As writers and commentators deconstructed the decision to sit Brian McKeever in the men’s 50 k classic on Sunday, the four Canadians in the race got down to business.
It wasn’t a good day for Alex Harvey and Ivan Babikov, who were dropped from the lead pack early on. But Devon Kershaw and George Grey had a pair of strong performances, skiing at the front and asserting the team’s status as a force to be reckoned with.
In the mix all the way to the line, Kershaw skied to a hard-fought fifth place, a tantalizing half-second from bronze and just a second and a half behind winner Petter Northug (NOR).
It was his best-ever performance in a 50 k, and in an individual event at the Olympics. But you would never know it looking at him after the race, pale and spent from more than two hours of racing, and crushed from coming so close to the podium.
He said he felt the sting, but also that he had accomplished everything he’d hoped for over the course of the Games.
Grey summed up Kershaw’s performance best.
“Being so close to a medal is heartbreaking, but being fifth place at the Olympics is outstanding,” he said. “Canada’s there.”
Grey’s result may not have been outstanding on paper, but he also had a solid day. He was at the front from the gun, even leading the race during the first few laps.
At ten k to go, Grey was still in the pack when he went in the pit to change skis for the last time. As he tried to latch back onto the leaders, Russia’s Alexander Legkov started pushing the pace, which made that task a lot more difficult.
“I’d still [change skis] again in hindsight,” he said. “You know, I lost contact a little bit…had I had that extra ounce of strength, I could have gotten back on.”
Even though he was skiing with a few stragglers behind the leaders, Grey never lost any ground, and by 600 meters to go had actually regained contact with the pack. But that was right when Axel Teichmann (GER) decided to put the hammer down, pulling the group along with him away from Grey. The Canadian trailed in in 18th, 43 seconds down.
“I thought I could get back on…I was close,” he said. “It’s tough when you have to decide whether to switch skis or not, but I went for it.”
At 30, Grey said that he will ski World Championships next year in Oslo, then evaluate things. But there’s no doubt in Kershaw’s mind—he has a bet with Grey that the two will be in Sochi together in 2014.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.