The Canadian National Ski Team (CNST), despite fielding five men with Olympic experience, started the 2010-2011 World Cup season slowly on Saturday. In the 15 k freestyle in Gallivaere, Sweden, Alex Harvey led the team, placing in 34th, while Ivan Babikov finished 54th, Devon Kershaw 58th, George Grey 78th, and Brent McMurtry 94th.
“It was definitely a bit of a letdown,” said Head Coach Justin Wadsworth in a phone interview with FasterSkier. “I was obviously expecting a little bit more.”
“I think we’re just a little tired—just pushed the training a bit too much and it’s caught up with us,” he said.
And Wadsworth wasn’t alone in feeling that the Canadians didn’t live up to expectations – Kershaw and Grey both expressed similar sentiments. Kershaw, who finished just under 2 minutes behind winner Marcus Hellner (SWE) tweeted afterwards; “That was UGLY today. Not at all happy with how that went.”
Meanwhile, Grey recognized that he was in good company on the results sheet, “Killer Piller 39th, Angerer 44th, Gaillard 57th, me 78th, Heikkenen 82nd…you have to take the bad with the good. It’s what defines you,” he said via twitter.
The Canadians have been training hard since arriving in Sweden two weeks ago, and showed what kind of shape they are capable of, facing off against Hellner and other top Swedes in a race last weekend in Bruksvallarna. Just one week ago, in the same 15 k event Kershaw finished 45 seconds behind Hellner, a gap which would have had him finishing in the top 15 on the opening Saturday of his World Cup season.
While the day was a difficult one, there were a few good signs – Harvey finished just outside the points, very similar to how he began last season, and Wadsworth described Harvey’s race as “not bad.” Wadsworth also stressed that both Ivan Babikov and George Grey had just arrived in Europe in the last couple of days. Despite Babikov having a preference for arriving late, the two nights of rest and adjustment were very little, and neither Babikov nor Grey had particularily “snappy” days.
“It’s disappointing to start the first World Cup weekend like this,” said Wadsworth. “Tomorrow is a new day – we’ll fight.”
“I know how these guys have trained and I know their fitness level,” he said, “it’s like when you go fish at your favorite fishing hole—some days you catch fish and some days you don’t catch fish, but you know the fish are still in there.”
For the Canadians, the training will now be scaled back a bit – the athletes will have a much easier couple of days leading into the next World Cup. However, Wadsworth emphasized that he didn’t want to go overboard with the rest, as it could have the opposite effect, and ruin the athletes shape.
Canadian fans shouldn’t lose all hope, however, as the Canadian contingent racing in Rovaniemi, Finland had strong results. In the FIS skate sprint race, the Canadian sprinters had a strong presence.
Chandra Crawford and Dasha Gaiazova finished first and second respectively, a performance Wadsworth described as “really satisfying.” The success of the two women, along with the strong finishes of Len Valjas and Stefan Kuhn reassured Wadsworth.
“I think that gives them and me a little bit of confidence going into next weekend,” he said.
The team races again Sunday with the 4×10 k relay, an event eagerly anticipated by the athletes on the team, as well as many fans. The relay order has been overhauled since the Olympics, as tomorrow George Grey will ski the opening leg, followed by Kershaw, Babikov, and Harvey.
“We wanted to try something a little bit different,” said Wadsworth, “when Devon can go well, I think it’s a little bit of a waste to use it on the first leg.”
As for planning the upcoming week, Wadsworth is already thinking about where they may have gone wrong last week, and where improvements can be made.
“I’m just going to really make sure I think through the training, each individual, how they react to days off, or active recovery days,” he said. “They’re all in a little bit different situations – I think George and Ivan need a little bit of something different from Devon and Alex.”
For Wadsworth, adjusting to work with a new group of athletes, whom he had never traveled or spent race weekends with before, is a continuing process.
“First time with traveling with these guys after jet lag and how to train the week before—I only wanted one race with Devon and Alex —they wanted to do both—I still have to trust those guys that they know their bodies the best,” he said. “For me, I probably learned something and I hope I won’t make the same kind of choices again. They’re in good shape but I think I just would have liked them a little more rested coming into today.”
Nat Herz contributed reporting.