Canadian National Ski TeamGeneralNewsRacingWorld CupAfter Tough 50 K in Vancouver, Harvey Sits Out Relay in Oslo

Avatar Nathaniel HerzMarch 3, 201118
Alex Harvey (R) and Devon Kershaw (L) celebrating their World Championships gold on Wednesday.

Late last February, Canadian Alex Harvey got the tag from his teammate Devon Kershaw to ski the second leg of the 4×10 k men’s relay at the Vancouver Olympic Games.

Kershaw was having a bad day, and he’d dug his team into a hole—Harvey started out his race with a 30-second deficit to the leaders.

The 22-year-old Quebec native fought as hard as he could, burying himself in an effort to chase down Norway, Sweden, France and Finland. The effort ultimately came to naught, though, as the team finished outside the top five.

Four days later, on the last day of the Games, Harvey raced in the 50 k classic—a marathon event that he saw as one of his two best chances at a medal, since his first career World Cup podium had come in the same event in Norway a year prior.

In Vancouver, Harvey figured at the front of the race early, but still suffering the after-effects from the relay, he faded hard, and finished outside the top 30.

“I dug as deep as I could in the relay, trying to catch the lead group and dying five kilometers into the 10-kilometer race. It sucked,” Harvey wrote in an e-mail Thursday night. “I couldn’t recover well enough for the 50 k, two days later, and again, it sucked, badly. I was crying in the wax cabin for 10 minutes, wondering, ‘what if, what if?’”

One year later, Harvey is skiing even faster than he was in Vancouver. Along with his teammate Devon Kershaw, the pair won Canada’s first-ever World Championships gold on Wednesday, in the team sprint in Oslo.

With his three other potential relay teammates not skiing quite well enough to put the team in medal contention, at least on paper, Harvey said that he’s refusing to make the same mistake again. He’ll skip Friday’s 4×10 k, in order to be better rested for Sunday’s 50 k skate—a move that certainly opens him up to criticism, but one that will also provide a big boost to Canada’s hopes for its second-ever World Championships gold.

“As of today, I do not think we had a reasonable chance at a [relay] medal,” Harvey said. “The goal as [a] team this year was to be on the World Cup podium, and for the men, medal at Worlds. That is our team goal, and I feel that in order to fulfill that team goal, I’m better off being 100 percent ready for the 50 k than racing the relay.”

The relay is one of cross-country’s marquee races, with a rich tradition and a history of epic battles unfolding at major championships. Athletes regularly set their personal ambitions temporarily aside in order to ski for their teams, even those without medal hopes—take, for example, the performances by Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk and Slovenia’s Petra Majdic in Thursday’s women’s race in Oslo.

With Kershaw, Harvey, Ivan Babikov, and George Grey comprising their team, the Canadians finished seventh in the relay at the Olympics last season. This year, though, they weren’t good bets for a medal—Grey is coming off knee surgery and the birth of his first child, and is far from fit. In a phone interview, the team’s head coach, Justin Wadsworth, said he’d planned to substitute rookie Len Valjas—who is racing well, but not nearly at Grey’s level from 2010.

Despite the Canadians’ chances on paper, Wadsworth said he thought that his team still had a decent shot at a medal—and he wanted Harvey in the race.

“I personally think he should do the relay, but I also respect his knowledge of how his body is, and what he needs to do,” Wadsworth said. “So, we went ahead and made the decision to sit him out tomorrow—it’s a little bit tough, for sure.”

Wadsworth said that Harvey’s decision was partly related to a long day and celebration that accompanied the Canadian team sprint victory on Wednesday. But Harvey said that the skipping the relay has been on his radar for a number of months.

“It’s been clear from the summer with the team that I was not keen on the schedule at Worlds, with the relay being two days before the 50 k,” he said, noting that the Canadians were planning on leaving him off the squad through two team meetings leading into World Championships. “So, it’s not a surprise, even though some guys feel like it is.”

Babikov made his feelings clear through a post he made on Twitter on Thursday, which was later deleted. It read: “One of us making the biggest mistake of his life today…and I lost all the respect for that person.”

Kershaw, in his own e-mail late Thursday, was more circumspect. He said he understood Harvey’s reasoning, even if he was still disappointed.

“He’s a favorite for the medal. He feels like he screwed up last year, and this year, he wants redemption. He doesn’t want to take a chance for only—what he believes—is a ‘maybe, at best,’ for a top six [in the relay],” Kershaw said. “He wants another gold medal. Fair enough. You cannot argue that. The kid’s driven like hell. And for good reason.”

Kershaw nearly medaled in the 50 k classic at the Olympics himself—he ended up fifth, just meters from the podium. But he said that skipping the relay in Oslo to save up for Sunday never crossed his mind.

He said he “loves” the relay, and—unlike Harvey, who Kershaw said would be a surprise not to podium on Sunday—Kershaw doesn’t consider himself a medal favorite in the 50 k skate.

Kershaw said that he’s only finished one such race in the past, in 2004 in Oslo, where he was nearly 12 minutes off the winner.

