Gaellivare, SWE-Canada’s Devon Kershaw took a deep breath, convinced himself to finally relax, and welcomed the cold and hard conditions in Swedish Lapland to post a 15th-place finish in the men’s 15-kilometre skate-ski race in the opening World Cup event of the season for the Canadian squad in Gaellivare, Sweden on Saturday.
The performance by the Sudbury, Ont. native, which marks the best-ever finish for a Canadian male in more than 10 years in a distance event, is another chapter in the freshly-cracked history book for the young 23-year-old Canuck. Following the 2006 Olympic Games, Kershaw began turning heads on the international circuit when he won Canada’s first-ever medal in a World Cup sprint event, capturing the bronze.
“This was such an awesome day for me,” said Kershaw, who skated his way around the Swedish track in a time of 34 minutes 7.2 seconds. “It was so tight today throughout the entire pack, and I just wanted to fight for ever second and focus on what I can control. I did it and I’m very happy with this early-season start.”
Filled with energy and youthful enthusiasm for the sport and life, Kershaw has struggled to remain calm in races. But today, he kept his focus on little pieces of the race, and every stride, rather than getting worked up and thinking about the challenges he faced ahead in addition to racing against the best nordic skiers in the world.
“I’m not the most relaxed guy in the world so it is hard for me to calm down and focus on the moment, but I just chilled out and was able to put it all together,” said Kershaw, who said he was aiming to break into the top-30 regularly. “I know it’s early, but I hope our team can carry some momentum from this result and continue to compete for the top.”
The performance was definitely a breakthrough for Canada’s most promising men’s skier since Pierre Harvey. Known more for his sprinting and classic skiing skills, the result is proof Kershaw is evolving into an all-round skier.
“I think Devon had a psychological barrier that he couldn’t skate well in these races, but I think with his exceptional performance today he’ll be able to get over that now,” said Dave Wood, head coach, Canadian Cross-Country Ski Team. “He is in great shape, has been training very hard and is now applying himself effectively in all disciplines.”
Kershaw was chasing the frontrunners, led by five-time Olympic gold medallist and biathlon specialist, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, of Norway, who blew away the cream of the crop on the World Cup with a stunning performance, crossing the line with a time of 33:05.6. Bjoerndalen’s teammate, Tore Ruud Hofstad captured the silver medal with a time of 33:28.9, while Germany’s Franz Goering rounded out the top-three at 33:35.8.
George Grey, of Rossland, B.C., was the only other Canadian in the men’s field, and finished 49th (34:07.2).
Two Canadians also suited up in the women’s 10-kilometre skate race. Montreal’s Dasha Gaiazova was the first maple leaf-clad female to cross the line, stopping the clock at 27:20.9 and 71st spot. Olympic gold medallist, Chandra Crawford, of Canmore, Alta., was in 82nd (27:59.5).
Katerina Neumannova, of the Czech Republic, dominated the women’s race, destroying the field with a time of 24:17.9. Estonia’s Kristina Smigun trailed in a distant second, nearly 25 seconds back at 24:42.8, while defending overall World Cup titleholder, Marit Bjoergen, of Norway, crossed the line third after a gutsy effort to post a time of 24:51.4.
The World Cup continues in Gaellivare, Sweden on Sunday with the men’s and women’s 4×5 kilometre relay. The Canadian men and women will compete unofficially in both races.
Cross Country Canada is the governing body of cross-country skiing in Canada. Its 45,000 members are athletes, coaches and officials, including members of the Canadian Cross-Country Ski Team and Canadian Disabled Cross-Country Ski Team. Cross-country skiing is Canada’s optimal winter sport and recreational activity with more than one million Canadians participating annually.
Complete Results: www.fis-ski.com
Top-5 Men and Canadian Results:
1.Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, NOR, 33:05.6; 2. Tore Ruud Hofstad, NOR, 33:28.9; 3. Franz Goering, GER, 33:35.8; 4. Lukas Bauer, CZE, 33:38.6; 5. Lars Berger, NOR, 33:38.7.
15. Devon Kershaw, Sudbury, Ont., 34:07.2; 49. George Grey, Rossland, B.C., 34:47.4.
Top-5 Women and Canadian Results:
1. Katerina Neumannova, CZE, 24:17.9; 2. Kristina Smigun, EST, 24:42.8; 3. Marit Bjoergen, NOR, 24:51.4; 4. Valentina Shevchenko, UKR, 24:54.8; 5. Vibeke Skofterud, NOR, 24:55.2.
71. Dasha Gaiazova, Montreal, 27:20.9; 82. Chandra Crawford, Canmore, Alta., 27:59.5
Source: Cross Country Canada