Lawson wins skate race with eyes on Olympics

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Juggling final exams and a charge at the 2018 Winter Olympics didn’t phase Zina Lawson, who was unbeatable in the Alberta Cup #1 skate race, Saturday (Dec. 2) at the Canmore Nordic Centre.

Lawson (Kocher) grew stronger as the race went on and she crossed the line in 13:00.4 to take first place in the senior women’s division.

“I’m at the end of an intensity block, and it was good that I still felt quite spunky, and also able to push hard. I’m happy with the progress I’ve made,” Lawson said.

The three-time Olympic biathlete announced her comeback in cross-country skiing last mont, in honour of coach Richard Boruta, who died tragically this summer in a climbing accident. She will race the NorAm series over the next month to improve her ranking, and plans to race in Olympic trials in January.

In the five-kilometre race, Lawson, 35, didn’t let off the gas and built on her lead as the event progressed.

“The snap is back. I was struggling about a month ago to find it. Now I feel like I’m heading in the right direction,” Lawson said.

She is approaching a week of final exams in her massage therapy course, and will head to Silver Star (Vernon, B.C.) this weekend for the next set of NorAms.

“Sometimes it’s a bit tricky (to manage school and training). I just have to manage my training and recovery,” Lawson said.

Rocky Mountain Racers’ Andrea Dupont finished second, 8.8 seconds behind Lawson. Dupont is balancing her training with managerial duties at Buff Canada.

Maya MacIsaac-Jones finished third, 24.3 seconds off the pace. The top ski prospect is coming off an injury, and was neck and neck with the leaders, but blew up 500 metres from the finish.

“I hadn’t done a five-km race in a while. It’s a distance race, but you push really hard. I blew up a little earlier than planned and lost some time in the last 500 metres, but I’m happy with the race,” MacIsaac-Jones said.

The 22-year-old is also on a mission to get to her first Winter Olympics, but kept the pre-race nerves at bay watching Stranger Things and craving eggos with her boyfriend. Once on course, she turned to her teammates for advice.

“Actually, on the hills I was thinking about something Dahria Beatty had said. She told me to try and one-skate the hills. I used that same mindset, and tried to ski smoothly and powerfully,” MacIsaac-Jones said.

Graham Nishikawa won the men’s 10 km skate race handily, and managed to share the podium with two biathletes. The 34-year-old guide for Brian McKeever skied the 10 km course in 22 minutes flat, which is a good sign for the upcoming Paralympics. It’s his second strong early season outing, after a strong result in Finland in November.

“This race shows I am in shape early, when usually I am not. It’s nice to feel strong and push over the hills,” Nishikawa said. After 15 years of ski racing, Nishikawa said veteran experience carried the day for him, as he whipped past many of Canada’s top prospects.

“I’ve been at it a long time and I have a lot of racing and experience. It’s good to still do it … but they will catch me soon enough,” Nishikawa said.

Biathlete Matt Neumann finished second, 21 seconds behind Nishikawa. Fun was his gameplan, and it worked to a tee.

“I was first among the mortals. Obviously Nish is in a high class. I went and had fun. It’s an easier approach in a cross-country race than a biathlon race,” Neumann said. “Taking that fun approach is very under rated.”

Canmore Nordic’s Aidan Millar finished third on the day. The biathlete showed incredible ski speed and said the race was a great confidence boost.

“It’s awesome. After the first few biathlon races of the season, I was pretty disappointed with how things have gone. To have a good result and get some of that confidence back is big,” Millar said.

Millar will continue to race the NorAm circuit, and prepare for the next IBU selection race on Dec. 31.

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