Canadian National Ski TeamRacingWorld CupHarvey, Kershaw Capture Canada’s First WCH Gold in Team Sprint

Avatar Chelsea LittleMarch 3, 201124
Devon Kershaw (L) and Alex Harvey (R) celebrating their World Championships gold.

Devon Kershaw’s day could not have changed more drastically over the course of two hours than it did on Wednesday in Oslo.

While he ended the day atop the podium with teammate Alex Harvey, there was a moment when becoming one of Canada’s first World Champions seemed next to impossible.

On the first uphill in Canada’s semifinal in the World Championships team sprint, Kershaw, the leadoff skier, lost a ski.

“I had a small heart attack,” Kershaw said in a press conference afterwards. “I don’t know what happened. It was a one in a million chance—somebody’s ski must have come under my binding, and flipped it up, and my ski fell off and started going the opposite direction.”

It was an inauspicious start to the day, and after the semifinal, Kershaw’s mood matched the thick, dreary fog that obscured the stadium, limiting views to about 50 meters. In fact, with the fog, nobody was quite sure what had happened to Kershaw–the only thing that was clear was that he was suddenly in last place.

“That’s generally not what you want to do at the World Championships,” Canadian Head Coach Justin Wadsworth told FasterSkier.

Kershaw (center) fighting through the fog

But, making the best of a bad situation, Kershaw turned around, grabbed his ski, and got back to work. By the time he had finished his first loop, he was with the pack–and when Harvey took over, he moved Canada towards the front.

While Kershaw’s skiing on the next two laps wasn’t as snappy as it might have been, it was smooth sailing for the rest of the semifinal, where the duo finished second in a sprint finish with Sweden and Germany, with Finland only another second behind.

By the time the finals rolled around less than two hours later, Kershaw was rejuvenated, and turned in the best performance of his career.

The two Canadians weren’t the hands-down favorites going into today’s race–that was an honor probably reserved for Norwegians Petter Northug and Ola Vigen Hattestad, who ended up second, or the Russian squad of Nikita Kriukov and Alexander Panzhinskiy, which ended up third.

Still, a medal was something that many had thought possible. Teammate Ivan Babikov, for one, was confident in Kershaw’s and Harvey’s chances.

“They are in the best shape,” he said on Tuesday. “The guys who raced [in the 15 k classic] today—I don’t think they have a chance tomorrow.”

Like Northug and Hattestad, Harvey and Kershaw sat out Tuesday’s race. It wasn’t an entirely obvious decision, as both are strong distance skiers, but the call ended up being a good one—the top pair that included athletes who had raced in the 15 k was the Finnish one, and they ended up fifth.

“It was a really hard decision for me,” Kershaw said. “I love the 15 k classic—I love it. It’s the only individual race, the only race with history, in Norway, left on the calendar, and to skip that, it was tough. But we knew we had a chance to medal.”

After a simultaneously successful and gut-wrenching Olympics last year, where the team failed to win a medal despite high expectations, the Canadians had been focusing on collecting a podium at World Championships–and the team sprint was undoubtedly one of their best chances to do so. That’s why the two men elected to skip out on Tuesday’s race.

“[That decision] looks pretty good right now,” Wadsworth said.

But Kershaw’s errant ski almost rendered that sacrifice a moot point.

“The adrenaline was pouring through my system, because Alex and I had thought about this race for so long,” Kershaw said. “And the first 30 seconds, we’re out of it, we’re screwed.”

“So I…tried to ski as calm as I could to get back to the pack, and luckily, I did before the exchange—but that was not easy,” Kershaw said. “I felt like crap in the semis after that, because I had used a lot of energy.”

Devon Kershaw (L) and Alex Harvey (R) with their World Championship gold medals

He acknowledged that he was worried how he’d feel in the final—but he also said that since he and Harvey were fitter than some of their sprint-specialist competitors in the race, it was easier for them to recover from a hard effort.

“The semifinal does nothing to us, physiologically—we’re super-rested,” he said.

In the finals, the pair had to contend with the Swedes and Finns again, as well as Norway and Russia.

