The following article is an English version of the original French version available on the La Presse website. Click here for a link to the original French version.
NATHANIEL MAH: THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
March 2, 2019
INNSBRUCK, Austria – It was not the best day to visit Bergisel, the famous ski jumping hill overlooking Innsbruck. With the rain and the clouds, it’s impossible to admire the tower redesigned in 2002 by the famous architect Zaha Hadid, where four jumps are held every year during the holiday season.
Three events at the Seefeld World Championships were held there last week, including the large Nordic combined. The Canadian team was there in full force. It has only one member, Nathaniel Mah, a kind of Last of the Mohicans.
“I am perhaps the last Canadian Nordic combined athlete for the next few decades,” said the 23-year-old Albertan, a little surprised to find a journalist in his path after his 107.5-meter jump.
Originally from Calgary, Mah spent each day in front of the Olympic Park ski jumps, a legacy of the 1988 Olympics. When his parents dragged him there, he glanced at the jumps. “One day, when he was 4 years old, he looked at me and said, “that’s what I’m going to do,” says his mother, Wendy Mah, met by chance at the entrance of Bergisel.
Little Nathaniel started two years later, first jumping bumps in downhill skiing, then flying on real jumps, more and more up.
Like all beginners, he also participated in cross-country skiing, the other Nordic combined discipline. At age 13, he chose to stay in Nordic combined rather than heading to ski jumping, like most of his colleagues.
In 2012, he represented Canada at the Youth Olympic Games, held in Seefeld, where he won a bronze medal in the team event. The same winter, he took part in the Junior World Championships, the first of three appearances (31 th in 2014).
At the time, Canada had a full, eight-member senior team. Today, there is only Nathaniel Mah left.
Nordic Combined Ski Canada, volunteer chaired by Andy Mah, Nathaniel’s father, scrapes by.
“We are the only Olympic winter federation in Canada that does not receive funding from Sport Canada. I do not have a patent. We get some help from Snow Sports Canada and that’s it. We organize ourselves with fundraising campaigns, my parents’ help and I work when I can at a running shoe store in Canmore. ”
— Nathaniel Mah
Two years ago, the cross-country ski trail was closed at the Olympic Park. This winter, the two ski jumps suffered the same fate. The Olympic Winter Games at Callahan Valley, near Whistler, where the 2010 Olympics took place, are used sporadically for competitions, and more. There is no longer a place to practice ski jumping in Canada.
Nathaniel Mah is worried about the future and wonders if his sport will survive. “It gets worse every year. We cannot go lower, but at least we had a jump at home, with young athletes who could develop. Now it’s over. I feel a little lonely and it’s sad to see where the sport goes. This is one of the original sports of the Olympics. What’s not to like about that? You are active, you can show that you have the courage to ski jump, which is a very different element.”
“IT COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE”
After training with the American team last year, with his fellow ski jumpers, Nathaniel Mah hired a Slovenian coach, Gasper Bartol. He spent the winter in Planica, competing in the Continental Cup events. He manages with the means of the edge, offering beers or maple syrup to technicians from other countries who wax his skis.
In Seefeld, Canada’s cross-country ski team has graciously prepared their equipment. Author of a race “very average”, he tumbled to 50th rank. “It’s far from being my best race, but it could have been worse,” said the man who had not finished after falling at the previous World Championships in 2017. He is more of a jumper than a skier.
Thursday, the Canadian did not start his jumping day normally. He had already returned to Slovenia for lack of money to pay for a room in Seefeld.
After touching down last winter, Mah considered retirement. He decided to continue, just to see how far he can go. “I’m not running after the Olympic dream anymore, I do it for myself. I do not want to stop because there is no more jumping in Canada, no financial support or whatever. I want to leave the sport when I know that I did what I had to do.”
At the end of the interview, a lady in the stands pulls out a Canadian flag. Nathaniel Mah signed it, then left, his long skis on his shoulders. The loneliness of the Canadian Nordic combined.