Day 12 Recap: Narrow Canada Games qualifier Luka McKinlay hits second alpine podium
By Dan Plouffe
Luka McKinlay just barely made it to the 2023 Canada Winter Games. At the Team Quebec selection trials, he ranked seventh to claim the final available qualifying position.
Now two days into competition at the Canada Games and the supposed longshot’s got two medals for his efforts, having finished third in both the male super-g on Tuesday and the giant slalom yesterday at Crabbe Mountain.
“I’m happy,” the Grade 10 Louis-Riel high school student said in a phone interview with the Ottawa Sports Pages‘ Dan Plouffe upon returning to the hotel where all the alpine skiing participants are staying together in Fredericton, N.B. – about four hours from the Games’ main hub in Prince Edward Island.
“I was coming here hoping for at least one (medal),” McKinlay highlighted. “Now I’ve got two, and I’ve got a chance to go get a third one.”
With just the eighth-fastest first run, McKinlay’s podium prospects didn’t look strong for the GS, but he climbed back up with the second-best time in run 2 while two skiers who’d been in the medals failed to finish the track in their second trip down.
“I wasn’t expecting [a medal] after the first run,” noted McKinlay, who enjoyed a smoother second heat with fewer little errors and better lines/tactics. “I was very surprised.”
In the super-g, McKinlay and his Quebec teammates not only swept the medals, they occupied every position 1-6.
“We all work well together and we’re all here to push each other to get better and better every year,” the 15-year-old signalled, attributing the team’s strength to excellent coaching, training venues and internal competition among athletes (see above example on how tough it was to earn a trip to the Games).
Though Ottawa is home, McKinlay competes for Team Quebec because Mont-Tremblant is his home hill. Tremblant allows him to work on his speed races a bit better than the region’s smaller hills and it’s got a renowned racing club with a long history.
But the connection to Tremblant runs even deeper – that’s where his parents met while his mom was working in the village and his dad was competing for the national team (Brent McKinlay was a junior worlds championships slalom bronze medallist in 1996).
McKinlay has been a racer pretty much from the moment he first strapped on the skis, since age 4. Same with his older brother Thomas, who’s currently competing for Canada at Nor-Am Cup races at Tremblant.
“We don’t ski together very much now. Usually he’s gone or I’m gone. It’s rare that we’re ever both home together,” explained McKinlay, who’s pleased to have the support of Louis-Riel high school’s specialized sports program, which allows him to complete his schoolwork online while he’s away from school for training camps and racing most of the winter.
“But [Thomas] has had a good influence on me. He’s pushed me to get better, and try to be more like him.”
McKinlay loves the adrenaline rush he gets from skiing fast and getting to be outside for most the day while shooting for high levels in his sport.
“I just want to go as far as possible in skiing and see where it brings me,” underlined the 16-year-old who also plays soccer in the summer for the Ottawa Gloucester Hornets.
McKinlay will have the final event of his Canada Games competition today. He’ll race in the slalom discipline, as will fellow Ottawa skier James Budrow, who did not finish yesterday’s GS event in the male para alpine class.
Love at first ski for cross-country competitor
Clara Hegan has been a cross-country skier pretty much since birth.
“Even when I couldn’t walk my parents put me on skis,” the 18-year-old recounted. “Before that, my dad would pull me around as a baby in Gatineau Park. I’ve been skiing forever, and I’ve been ski racing as long as I can remember as well.”
Like her family, Hegan has fallen in love with the peaceful, relaxing feel of going for a ski as well.
“I also love the cross-country skiing community,” outlined the Nakkertok Nordic athlete. “I think it’s a really great community that loves to be outside – extremely motivated, very friendly. I would say there’s not a lot of bad competition. Everybody’s friends with everybody.”
Case in point came yesterday when Hegan had a so-so result in the Canada Winter Games female sprint competition. She qualified in eighth position, then finished third in her quarter-final heat to miss the semi-final round and place 13th overall.
“It wasn’t what I was hoping for, but I’m still happy with the way that I felt and I’m really happy with how my teammates’ races went. That was really fun to see,” highlighted Hegan.
NHS/Nakkertok teammate Addison Frank qualified in seventh, won her quarter-final heat, then earned the last qualification position for the final, where she placed fifth. One of two 16-year-olds on Team Ontario, Frank is among the youngest athletes in the U20 competition.
“She’s a great skier, a great athlete, and I love to be her teammate. It’s super cool that we get to go to these big events together,” added Hegan. “And it was super cool to watch her make finals. I’m so proud of her.”
Rounding out the local results in yesterday’s female sprint event was Kanata Nordic’s Helen McCulligh, who missed qualifying for the heats and placed 33rd out of 62 athletes entered overall.
In the male sprints, Robin Mason advanced to the semi-final round to produce the top Ottawa result in 12th place. Quarter-finallist Antoine Gauthier was next in 15th, while 27th-place Isaac Fortin also made the quarters.
Hockey team dominates again
In other Day 12 action, the Ontario steamrolling team (aka female hockey team) outclassed its competition for a third consecutive game, plowing over Alberta 8-1. Ottawa’s Naomi Baechler was the backup goalie as an opponent scored on Ontario for the first time in the tournament, while Ottawa defender Mackenzie Clarke registered an assist on what stood as the game-winning goal.
Ontario previously beat Manitoba 7-0 and Nova Scotia 6-0 to finish atop Pool A and earn a bye to Friday’s quarter-final round.
Kanata’s Durvishan Thananchayan got off to a solid start in his Canada Games archery competition. Competing in the first of two qualification rounds in the male individual recurve event, Thananchayan scored 508 points to rank fourth of 10 entrants, behind the leader’s total of 565.
He’ll take part in the second qualifying round Thursday prior to Friday’s head-to-head elimination rounds to conclude the individual event.
The Wednesday-Thursday-Saturday recurve mixed team event was also on yesterday’s schedule, however results did not appear on the Canada Games’ results platform.
Day 13 Preview: Lighter day for busy Ottawa athletes
The Ontario female hockey team won its only rest day today and will now only need to play six games in seven days in order to fulfill its podium quest. The six Ottawa cross-country skiers also have the day off before their Friday mass-start races.
Thananchayan will be back in action in both the individual and team archery recurve competitions starting at 9 a.m. ET at Charlottetown’s Eastlink Centre.
And McKinlay and Budrow’s alpine skiing finale gets underway at 8:30 a.m. ET for the para division and 9:45 a.m. for the male slalom at Crabbe Mountain.
Event livestreams are available at www.canadagames.ca/watch.
You can find links to schedules, and all of our Games coverage in one place, through our Ottawa at the Canada Winter Games central webpage:
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