The pace was tactical for the first half of the race, with most of the 10 teams sticking together through three of six legs. The Norwegians had opted for slicker skis, and put in a few charges on the flats, but their efforts weren’t enough to break the race open.

Harvey was actually the first to mix things up, throwing in an attack over the sprint course’s big climb at the end of the fourth leg. It wasn’t enough to drop anyone, but the effort brought him into the stadium in the lead.

“I think he was just trying to make sure to tag in a safe position,” Wadsworth said.

The fifth lap was where the action really started, with Kershaw up against Northug, Panzhinskiy, Finland’s Sami Jauhojaervi, and Sweden’s Jesper Modin.

The men were together coming into the base of the big climb, but as soon as they hit it, the short, stout Jauhojaervi seemed to take the entire field by surprise when he threw in a big attack—a move he said he’d planned.

Kershaw said that he’d actually expected the Finn to go—but not quite so early.

“I kind of thought he would. But he still caught me by surprise, because he went right at the bottom of the hill, and I thought he’d wait,” Kershaw said.

Kershaw wasn’t the only one to miss the move, though—Northug did, too. The Norwegian said that he was waiting behind Modin, in the hopes that the Swede would be able to keep pace with the leaders.

But Northug probably should have known better. The massive Modin (he’s 6’6, 200), has a reputation for imploding in sprint finals—in the five he’s cracked this  year, he’s finished sixth four times, and fifth once. The same thing happened at the end of Wednesday’s sprint relay—the Swede had nothing when Jauhojaervi made his attack, with Northug stuck behind.

“It was bad for me that Modin was so bad in the last leg,” Northug said. “I hoped that he wanted a medal, and he didn’t. So then I had to go through him.”

Jesper Modin (R) double poles past Petter Northug (L) during the final

After changing tracks to get around the big Swede, Northug led the chase to Jauhojaervi—with Kershaw tucking in comfortably behind him. By the time the leaders came through to the tag zone, the Finns still had a gap, but not much of one—it was a mere three seconds.

Jauhojaervi tagged of to his teammate Ville Nousiainen, the man with the difficult job of holding Finland’s lead.

The two had picked their own running order after the results of their national championships earlier this month, according to the country’s head coach, Magnar Dalen, with Nousiainen racing the anchor leg because of his strong finish.

“It was a wish from the athletes themselves,” Dalen said. “They had a very hard fight in the Finnish championships, with double-poling the last 200 meters, and Ville beat Sami. And then they said, ‘if we are in the team sprint, [we] want to have it this way.’”

Nousiainen, a veteran 27-year-old, did his best to hold off the four remaining chasing teams: Canada, Norway, Russia, and Germany. He still had a gap over the top of the big hill, but with the flats and downhills favoring the pack, Nousiainen was finally swallowed up in the stadium. He didn’t have enough gas left for the finish, and the Finns ended up fifth.

“It was awful,” Nousiainen said of his last lap. “Too tough for me—I think I skied a little bit too hard [in the] first 500 meters, and after that, it was a total nightmare.”

While Nousiainen faded over the last quarter of the race, Harvey, meanwhile, was still fresh. He had been able to sit behind Hattestad, the Norwegian anchor, who charged out of the gate on his final lap.

“I was better off just following,” Harvey said. “In the stadium, he pushed harder than Nousiainen, so we caught him just before the last uphill.”

At that point, there were three other teams still in contact—the Germans, Finns, and Russians. But with the race taking place in Oslo, Harvey’s path to the win had to go through one man—and that was Hattestad.

The sprinter was a surprising choice for a Norwegian anchor, since Northug is known as the best closer in the sport. The pair had to face tough questions in the press conference—including one from a reporter who said that in a poll, 80 percent of his clearly-disgruntled readership would have preferred Northug going up against Harvey.

But Age Skinstad, the Norwegian national team manager, said that the decision to have Hattestad anchor was still a no-brainer.

Kershaw emerges from the thick fog during the Team Sprint

“Classical double poling is his specialty,” Skinstad said. “So [there] was no big doubt about that.”

