Whitehorse’s Derek Deuling helped secure Canada’s second gold medal in under a week at the under-23 Nordic World Ski Championship in Planica, Slovenia on Sunday.
Deuling was competing in the mixed relay event alongside Jasmine Drolet of Rossland, B.C., Mac Hollman of Thunder Bay, Ont., and Liliane Gagnon of Quebec City.
The news comes less than a week after Whitehorse skier Sonjaa Schmidt’s historic victory. On Feb. 6, Schmidt became the first Canadian woman to win gold at the world U23 cross-country ski championships.
“We’re just totally blown away, like it’s beyond expectations,” said Emily Nishikawa, a two-time cross-country ski Olympian and fellow Yukoner.
According to Nordiq Canada, the win did not come easy. In a post shared to social media after the race on Sunday, the national cross-country ski federation described a battle in the rain that took “enormous effort.”
Each leg of the relay was hotly contested. The Canadian team was in sixth place after the first two legs of the 20k event. Mac Hollman closed a 15-second gap and brought the team to just 2.2 seconds behind the front-runners before handing off to Liliane Gagnon.
In a 150 metre sprint to the finish line, Gagnon managed to edge past the French and Swedish teams by fractions of seconds. In doing so, she made Canadian cross-country ski history – Canada has never before won the relay.
Graham Nishikawa is head coach of Cross Country Yukon. He said he checked the results the moment he woke up on Sunday, and was blown away by the news, and Dueling’s performance.
“He’s coming back from an injury … he just skied such a gutsy race,” Nishikawa said. “He really kept Canada in contention. It was a great team effort and it felt like they just built off Sonjaa’s gold medal, too.
“Canada’s riding high in cross-country skiing right now.”
Members of the Whitehorse cross-country ski club were buzzing with the news at Mount McIntyre over the weekend.
“It’s been a golden week, an unbelievable week,” said club member Tom Ullyett. “An unpredictable, unprecedented week. I’m just so happy for Derek and his team.”
For Emily Nishikawa, the victories show the strength of ski programming and support for the sport in the Yukon.
“The fact that these Yukoners are winning world championships is just a testament to the program, a testament to what’s happening here… it’s such an inspiration for up-and-coming skiers.”