Past: Churchill Bulldogs and Hollyburn Cross-Country Ski Club
Present: Cypress Mountain
Future: CIS Lakehead University Thunderwolves and Junior Team Canada
CYPRESS MOUNTAIN -- Working her hardest, striving for that little bit extra, Annika Richardson wears a wide smile on her face. But don’t be fooled. This impressive young woman means business. She calls it her pain face: an unconscious, grin-and-bear-it outward expression on the surface of Richardson’s inner strength and willpower.
An action photograph taken in Lillehammer, Norway shows a row of teeth and what looks like glee under Richardson’s dark sunglasses. Taken at the Youth Olympic Games in February, the cross-country skier was pushing herself to the limit and was not smiling. But she certainly was afterwards.
Richardson finished 16th for Canada in the five-kilometre event. After a disappointing performance in classic sprint, the Hollyburn club racer had a lot to prove and said everything came together, from her mental focus to the wax on her skis.
“My favourite skis tested the fastest and my jetlag was completely gone. I was high-strung and high-energy, totally in the zone of ‘this is just another race,’” she said. “I learned that you have to push for every second.”
Travelling such a distance to face a deeply talented international field, Richardson gained valuable insight into race preparation, time zone exhaustion, and how she and her compatriots stack up.
“The European skiers, technically, were insanely more aggressive than us Canadians,” she said. Another event fired her up even more. “I felt pressure to prove to the world that Canadian skiers are competitors to be reckoned with.”
Competing since she was eight and training with the Hollyburn Cross-Country Ski Club, Richardson’s chosen cross-training sport of trail running has also made her a city champion for the Churchill Bulldogs and a top-10 B.C. finalist.
“She’s a really talented athlete with lots of potential,” said Hollyburn head coach Jake Weaver. “She has potential to possibly make it to the highest level of skiing, including to the Olympics. She has also got great determination. Mentally, that would be one of her greatest attributes.”
Nominated for Canada’s junior team, the five-foot-nine athlete will move to the national nordic training centre in Thunder Bay beginning next season in time to start her undergraduate studies at Lakehead University.
The Youth Games won’t be her only Olympics if Richardson has her way. “The overall spirit of the Games was incredible and humbling. I now know that I want to keep working towards skiing at even higher-level races in the future.”
Watch for her.