Over the top of the last flat section, before making a hard right and dropping down onto the homestretch, Harvey was still behind Hattestad. He had practiced sprint finishes in Oslo last week, with teammates and one of the Canadian wax techs, and Harvey said he preferred coming into the final straight in second.

“I think it’s better to follow,” he said. “So I was perfect—according to plan.”

Finally, Harvey switched tracks and moved out from behind Hattestad, with no more than a hundred meters to go. He edged up alongside the Norwegian, and then, with a handful of fierce double-pole strokes, pulled slightly ahead.

As he crossed the finish line, Harvey held up one finger, representing Canada’s first men’s World Championships medal.

“We’ve never had a medal,” Harvey said. “Never Olympic, and never World Championship. My dad tried; he won a couple of World Cups, but never a World Championships or Olympic medal. This was the first one. So hopefully, we took a couple pictures of that.”

His father, Pierre, gave Harvey some advice after the 30 k, when an overly optimistic early attack tired him and left him without a medal.

“He was disappointed too—he didn’t really know what to say,” the younger Harvey said of the conversation. “He just told me to have fun, and remember with skiing, why I do that—that I do it for fun. For sure, I want to win, but if you don’t have fun, you are never going to win.”

For Harvey and Canada, mission accomplished.

Harvey celebrates Canada's historic win

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Chelsea Little

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24 comments

  • Avatar
    mygatt

    March 2, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Wow, amazing, hooray, congratulations! Why is no one else commenting, this is unbelieveable?!?! Didn’t realize Kershaw lost a ski early on – bet he felt the floor drop away – so great he was able to get back on track… I bet it gave him an extra spurt of adrenaline and anger, even though it cost a bunch of energy. Maybe losing that ski was the 2nd best thing that happened all day?

  • Avatar
    Ben Arians

    March 2, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Watched the races today from the Oslo city center, almost as good as at the stadium (maybe a little better because you could actually see, it was so foggy at Holmenkol again). I didn’t think that the finger Harvey held up was for a first for Canada, it looked more like a finger to the lips “shhh-ing” the Norwegian crowd. Pretty impressive sprint to win by Harvey, and Kershaw sucked it up big-time.

  • Avatar
    teamepokeedsbyn

    March 2, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    If i read results correctly, the USST men and women got last and next to last place, almost a minute out in a 20 minute race. That is not very good.

    Was the waxing tricky? Did equipment fail? Did somebody get hurt in a fall? Did we not have 2 athletes in each event able to stay in contact with the lead pack today?

  • Avatar
    sailguy

    March 2, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    mygatt, I think ‘gobsmacked’ would explain why I haven’t commented before.

    Yes, we all knew this was possible and has been building ever since Becky, Sara, and the ladies did that nude calendar to fund the first serious depth in Canadian XC, but now that it has happened, I feel surprised somehow.

    After years of watching George lead the men, watching Devon take the torch from George at Torino 2006, watching the painful decision of who to sit for the final Vancouver 2010 race, and the six Canadians in the top 10 at Vancouver, I still don’t believe I am finally watching this.

  • Avatar
    campirecord

    March 2, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    Was the waxing tricky ??? It was a mix of wax, covered klister and zero skis. It took about 5 heats of skier for the wax people to zero in on a good solution (esp. the russians). The sweds had it right from the get go.

    Quebecgold tabernacle ! So proud of Alex and Devon. I shat my pants watching this race (and the 30k pursuit for that matter). We really rocked it today. It was amazing. Who cares about the habs when you got Alex. Now I hop the press in Canada is going to explain to people what is the true nature of xc skiing. I am sick of explaining old ladies why we need to go fast on skis… Or why kids do intervals or careen down hills fighting every inches. Now is the time to turn this sport and grow in North America, every cyclist, triathlete should be hammering it on boards !

  • Avatar
    tetlowjm

    March 2, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Congratulations! So, so, so exciting!

  • Avatar
    zachhandler

    March 2, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    Has anybody located any video of this one?

  • Avatar
    Theo85

    March 2, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    Big congrats from Norway to “The Canucks” with a well deserved gold medal today!!
    It’s a good day to be a Norwegian, but an even better day to be a cross country fan!

