University Skiing in Canada: A Lost Opportunity?
By: Graham Perry (2016/02/15)
Weíve all heard of the inevitable time in a developing Canadian skierís career where they are forced to make the decision to pursue post-secondary education or to continue skiing, uninhibited by any outside distractions and all in pursuit of a World Cup or Olympic dream. Every year, we see categories get smaller and the competition get stiffer as the ones who define every aspect of their life around their sport move towards the top of the results page while the rest fall further and further or drop the sport completely, class and studying taking up too much time and energy to compete with the best.† There are few options for the budding student-athlete in the world of Canadian cross country skiing and many see going to university as giving up on what could very well have been a promising ski career.
And it seems as though this is the norm for skiing in Canada. After high school, talented, young skiers dropping left right and centre, training centres with no female athletes, low NorAm attendance. But where are they going? For many, university or college. What many people see are a number of skiers choosing school over skiing, but with small or nonexistent programs, there may be few chances that they are going to be able to keep up the same tier of competition.
What most people donít see is the unparalleled support and talent that the Russian, Scandinavian and even American university ski programs provide to their students-athletes.†
On the world stage, and more specifically, the World University Games, held every 2 years by the International University Sports Federation (FISU), have an outstanding pedigree for acting as the gateway for Olympic and World Champions. As a Canadian skier and university student, it was genuinely surprising to see names such as Justyna Kowalczyk and other current World Cup and Olympic champions in the top rankings. Some World Cup athletes are products of their universities ski programs, getting them ready for the next stage in their ski career, such is the case with Norwegian Kari Oyre Slind. Slind collected multiple top 10 results on the World Cup in her first season skiing full time, fresh off completing her undergraduate degree, while her sisters, Silje and Astrid, also have top 10 results from the World University Games in Trentino and have started a number of World Cups for Norway. Other past and present student-athletes, like Norwayís Astrid Jacobsen, Tord Asle Gjerdalen or Americans Sophie Caldwell and Sadie Bjornsen, are all regulars on the World Cup circuit and often, the podium (podium, podium).
Now, itís very obvious that cross country skiing hasnít completely taken off in Canada, at least to the extent that it has in Scandinavian countries, nor do we have the same number of collegiate athletes as the United States, and unfortunately for us, Canadaís unique geography probably makes buying a flight to Oslo less expensive than one to Kelowna or Deer Lake, NFLD (spoiler: itís about the same). But this doesnít mean that interuniversity competition canít be a viable route where athletes can develop to their full potential.†
For university skiers in Ontario, the Ontario University Association (OUA) Championships have been a staple in any race calendar, and is, for the most part, their culminating competition, especially when NorAm weekends are placed during the university exam schedule and Ski Nationals are half a yearís tuition away. Over the course of a weekend, there are 3 races and a banquet, all organized and run under the reigns of the host school. To many, it is the epitome of hard work and dedication, where you can have the fastest skiers and the greatest students all under the same roof, and often being the same people. For the average full-time university skier, these championship races are the height of their season.
Carleton University is hosting the OUA's this year at Nakkertok Nordic (details here). Consider coming out to†cheer on Ontario student athletes!
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XC Local: Come join us! Chelsea Community Winter Trail Celebration: This Sunday, 1PM to 4PM at the Larrimac Golf Course!