It's one thing to be able to represent one's country.
It's another to do it as the host country in your own backyard.
It's a feeling Katie Fleckenstein and Asher Jordan have been looking forward to for a few weeks now, as both qualified to be part of Team Canada at this weekend's Whistler Cup.
Both Whistler Mountain Ski Club members won super-G races at the Fidelity U16 Can Am event at Apex Mountain Resort from March 12 to 15 to make the team. The Whistler Cup, an international competition bringing together U14 and U16 skiers from 26 countries, is slated for April 3 to 5.
Fleckenstein and Jordan are both quite familiar with the event, which allows B.C. skiers other chances to make the Games. Ten other WMSC skiers are slated to participate, while two others were named as alternates.
"I'm really excited. This is my first year being on the big team, so that's really exciting," Fleckenstein said. "I've been on Team B.C. three times, but not Team Canada yet."
At the Can Ams, Fleckenstein won not only the Team Canada qualifying super-G, but one with less incentive the next day en route to being named top female skier. It was a huge turnaround for Fleckenstein, who, though she was a Canada Winter Games champion in ski cross in February, admits she has struggled with her skiing at times this season. As well, in Teck and Can Am overall action, Fleckenstein never finished lower than fifth in the 11 races she completed, making the podium six times.
"After winning the first one, it built up my confidence," she said. "Speed usually is my thing, and after Canada (Winter) Games and Parsons, I was kind of questioning it.
"It felt good to be back on top."
Fleckenstein said trying to qualify for Whistler Cup weighed heavily on her mind the night before the race. However, once she had made it up to the start gate, she described it as her calmest moment of the season, taking a laissez-faire approach to the race.
"I went into this race a lot more relaxed than the other ones," she said. "I just went in 'Just ski how you want to ski, don't worry about it. You can worry about it later on. Just think about it now.'
"It didn't really feel like a race to me the first day."
Approaching things on her own terms, Fleckenstein felt she skied effectively on a hill that provided its fair share of challenges to competitors.
"I just skied as clean as I could. I wasn't risking my lines for anything," she said. "I was torquing my turns, trying to get as much speed (as I could) that way."
Representing a country has its perks, she explained, as there will be a greater emphasis on team building as athletes congregate from all across the nation and seek to form a cohesive unit.
"We're staying in a hotel as a team, and usually I just stay at my house (in West Vancouver) and go up whenever I want," she said.
"It'll be a pretty different schedule and I'll have, hopefully, a better bib drop than I usually get," she added, chuckling.
Jordan, meanwhile, will be pumped to just have to make the trip from North Vancouver to don the maple leaf. He knows that as exciting as it will be to wear the red and white on the mountain, it will be just as fun in the surrounding events as well.
"It's pretty cool to represent Canada in one of the biggest races in the world," Jordan said. "My whole family is going to be there watching."
"It's going to be a really cool experience to be on Team Canada and be on the fire truck during the parade through the village."
This season, Jordan has won a medal in three different disciplines, finishing in the top three six times in eight completed races at the Teck and Can Am levels.
Leading up to the Whistler Cup qualifier, Jordan tweaked his approach to courses, and tried to ensure he knew them backwards and forwards.
"I was working on my technique a lot before that weekend, trying to get my position and marking the turn down before I get to the gate," he said. "That's helped a lot when the stress can get intense.
"If I (get stressed), I worry too much and I think about small things," he said. "You try to free your mind."
His Can Am performance made a believer of himself, at times his own toughest critic, and Jordan will enter the weekend seeking to repeat the feat on home turf.
"I didn't think I could place with the top, top up there, so it was definitely a boost in confidence," he said.
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