  • Avatar
    nordicguy

    March 2, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    johnnyklister has a link to some youtube vids of the sprint

  • Avatar
    gkentch

    March 2, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    (Don’t know if I can post a link here; if I can:)
    http://www.youtube.com/user/VmHolmenkollen2011#p/a/u/2/lrI8e4ltazw
    is an official recap.

    Also, my take on the video is that that’s absolutely a shushing gesture, connoting, give or take, “yeah, home crowd, I just outsprinted your anchor down the stretch, how do you feel about that.” More power to him, I say. And congratulations to all the Canadian team.

  • Avatar
    SickterScale

    March 2, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    Harvey was just showing a little swagger, north american xc skiing could use a little more of that. Doesn’t hurt when you back it up too.

  • Avatar
    Nitram

    March 2, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    I dreamt of that as a kid.

    Wild. Totally wild.

  • Avatar
    Tassava

    March 2, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    Stupendous – a great day for Canadian and North American skiing, and really for international skiing, too. The usual suspects took the medals in the women’s team sprint, but the men’s turned out differently.

  • Avatar
    zachhandler

    March 2, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    NRK footage is awesome. I love the way the way the norwegian commentators sound like their head is about to explode, even though i dont understand a word they say.

  • Avatar
    campirecord

    March 2, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    I take back my swed wax comment, women’s skis seemed perfecto while the men were in trouble, might be more than the skis. But it must have been a gut wrenching day for waxing, more wax for grip or less for speed… crazy.

    This being said, I truly have to give a thumbs down to the German who cut and almost almost crashed into Alex on the last turn, that was nasty and uncalled for but Alex just powered away anyways. That kid has a great sense of the race, his tactics were a-1 the whole race. BTW Devon lost a ski during the first climb of the semis.

    BTW if you listen to the nrk tape, you will see exactly why Alex went shiiish, the stadium went totally silent for about 5 seconds after he crossed the line.

  • Avatar
    campirecord

    March 2, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    Also Alex has repeated endlessly that last sprint sequence, he mentions there is a small bump in the final 100 m and you can somewhat see that by looking at how the advert boards line up during the sequence.

  • Avatar
    shreddir

    March 2, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    I think Jauhojaervi’s move in the 5th leg to create a gap at the changeover threw Hattestad’s game off. You can feel the panic in his skiing trying to close down Nousiainen. He expended a lot of valuable energy. Anyway nothing was going deny Alex. Harvey had a much more explosive double pole with a deeper torso crunch, better shoulder and arm follow through, and turnover. Ole Viga’s arm action looks abbreviated with less range of motion, probably because his triceps were fried. I disagree with Age Skinstad and mens coach Morten Dupvik. Hattestad’s double poling was unbeatable back in the 2009 season, but since then both last season and this year he hasn’t looked nearly as good. Like the rest of the frustrated Norwegian sports talk radio smack callers (Jim Rome needs to broadcast in Norway..ha, ha) I would’ve liked to have seen Northug’s crazed pole action in the last 100 meters. I recorded both the NRK and Finnish TV streams including Alex and Shaws’ sweet air guitar moves, interviews, flower, and downtown medal ceremonies. I could make them available for torrent downloads if there’s a big demand and I can still remember how to do it? Otherwise go to the usual suspect to get the Eurosport version.

  • Avatar
    Lars

    March 2, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    Congratz Canada. 😀

  • Avatar
    shreddir

    March 2, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    Need to correct myself. Morten Aa Djupvik is the distance coach. He didn’t select Hattestadt to run anchor. Should’ve noticed while watching the interviews that Ulf Morten Aune is “Sprint Landslag Trener”!

  • Avatar
    Nitram

    March 3, 2011 at 7:29 am

    Translation () for some of the narration in the NRK clip: (please excuse the swedish text)

    1 – When Petter surges forward before passing off to Ola:
    Northug kommer före växling, passerar hela fältet, i ett VÅLDSAMT drag här är Northug…

    2 – On Hellner hill:
    Det blir 7-8 meter till Kerskaw og VOR är Petter Northug? för nu Finland går till…. ja de rycker i Hellner backen… fantatistik ryck av finland där..

