships, MacIsaac-Jones finished with a personal-best 18th-place in sprint at the world cup in Ulricehamn, Sweden. The impressive result locked up a spot on this season’s NST.
"I approached [last season] as … I can't just wait around for doors to open for me,” said MacIsaac-Jones. “Whether that was with racing or a lot of it was with training and training camps, those types of things I think I just took the approach where I tried to take a lot of initiative and create those opportunities.”
Having looked up to the likes of iconic Canadian skiers such as Chandra Crawford and Beckie Scott, MacIsaac-Jones aims to qualify for her first-ever Olympics next year.
No strangers to competing at the Games, Brian McKeever and Mark Arendz will lead a strong Paralympic squad representing the Maple Leaf in 2021-22. The team also includes Collin Cameron; Natalie Wilkie; Emily Young; Derek Zaplotinsky; Brittany Hudak; and two guides: Russell Kennedy and Graham Nishikawa.
For 2018 PyeongChang bronze medallist Hudak, time feels like it has flown by after being selected to a sixth NST.
Due to COVID-19, Hudak only competed in five Para Nordic ski races in Finland last season, but if a pair of podiums in the shortened schedule is any indication of things to come, the soon-to-be 28-year-old biathlon specialist will represent Canada in Beijing in 2022.
“I keep the bar high for myself and that’s probably one of my most favourite things about sport, is just really trying to expand on your limit and see where your potential is,” said Hudak.
At the Para Nordic World Cup in Vuokatti last March, Hudak won a pair of bronze medals in the women's middle-distance classic and the five-kilometre classic-ski standing.
The world cup medals were her first for cross-country in five years.
She said standing on the podium and being awarded a medal while wearing a procedure mask felt strange for a big shining moment in her career, but she was happy to be there.
Hudak feared she wouldn’t get to put on her skis and race last season, but stayed ready in the absence of competition. When the Canadians did get the green light, and Hudak determined it was safe for her to fly overseas, she didn’t mind the short-notice travel to shake off some rust and have tape to study over the summer.
“I feel for myself that racing is the biggest learning opportunity,” she said. “It felt like a common atmosphere that everyone was happy to be there and race.”
With a benchmark in mind, the excitement of the upcoming Games has sunk in for Hudak. Winning bronze in 2018 in biathlon, she'd be thrilled to get on another podium.
"Placing third in that race, I know that is my potential for that race, but I'm also setting the bar a bit higher to do a bit better or match that performance," said the Prince Albert, Sask.-native.
“I’m excited for the season and I hope the games can still go on regardless of what that looks like.”
To round out the NST, Xavier McKeever, Jasmine Drolet, and Tom Stephen will make up the junior program.
Forming the NextGen program includes Jesse Bachinsky; Kyle Barber; Lyne Marie Bilodeau; and Jesse Ehman, while Christina Picton makes up Canada’s Para Development Team.
“We have assembled a unique group of athletes led by a talented group of medal performers on the Para-Nordic stage, along with an inspired group of senior and next generation athletes in our Olympic pathway who are all continuing to climb up the international standings and are determined to see the Canadian flag raised about the international podium,” said Kate Boyd, Nordiq Canada's high-performance director in a press release.