“I still remember how those legs of concrete felt—it’s singed into my memory,” Kershaw said.

So in Friday’s relay, Kershaw will don his spandex and sport the maple leaf as he scrambles for Canada. He’ll be followed by Valjas, Babikov, and Grey, while Harvey prepares for the 50 k.

“I was bummed,” Kershaw said, “and I am bummed that he won’t share in the experience of racing the traditional relay—but I’m sure we’ll share many more together. You’ve got to take risks and make hard decisions if you want to succeed.”

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Nathaniel Herz

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.

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18 comments

  • Avatar
    campirecord

    March 3, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    Alex we are 100% behind you. Because of guys like you and Kersh there will be some new blood to fill that relay team in such odd schedule. You guys can always settle with a good bar fight after. I can see how babs wants a medal but his season and personnal choices starting with 20 hour flights for a show might be in question. You want play. You got to gamble. Cashmoney bro !

  • Avatar
    SKIFAN

    March 3, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    What a shame! Alex’s thinking only about himself! Canadians were so proud of their x-c team –looks like only on paper and in front of the reporters. NO team at all! it would be funny if he will fail in 50km…it’s not gambling – it’s kiddish! and not fare to the fans at all!
    Good luck boys! to win a podium!

  • Avatar
    Martin Hall

    March 3, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    There are a lot of ways to look at this—everyone has his reasons—I would not have let this get so out of control or outside the team—name your team and then the coach should do the rational—not the skiers. This has now become a bomb with in the team—the coach should cover for his skiers–stating that the relay even with Alex was a long shot—Babikov isn’t last years horse and Len is still in his rookie year (although he has a great future a head)—while a medal in the 50 is a reality for him and the team has made the decision to support Alex in this direction he is taking.
    Load the realy team up with the young guys—Devon, Len, Ivan and anybody but George (he has not done the training at any time this year)—I’d be picking the next youngest guy who would possibly be around in Sochii.
    But this is all conjecture–as the only way to make changes is for someone to have a medical excuse—too bad!!
    All of this has only hurt the team’s chemistry.

  • Avatar
    Nitram

    March 4, 2011 at 2:50 am

    I agree with Martin. The coach should cover for his skiers.

    We licked Norway hands down in the teamsprint, but if there is one thing we can learn from them in that race is how they handled the criticism and barage of questions after the race. Their message outward was consistent and watertight, Northug didn’t criticize their line-up aftwerwards, although you can imagine what might have been said behind closed doors. They didn’t expose inner turmoil.

    I 100% support Alex’s choice. It is a cool and calculated decision, and requires maturity. With George not up to snuff, it is wise to lower the priority of the relay.

    We’re no longer participants, we are players!

  • Avatar
    Nitram

    March 4, 2011 at 3:06 am

    Forgot to mention two things:

    For those racing today, GOOD LUCK and show ’em what we’re made of!!!

    Om Sunday, GO GET ‘EM ALEX!!!

  • Avatar
    cpella

    March 4, 2011 at 7:14 am

    This was absolutely the right thing to do. They would have been struggling for 5th or 6th probably over a minute behind the leaders, so we wouldn’t have even had a glimpse of them on Eurosport. We don’t have the depth for a podium right now. It’s not selfish, it’s realistic. Nobody would remember another 6th place finish, but if he gets a 50k podium in the Holmenkollen like his father did, now that would be memorable.

  • Avatar
    Mike Trecker

    March 4, 2011 at 7:30 am

    Now Kershaw is out also. They may as well all skip the relay. Remember just the other day Babikov slowing the pace while Harvey was trying to win the pursuit. What are the chances of that happening again now that Ivan is pissed off and spending all his energy in the relay for the B Team.

  • Avatar
    Martin Hall

    March 4, 2011 at 8:03 am

    Mike—can the relay—no way—here is another chance for Valjas to gain valuable experienc–he will be a player in the furture—Babikov (Playboy) has earned his position and has to take one for his new country—-he made the decision to slow the pace—he is a very smart skier.
    Now this team has some mending to do and have a few less tails wagging the dog—Justin needs to reel in the inmates—they won’t like it—as is evident with what happened to Dave Wood when he was the leader of the team—-this program also needs to review closely the lack of leadership at the top of the ship—remember the two sudden BOD resignations earlier this year—says all is not well—-there are some things not being said here.
    Hope to see all the women on the start list for the 30km free.?!

  • Avatar
    Mike Trecker

    March 4, 2011 at 8:44 am

    I hear ya, you’re right.

    On to the 50… I think the Norwegians will support Northug fully and the Cipollini of skiing will win another. He’s got too much finishing speed in skating. But if he hot dogs too much…he almost fell with about 75m to go today.

  • Avatar
    DJLONEY

    March 4, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Smart move on Harvey’s part. We, Canada, have very little chance of being in the hunt in the Relay with Grey off his game. Harvey seems to be peaking, as was Kershaw during the Tour de Ski. He looks like a real threat in the 50k. I hope the rest of the team can get behind him and work as a team.
    Go Canada!!

