• Alex 50km Lahti Champion
    • XC skiers grab spotlight at awards night

      November 30, 2013

      Photo by Marcel Vander Wier

      Original article appeared on the Whitehorse Daily Star

      INTO THE HALL – Newly-minted hall of famer Alain Masson, back right, poses with his wife Lucy Steele and their two sons, 11-year-old Sasha, front left, and seven-year-old Felix following yesterday’s Sport Yukon Awards Night at the Westmark hotel.

      It seemed fitting that on the night cross-country ski coach Alain Masson was being honoured with the territory’s top award for sport, his longtime pupils would sweep the individual major awards categories.

      Following Masson’s induction into the Yukon Sport Hall of Fame last night at the Westmark hotel in Whitehorse, four of the territory’s top skiers took home hardware as international and national/territorial athletes of the year.

      Ski siblings Graham and Emily Nishikawa were named international athletes of the year, while Kendra Murray and Knute Johnsgaard won national/territorial athletes of the year.

      And if cross-country skiing is currently the dominant sport in the territory, curling showed it’s not far behind.

      Star curlers Thomas Scoffin, Chelsea Duncan and Sarah Koltun were up for national/territorial athlete of the year, and Team Koltun was named Team of the Year.

      Volleyball coach Russ Tait and soccer administrator Geoff Woodhouse also took home major awards in front of a jam-packed ballroom gathered to celebrate the 38th anniversary of the Sport Yukon awards.

      While cross-country skiing scooped up the lion’s share of awards, the night belonged to Masson, the 52-year-old ski coach whose Yukon legacy spans nearly two decades.

      Bill Parry introduced his longtime friend to the crowd, acknowledging Masson “has had a tremendous impact on the sport in the Yukon as a coach and administrator.”

      The number of accolades won by Yukon skiers recently is a direct result of Masson’s skills as a coach and wax technician, Parry added.

      “Alain’s style is to encourage athletes to take that leap of faith, commit themselves to fulfilling their dreams of training, competition and achievement,” he said. “I am so proud to be associated with someone of Alain’s character and integrity. He has made, and continues to make, a dramatic mark on cross-country skiing in the Yukon and Canada as a whole ... He deserves this honour.”

      Masson quietly deflected praise for his body of work, acknowledging the support of his family, and the dedication of his athletes and other volunteers.

      “None of this would be possible without the support of my wife Lucy,” he said. “As people know, the life of a coach in sport, we are away a lot and it requires a lot of sacrifices.”

      As for the success of Cross Country Yukon, the coach said he was a contributor, but was “in no way, the person who’s made it what it is. It is a contribution from a community.”

      He also called the Whitehorse Cross-Country Ski Club “a remarkable facility ... one of the best in this country.”

      The former Olympian from Quebec received a standing ovation from the crowd and extended embraces from his wife, Lucy Steele, and two sons following his address.

      With the Nishikawas in Canmore, Alta. training for the start of the competitive season, their mother Joan Stanton accepted the awards on her children’s behalf.

      “We really need more wall space in our house,” she joked when accepting Graham’s latest award.

      The duo continues to shine on the world stage as elite-level skiers and have their eyes on berths in the Sochi Winter Olympics this season.

      Stanton relayed messages of gratitude on behalf of Emily and Graham.

      “I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful to have the support of the Yukon behind me as I pursue my goals,” Emily said via her mother.

      Graham’s message also recognized his long-time coach, Masson.

      Murray, the National/Territorial Female Athlete of the Year, stars in two sports – cross-country skiing and orienteering.

      Karen McKenna, accepted the award in Murray’s stead, and expressed thanks on behalf of her daughter, who is currently studying at Carleton University in Ottawa.

      Male winner Johnsgaard also thanked the ski community for their continued support, specifically Cross Country Yukon’s Skier of the Year winner, 96-year-old Father J.M. Mouchet for all he has done for the sport.

      Team Koltun took home Team of the Year honours following their fourth-place finish at junior nationals in February.

      Lead Jenna Duncan accepted the award on behalf of her teammates, who are competing in the Boundary Ford Curling Classic in Lloydminster, Alta. this weekend.

      Duncan thanked all who had a part in the team’s success, including the rink’s two longtime coaches, Gord Moffatt and Lindsay Moldowan.

      The two have put “an incredible amount of time and effort into our team,” Duncan said. “The commitment that they have made is so amazing and we respect them so much. There’s no way we’d be as successful as we are today without their knowledge and guidance.”

      The sole nominee for Coach of the Year was Tait, the bench boss of the men’s volleyball team that beat Prince Edward Island twice at the Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Que.

      Tait said the historic wins were seven years in the making. He thanked the parents and athletes who committed with him to the “long-term project.”

      He pointed to the Junior Selects soccer team, a Team of the Year nominee, as a prime example of what the process of building a winner looks like.

      “In a team sport, it’s super challenging for us to be competitive,” said Tait, who’s coaching career spans 26 years.

      “That’s only one part of the picture though. I think as Yukoners, we’re trying to develop in these young people the leadership skills and the good community member skills so that they can come back and give back to our community.”

      Woodhouse was named sport’s top administrator for his work with the competitive co-ed soccer league.

      Alongside the presentation of major awards, hundreds of other athletes received Active Member Awards from local sport bodies during the gala.

      Star cyclist Zach Bell was also on hand to accept an award.

      The Olympian has been working to drum up interest in a funding initiative for young athletes in rural Yukon communities.