No snow? No problem for Nordic skiing

Lisa McVicar faced an uphill battle en route to eighth place.
Lisa McVicar faced an uphill battle en route to eighth place.
Credit: 
Photo courtesy of Liz Macdonald

You might think the absence of snow in Kingston this winter would have stopped the Queen’s Nordic ski team from performing well this season, but you would be wrong. Thanks to their physical training regimen, good team chemistry and a lot of determination, the female and male cross-country skiers pulled off fourth- and sixth-place finishes respectively at the OUA championships in Sudbury on Feb. 18 and 19.

On the women’s side, Colleen Lynch and Lisa McVicar led the way to the solid top-four team placing. They skied hard for eighth- and ninth-place finishes respectively in Sunday’s 10-kilometre skate race, which is the second major component of the three-part championships.

Lynch also found herself ranked tenth overall at the competition’s close, earning her a berth on the OUA first all-star team.

“I was very pleased with all of our performances ... [and] Colleen definitely picked it up,” said Katie Geale, who does double duty for the Gaels as skier and head coach. “She had two amazing races [in Saturday’s five-kilometre classic-style race and Sunday’s skate], and so did Lisa.”

Geale’s assistant coach and fellow skier, Ian Myles, concurred about the impact of Lynch’s strong finish.

“Colleen Lynch being named an OUA all-star for the weekend was definitely one high point of the event, but most of our athletes overcame the cold conditions to have their best performances of the season and that was really encouraging to see,” he told the Journal in an e-mail.

The women finished behind the powerful teams from Lakehead—who dominated every event and took home both the men’s and women’s OUA titles—Carleton and Laurentian, three teams that also defeated the gentlemen Gaels.

Guelph and Waterloo squeezed ahead of the Queen’s men, dropping them to sixth. Team veterans like Alex Davis and Greg Edgar turned in solid races, and Geale said she was proud of a personal-best performance by rookie Matt Herod.

“He had a great race, [and] it was a personal best [because] he just learned how to classic race,” she said. “He had goals and he met them, so I was really happy for him.”

The third component of the championships was the classic relay, and the Gaels turned in respectable performances. The women’s team of Lynch, McVicar and Emily Sangster finished sixth, while the men’s unit of Davis, Edgar and Lucas Wilson placed seventh.

Geale and Myles said they were happy with their team’s overall performance.

“At OUs, we wanted to beat Waterloo and Guelph, because they’re fairly equal to us, and we did that with the women,” Geale said.

The Gael skiers also wanted to be competitive with Carleton, whom the women managed to beat at last year’s OUA championships, but they were less successful this season.

Unlike the Gaels, a partially- funded university club, the top university ski teams benefit from consistent snow coverage in their areas, and from high-quality trails nearby.

“[Lakehead, Carleton and Laurentian] all typically have very strong, well-funded Nordic ski programs that draw strong athletes from all over Ontario and Canada,” Myles said. “We’re really happy to continue to be competitive with those top schools, and to be able to gauge the performance of our team off those great programs.”

To cope with the lack of snow and space, the Gaels practice by roller-skiing in the fall—“but we couldn’t in the winter because it was too wet and dark,” Geale said—and doing year-round dryland and weight-training sessions.

The Queen’s skiers also log a lot of travel time, as they complete several training weekends every season outside of Kingston in order to take advantage of snow and trails.

“Every weekend away was great, seeing the snow,” Geale said. “We went to Ottawa three times.”

Geale and Myles agreed their team also benefited greatly from the presence and spirit of their veterans. The Gaels returned five female and five male skiers, and Geale said they were particularly helpful in teaching or giving tips to the five rookies on the difficult technique for the classic races.

In cross-country skiing, Geale explained, classic races use a forward striding motion in a set of straight tracks, while skate races involve a freer sideways skating motion. Classic can be difficult to learn because it requires skiers to shift their weight with precision in order for their grip wax to stick to the snow on uphill sections.

“With a lot of returning veterans, team chemistry was never an issue,” Myles said. “The veterans on the team took on a leadership role and made a point of making our new rookies feel welcome. That really created a positive, relaxed atmosphere where all the athletes could perform.”

But since the team will graduate several of their veterans, Myles said he hopes the Gaels will pick up some strong new skiers in order to improve next year.

“We’re looking to build with a strong group of younger athletes so that we can continue to be competitive with the top schools in the province,” he said.

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