  • Avatar
    campirecord

    March 4, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    The only reason it got out of hand was for a silly tweet… that’s it, Alex knew very well he might not be in the relay, the team knew, there was very little chance for a podium. Alex knows his body and fitness level very well. He wants that 50K more than Babs wanted any races this year. Again, no one made a case when Babs became a flight attendant, played a game of total wipeout in south america and flew back home to have work outs at -30C in Canmore. Justin did excatly what he needed, he calmed things down. These kids like each other like a fresh new couple. What I see in this drama, is purely and only because of the incredible success (and now media pressure) on the Canadian team, and this, my friends is only a little bit of pain compared to the excellence we are now going to witness in the next 5-10 years. This is good shit ! Media and drama is good. Relax and please don’t be a part time sports fan (not including Marty here). These kids are putting a lot of volume on their bodies and Harvey ain’t Northug yet (but the kid never crashed in the beginning of the season or after the Tour…). There is a lot of races now, skiers need to address peak heights, cycles and recovery properly.

    As far as I am concerned, I may witness one of the greatest nordic ski race in my existence and this is just added bonus ! I hope I don’t sound jaded, I like Babs I hope the whole team has a good group hug after, aggressiveness in a group is not necessarily a bad thing. Some people here know that the kids had a brawl before, it does the body good…

    Come Sunday morning, we might see who does the real finish line salute !

  • Avatar
    davidf2d

    March 4, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    We Canadians need to get a better communications strategy. First there was the McKeever controversy in Vancouver, now this.
    Of course, Hellner, Northug and all the others skied the relay. Maybe big advantage to Alex on Sunday, but it looks bad in the short term.

  • Avatar
    Theanswer

    March 4, 2011 at 11:12 pm

    Super surprised Ivan said what he did considering how much he was cheering after the fellas sprint win. Also super surprised anybody was surprised that Alex would sit out the relay….I mean why wouldn’t he? Even if we got super lucky with Devon, Alex, Ivan and whoever in there, we still wouldn’t have been medal-worthy….and to waste all that energy on a 7th-10th place finish and jam yourself up for the 50km….which you are a contender seems crazy. So I suppose I’m surprised that Justin wanted them to race as well. But I agree with Martin that it was great to see Lenny, Stephan and the other guys get some crazy-ass on snow World Championship relay time at the Holmenkollen! Cannot fault Alex or Devon for making such a practical decision. Pierre would’ve done the same 🙂

  • Avatar
    Lars

    March 5, 2011 at 3:24 am

    Seems strange to me to field a B team on the relay its without a doubt the most prestigious even of the championship but i guess things are viewed differently in different nations.

    I mean Baur and Dario both raced the relay and neither of them raced for favored squads.

  • Avatar
    Theanswer

    March 5, 2011 at 6:44 am

    You’re right about how different countries view the relay. For most traditional nordic countries there’s a national pride attached to it that is lost on me but super significant to them. That being said the fact that the Czech’s are defending Olympic bronze medal champs and that the Swiss won the La Clusaz relay further speaks to that and why Dario and Lukas raced I suppose.

  • Avatar
    davord

    March 5, 2011 at 7:57 am

    Freeman skipped the relay in 2007 in favor of the 50km and the US dropped the relay altogether.

  • Avatar
    Lars

    March 5, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    Yeah in many ways the relay is viewed as the ultimate competition the ultimate battle between the nations. Whoever wins it is the best ski nation.
    In the world championship the relay was the competition that got sold out first and if say Northug wanted to drop the relay to have fresh legs for the 50k arguably the most prestigious individual event and far more prestigious for him personally he would be skinned alive be the press and most likely also the fans here.
    In fact i doubt he would be allowed to skip the relay by the coaching staff.

    Yes the Czech and Swiss have had some results lately but neither have stronger teams then Canada does. Now maybe the Swiss do but Perl on the anchor leg hadent started a single event in the competition so far due to a knee injurie and Livers is not a good classic skier on the first leg.

    But really i think this interview with Legkov say a lot about the relay

    http://www.fiscrosscountry.com/news/alexander-legkov-understand-that-russia-hates-now,2024.html

  • Avatar
    campirecord

    March 5, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Its still amazing to me that folks on here compare a full canadian team to a full swed team for example. Some of these guys are beasts. One of the reason Canada does so well, is their very specific training for medals, there were two peaks this year and anything extra is bonus, it’s the only way we can podium for now and it works but you must be selective and it will grow for years to come, we simply do not have depth right now. Stop thinking we can rival the best as a team, not right now. The only time was at the olympics and I dont know if I saw so much panic in alex and devons face to make up the time and loose a podium… give it a rest already, comparing guys like dario and bauer to our kids… are you kidding me… anyone understand why 22 is not a peak age in skiing !!!! Because your body still needs to recup ! With time this regimen starts to grow and fitness lenghten. I had a chance to attend training with these guys, you want to know their secret ? Its not how hard they go on intervals its actually how slow they go during recuperation, these kids follow cool downs and level 1-2 regimen to the line.

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