It was going to be the new Black Tusk Nordic Events Society’s first major event, but the Junior/U23 World Championships Trials scheduled for Jan 7 to 10, 2021 has been cancelled.
Nordiq Canada announced the cancellation of all domestic FIS-sanctioned events, including the trials, in a Nov. 30 release.
Black Tusk chair Norman Laube worked closely with the national organization and saw the cancellation on the horizon.
“We’ve been discussing for many months now what the potential impacts of COVID might be on this event,” he said. “A major concern is that interprovincial travel has not been permitted or supported by the various health authorities across the country.”
Nordiq Canada events coordinator Jeff Ellis said that going into the season, the organization was well aware that any and all events could fall by the wayside.
“Back in the summer, we knew that we were going to have to protect a bunch of interests in certain events, whether it be the organizer in not getting too far down the road spending money and then we had to cancel the event and they would lose their money,” he said. “Also, there’s the athletes who need to be able to plan and then coaches that need to plan and book accommodations and flights, and also how they train their athletes and get them ready.”
At eight weeks before the event, Nordiq Canada started checking in with all its hosts regarding situations related to local restrictions as well as the organizer’s unique circumstances.
“We saw the writing on the wall with B.C.,” Ellis said. “We decided that with trials in Whistler, we needed to make a final call six weeks out from the event [instead of four] for a number of reasons.”
Ellis detailed those reasons as Whistler requiring significant travel distances for eastern teams, while the six-week point allowed for a two-week window to find a backup site and allow for teams to adjust and change plans. However, Plan B—Canmore, Alta.—was scratched as case counts rose in the province, and the government started imposing restrictions on sport. Rather than try to pivot, it ultimately made more sense to cancel, Ellis reasoned.
“We wanted to give everybody, in an uncertain year, a little bit of certainty,” he said. “To stay home and stay local is part of our messaging and by keeping the trials in Whistler, we were, in my opinion, contradicting ourselves.
“Even if we try to move trials somewhere, where could we even go where we could even have a fair representation of our best athletes at the start line?”
The release noted that Nordiq Canada still hopes to send some athletes overseas for select World Cups as well as World Championships in the New Year, but it’ll be a difficult task without the head-to-head, level-playing-field competition Whistler’s trials was set to provide. Nordiq Canada is figuring out its criteria for qualification and expects to release it on Dec. 7.
“Nothing is fair this season. Nothing is fair with COVID, and I’m sure our selection group will find the fairest solution,” Ellis said. “It won’t make everybody happy, but I think people would be hard-pressed to find another way to do it in a more fair manner.
“I feel bad for the athletes who had a great offseason of training and maybe didn’t ski at their best last season and may not get a chance to showcase that against a national field this year.”
While Black Tusk is losing its first significant test event as it ramps up to host the Junior/U23 World Championships in 2023, Laube said the group hopes to salvage the weekend by scaling down to a BC Cup.
“We’ve been putting all of the pieces in place for the organizing committee and the competition committee to be able to host that and still be able to host an event working very closely with Whistler Olympic Park to make sure that proper COVID protocols are all in place,” he said. “We’ll put everybody through the paces to start to get unified as a team for future events.”
Laube added that regional Coast Cups are possible on Dec. 20 and Feb. 20.
Whistler Olympic Park managing director Tim Hope said that while it’s unfortunate to lose such a high-level event, it’s understandable given the circumstances. As an Olympic legacy, the park is built to welcome the best, and he was eager to hearken back to the 2010 glory days.
“We were really excited about it. It would have been over a few days and would have been a high level of athletic competition here,” Hope said. “It would have brought the focus to the park this year, in addition to the years to come.
“We would have had a chance to profile the Olympic race course that would have been used and use the facility in its high-level competition manner.”
Now, the organizers will turn their attention to December 2021, when they will host FIS ski jumping and Continental Cup Nordic combined competition.
As well, Laube confirmed the group is in the running to host Canadian Championships in March 2022.
“There’s a good possibility that with our preparations, because that would be a Nordic nationals with cross-country as well as ski jumping and Nordic combined, that would be great preparation for us,” he said.