CANMORE, Alta.—Canada will send one of its most talented teams of cross-country skiers to the start line with a focus on contributing to the nation’s medal count at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Cross Country Canada announced during a media conference on Friday.
The national body for cross-country skiing nominated a historic lineup of five women and six men to the Canadian Olympic Committee that will don the maple leaf race suit next month at Whistler Olympic Park. Each of the 11 athletes met the standard for nomination to the Canadian Olympic Committee under Cross Country Canada’s selection criteria, and in the process form a talented squad replete with veteran leadership and podium potential.
“This is a unique group of experienced athletes that have made significant progress internationally, and have demonstrated the ability to put Canada back on the Olympic podium in cross-country skiing,” said Tom Holland, high-performance director, Cross Country Canada. “For many of our athletes, 2006 was their first trip to the Olympics. We have built on that experience and are now bringing confidence from a number of international medal-winning performances with us to 2010.”
In addition to the Olympic gold and silver medals won by Chandra Crawford and Sara Renner at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, Canada will field a total seven athletes sharing 15 World Cup medals between them.
Olympic medalists, Crawford and Renner of Canmore, Alta., will headline the women’s team. Since shocking the world in Torino, the 26-year-old Crawford has won two World Cup gold medals and one bronze, bringing her career total to four. Renner has also captured four medals throughout her 14-year career, along with a bronze at the 2005 World Championships and her memorable Olympic silver-medal winning performance.
The dynamic duo will be joined by Dasha Gaiazova, of Banff, Alta., who has blazed a trail during the 2009-10 season by winning three of the four Canadian Olympic Trials races held in December. The 26-year-old Gaiazova, who was an alternate in 2006, also finished 12th last weekend at a World Cup sprint race in Estonia. Perianne Jones, of Almonte, Ont., and Edmonton’s Madeleine Williams will make their Olympic debut on home snow. Jones teamed up with Sara Renner to finish sixth at last year’s World Championships, while Williams won the women’s 30-kilometre Olympic Trials race last month.
Canada will field the deepest and most talented men’s team ever assembled for an Olympic Winter Games –one that is loaded with storylines.
The six-member squad brings a track of international medals with them to Whistler. Headlining the team will be Devon Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., who has captured three World Cup medals while rounding into one of the most consistent skiers in all disciplines in the world. Two other Canucks also bring Olympic experience.
The 29-year-old Ivan Babikov, of Canmore, Alta. will chase down the world’s best in February. Babikov, who captured a gold medal in the final stage of the 2009 Tour de Ski, raced for Russia at the Olympics four years ago before receiving his Canadian citizenship in 2008. George Grey, of Rossland, B.C., who won a bronze medal in the team sprint in last year’s World Cup at Whistler Olympic Park, will also make his second trip to the Olympics.
Three athletes poised to make headlines will be making their Olympic debut on the men’s team. Stefan Kuhn, of Canmore, Alta., who is completing a comeback story after taking three years off from racing at an elite level qualified to race in Whistler through the Olympic Trials in December. Kuhn will reach his Olympic dream with 21-year-old Alex Harvey, of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., who stunned the world by making two trips to the podium during his rookie season on the World Cup last year. In addition to a bronze-medal finish in the team sprint at the Whistler World Cup, the rising star in the sport of cross-country skiing also skied to third spot on the podium in the men’s 50-kilometre race in Trondheim, Norway – the same race his legendary father, Pierre Harvey, won nearly two decades ago.
While each of the athletes on the men’s team will be focused on becoming the first Canadian male to win an Olympic medal, they are guaranteed to make history on the trails at Whistler Olympic Park. Brian Mckeever, of Canmore, Alta., will become the world’s first winter-sport athlete who will compete in the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. McKeever has been on a mission to qualify for the 2010 Olympic Team since finishing 21st at the able-bodied World Championships in 2007.
“Depth is critical towards mounting an attack on the podium in any sport, and we have seen through the development of our men’s program, that our guys are now racing to be among the best in the world,” said Holland, who added McKeever accomplished his Olympic goal in December by winning the 50-kilometre race at the Canadian Trials. “This is truly one of the most talented Olympic Teams Canada has ever assembled, which is not only a testament to the continued strength and growth of the national program, but also demonstrates what an incredible athlete Brian is and the enormity of his accomplishment.”
McKeever is legally blind with Stargardt’s disease. This is a form of macular degeneration that affects central vision. McKeever, along with his brother Robin who serves as his guide, has won everything on the table in Para-Nordic sports including seven Paralympic medals. While Robin skis in front of him as a reference point in Paralympic races, Brian, who has only 10 per cent vision and all of it peripheral, is forced to race alone or follow a competitor in able-bodied.
While McKeever was on a quest to qualify for the Olympic Winter Games, he is determined to show there isn’t a large gap between able-bodied and disabled athletes while also representing Canada at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in March.
“It’s important for people to know the Paralympics is as high as it gets,” said McKeever. “It is the Olympic Games for people with physical disabilities, and I hope people will realize through my story the gap is not that big. Just because somebody has a disability doesn’t mean they are not training hard or are extremely fit.”
“I think the Paralympics is a great product. We have something worth watching and I hope my story will bring more attention to that.”
Five summer-sport athletes have competed in both Paralympics and Olympics South African swimmer Natalie du Toit (amputee), American runner Marla Runyan (visually impaired), Polish table tennis player Natalia Partyka (born without right hand and forearm), Italian archer Paola Fantato (polio) and New Zealand’s Neroli Susan Fairhall (paraplegic), who was also an archer
Canada’s Olympic Cross-Country Ski Team will head to a training camp in Mount Washington, B.C. on Saturday before returning to Canmore for the 2010 Alberta World Cup, and their final tune-up race prior to the Olympics, February 5-6, 2010, at the Canmore Nordic Centre.