Canada reclaims Whistler Cup


Four podium finishes on the final day of competition earned Team Canada the coveted U16 Whistler Cup title on Sunday.
 
The Canadian team – comprised of three U16 boys and three U16 girls – was crowned the top overall team with 267 points at the three-day event in Whistler, B.C., one of the largest international junior ski races for the world’s best up-and-coming young racers. Norway finished second with 178 points, and Japan placed third with 127.
 
Canada won the Whistler Cup, presented by Rio Tinto Alcan, four out of five years prior to 2012 but lost the title to Switzerland last year, so reclaiming top honours was particularly sweet for a determined team skiing in front of a home crowd.
 
“I’m really excited,” said Nigel Cooper, Alpine Canada’s manager of athlete development. “I think the Japanese, the Italians, and the Norwegians represent a good part of some of the best skiing nations in the world. Overall the field through to the top 10 is pretty strong, so I think that our top three girls and boys on Team Canada really strutted their stuff.”
 
Amelia Smart, 15, of Invermere, B.C., was presented with the Nancy Greene Award, which is given to the top overall Canadian girl who accumulated the most points over three days, while the Dave Murray Award for the top Canadian boy went to Jack Crawford, 15, of Toronto, Ont.
 
Sixteen-year-old Sam Mulligan of Vancouver, B.C., led the charge for the Canadian squad on Sunday, winning gold in men’s U16 giant slalom with a two-run combined time of one minute, 41.79 seconds.
 
“Nothing feels better than to be on top of the podium. I’m very happy,” said Mulligan, who was second in last year’s Whistler Cup giant slalom race. “I always thought I could win, but it’s good to have the fastest time, for sure.”
 
Mulligan, who skis with the Grouse Mountain Tyee Ski Club and is racing with Team Canada at the Whistler Cup, posted the fastest first run of the day, which helped him hold onto the lead in the second run.
 
“I felt really good about my first run,” he said. “I was solid and kept a good line and didn’t make any big mistakes. I think how well I did in the first run was what helped me win the race. The second run was really rough and didn’t feel good, but it was just good enough to take the win.”
 
Invermere, B.C.’s Keegan Sharp, who is representing Team Canada at the Whistler Cup for the third time, claimed silver (1:42.68).
 
“It’s a good feeling. I’m here like everyone else wanting to be in the top position. But someone’s got to win it,” said Sharp, 16, who skis with Team Panorama Ski Club. “I’m excited with my second. I’m happy.
 
“My first run was pretty clean and fast. I got down to the first breakover and I was a little in the backseat; I got sucked down low in the line, and almost had to cut right back across the hill so I lost a lot of speed, but I still ended up second after the first run. My second run was also pretty good. I was risking quite a bit, but I was able to pull it together. In general it was a pretty solid run.”
 
Norway’s Jens Harald Johannessen – who won gold in Saturday’s slalom – took bronze (1:43.05).
 
“It’s great. My first run was not good skiing at all, so I just had to attack the second run and hope for the best,” he said.
 
Team Norway and Team Canada also battled it out in ladies’ U16 slalom on Sunday, with Canadians Ali Nullmeyer (1:31.22) and Smart (1:32.27) winning sliver and bronze, respectively, and Kajsa Lie Vickhoff (1:31.13) of Norway claiming gold.
 
“It feels good,” said Nullmeyer, 14, of Toronto, Ont., who skis with the Georgian Peaks Ski Club and is representing Team Canada in Whistler. “First run I had a clean run, but I probably could have attacked a bit more – same with the second run. Overall they were pretty good.”
 
Smart posted the fastest second run of the day, which bumped her up from fourth to third place.
 
“I was pretty proud of my second run because I skied pretty well,” said Smart, who skis with Team Panorama Ski Club and was named to Team Canada for the Whistler Cup. “The first run was bumpy and I was kind of getting thrown everywhere, but I made it down pretty fast. The second run I tried to attack the course as hard as I could. It worked out pretty well.”
 
An ecstatic Vickhoff gushed about her gold medal win in the finish area.
 
“I just gave it everything I had and it paid off. It’s so amazing. Oh my God, I can’t believe it. It’s so good here. I love being here – it’s fantastic.”
 
In addition to Mulligan, Sharp, Nullmeyer and Smart, Riley Seger, of North Vancouver, B.C., and Stephanie Currie, of Toronto, Ont made up the six members of Team Canada that won the Whistler Cup.
 
U14 skiers also raced in men’s giant slalom and ladies’ slalom on Sunday. In the men’s race, Canada’s Finn Iles (57.78) and Kasper Woolley (59.16), both from the Whistler Mountain Ski Club, captured gold and sliver, respectively, while Japan’s Tarou Aihara (59.21) took bronze.
 
On the ladies’ side, Gwen Dymond (1:44.53) of the Osler Bluff Ski Club took bronze as the top-placing Canadian. Annabelle Hough (1:41.05) of Australia won gold, and Japan’s Chelsea Kumono (1:44.40) earned bronze.
 
In the U14 category, Brianna MacDonald, of the Osler Bluff Ski Club, was presented with the Nancy Greene Award for top overall female, while Iles earned the Dave Murray Award. Japan took top overall honours as a nation in the U14 category.
 
The unique atmosphere of the Whistler Cup was not lost on Canada’s young competitors.
 
“This week has been a really good experience,” said Sharp. “It’s really all about learning – learning how to ski in different conditions against different competitors, and also to just have a good time with it as well.”
 
“It’s been really fun, added Mulligan. “You get to know everyone so well. It’s just fun to ski with your friends and go fast. It’s the perfect environment to do that in.”
 
Racers with Team Canada received a generous helping hand from the Nik Zoricic Foundation to help offset some of the costs of attending the event.
 
Nik Zoricic, a talented young racer and a member of the Canadian ski cross team, passed away following a crash at a World Cup race in Grindelwald, Switzerland last year. Zoricic’s family has since set up the foundation in his memory, and chose to help support young Canadian racers at the Whistler Cup.
 
“We thought it would be nice for these kids to know who he was,” said Bebe Zoricic, Nik’s father. “This is a way for us to keep his legacy going, and at the same time help these young athletes on the (Whistler Cup) national team to feel special.
 
“Nik himself competed in the Whistler Cup four times, and he always had a great time and made great memories . . . it’s a special place to be, and we’d like to support it as much as we can,” Bebe added. “Our goal is to enable athletes who maybe can’t afford things to be able to attend camps and have those opportunities. They are the future of racing.”

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