    3 – Second time on Hellner hill:
    Ola, han visst man…. …kan avsluta det här han kan fortast göra….
    Kommentator 1: Antigen är Harvey en kall fisk, eller så är han liten mer sliten än förra etappet…
    Kommentator 2: …jag tror Harvey är mest kylligt än vart för…

    4 – Last turn in the stadium:
    …ah men Tyskland går helt upp ja här! å så är det krangling mellan kanada og tyskland… det får blir Norge först genom sista sveng, å så sist 100 meter, över den siste kullen..

    5 – The finish:
    Ola avslutar med det och så är det Alex Harvey..

    Publiken skymtar som i vilt löparen(?) i taken, och det ÄR Ola Viggen Hattestad som leder så kommer Alex harvey!! Harvey kommer fort, han kommer VÄLDIGT FORT!! å så det få bli Ola Viggen Hattestad.. ..det blir guld till Kanada och sölv till Norge

    Kanada vinner första guld i langrenn.. och Harvey vinner i Kollen (Holmenkollen)!

  • Avatar
    Nitram

    March 3, 2011 at 7:31 am

    Sorry about that….the site didn’t like some of my text now you can read the English….

    Translation () for some of the narration in the NRK clip: (please excuse the swedish text, I can understand most Norwegian but write in Swedish)

    1 – When Petter surges forward before passing off to Ola:
    Here comes Northug before the change-zone, passes the whole group in a voilent charge here is Northug…

    2 – On Hellner hill:
    Det blir 7-8 meter till Kerskaw og VOR är Petter Northug? för nu Finland går till…. ja de rycker i Hellner backen… fantatistik ryck av finland där..
    It’s now 7-8 metres to Kershaw and WHERE is Petter Northug? because Finland is going for it now…. yep his tearing up Hellner hill… fantastic charge by Finland there…

    3 – Second time on Hellner hill:
    Ola, han visst man…. …kan avsluta det här han kan fortast göra….
    Kommentator 1: Antigen är Harvey en kall fisk, eller så är han liten mer sliten än förra etappet…
    Kommentator 2: …jag tror Harvey är mest kylligt än vart för…
    Ola, yeah he’s the man… (can’t make it out) …he can finish it off, he can do it fastest..
    Commentator 1: Either Harvey is a cool fish or he’s tired since the last lap….
    Commentator 2: …I think Harvey is a mostly cooler tahn he was earlier on…

    4 – Last turn in the stadium:
    …ah men Tyskland går helt upp ja här! å så är det krangling mellan kanada og tyskland… det får blir Norge först genom sista sveng, å så sist 100 meter, över den siste kullen..
    ….but Germany’s evened up! and there’s jostling between Canada and Germany…. it’s going to be Norway first through the last turn, and then the last 100 metres, over the last bump..

    5 – The finish:
    Ola avslutar med det och så är det Alex Harvey..
    Ola finished with it and there comes Alex Harvey..

    Publiken skymtar som i vilt löparen(?) i taken, och det ÄR Ola Viggen Hattestad som leder så kommer Alex harvey!! Harvey kommer fort, han kommer VÄLDIGT FORT!! å så det få bli Ola Viggen Hattestad.. ..det blir guld till Kanada och sölv till Norge
    The crowd is going totally WILD and IT IS Ola Viggen Hattestad that leads and there comes Alex Harvey!! Harvey’s going fast, he going VERY FAST!! but it’s goiong to be Ola Viggen Hattestad…. (no) it’s gold to Canada and silver to Norway

    Kanada vinner första guld i langrenn.. och Harvey vinner i Kollen (Holmenkollen)!
    Canada wins it’s first gold in XC-skiing.. and Harvey wins in Holmenkollen!

  • Avatar
    campirecord

    March 3, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Harvey and Kershaw are going to inspire thousands of young skiers across Canada, this is a glorious time, I see grand very grand things to come for Harvey and the sport. It’s time the general public recognize the fitness of these athletes.

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