If you’ve ever had one of those days where nothing seems to go right, you should be able sympathize with the Canadian men, because things could probably not have gone much worse for the first two legs of Canadian mens’ 4×10 k relay team Sunday in Sjusjeon, Norway.
Devon Kershaw, a veteran of the Canadian National Ski Team (CNST) who is known for his skill and love for the 10 k classic opening-leg of the 4×10 k relay, was hampered by a disastrous turn of events – at the end of the first lap, his ski popped off.
Then Kershaw tagged off to team mate Ivan Babikov who only managed to get a few kilometers before snapping a pole, and changing it twice to get the right one.
“It was really frustrating,” said Kershaw in an interview with FasterSkier after the race.
Kershaw Saved By Fan
Kershaw, who said he was “feeling good, and skiing well right at the front of the pack” was just ending the first of his four 2.5 k laps when he got mixed up in traffic as the pack passed through the stadium.
“Right at the lap lane on the end of first leg, I cut off, and my ski popped off,” said Kershaw.
“My binding lifted up, and my ski went shooting under the barrier [which separates the course from the spectator area].”
Now on one ski in icy fast conditions, Kershaw fell hard out, sliding off the course onto the uncovered pavement in the stadium.
As he slid across the pavement, he collected some road rash.
“My fore-arm is pretty scraped up,” he said, but other than that the Canadian star assured FasterSkier that he was fine.
As for his ski, which he saw disappear into the crowd; “A fan ran, grabbed it, and gave it back to me,” Kershaw said.
After hopping back onto the course, putting his ski on, Kershaw said that he was “at least 30 seconds down, and well out of the race.”
While he didn’t give up, he said the entire experience was “really, really disappointing,” as he felt as though his day was going much better than Saturday’s 15 k freestyle, where he finished a disappointing 37th.
If Kershaw losing a ski sounds familiar, that’s because it has happened to him before. During Oslo World Championships in the Team Sprint, Kershaw lost his ski in the semi-final, but was able to put it back on and get through to the final to become World Champion with team mate Alex Harvey.
And Kershaw isn’t alone with the problem – Ivan Babikov had a binding pop open last year during the Tour de Ski.
But Kershaw is still confident that despite his ongoing struggles, it is still a freak accident.
“You could honestly go out and try it a thousand times, specifically trying to pop it up, and it won’t,” he said.
But there has been discussions of trying to make some adjustments.
“We talked about filing them [the bindings] down or something, but in a pursuit you would never get them up,” he explained.
Even before he lost his ski, Kershaw was struggling a bit with the wax, as he wasn’t able to get any kick in what he described as “skating rink icy” conditions in the tracks.
With his skis slipping, and losing time continuously, he tried outside the tracks, and found his skis were able to get some purchase.
As well, he considered skiing outside the tracks an advantage, as he was always able to take the best line around the corners. In some relay races, the courses are distinctively marked as classic zones, and you aren’t allowed to cross the lines, but no such lane markers were in evidence Sunday.
Despite his fall, and corresponding blood loss, Kershaw had high praise for the organizing committee of the first World Cup race of the season.
“It was great job by the Sjusjoen organizers,” said Kershaw.
“They put together a beautiful course, and racing in Norway is always special.”
Pole Problems Plague Babikov
After receiving the tag in 13th place, Babikov set out to try and repair some of the damage.
Similar to Kershaw, Babikov felt like his race was going well.
“I started pretty good I thought,” he said in an interview with FasterSkier.
“The group in front of me wasn’t pulling away from me.”
But around 2 k into the race, Babikov found himself in trouble. He called the flat sections “really icy”, and said that there were big, deep holes in the tracks from the heavy use.
“I just stuck my pole in one and it twisted in there, and I broke off the end just above the basket,” he said.
“I kind of started panicking.”
In hindsight, Babikov said that he probably could have kept skiing with the broken pole until he was able to get around to the Canadian staff who had the right size of pole ready for him, right before the big uphill on course.
Instead, he took one from another coach, and it was too long. He skiied with the oversize pole for a few more kilometers until the Canadian staff was able to get to him.
“I pretty much changed my pole three times, and that was it,” he said.
“I just couldn’t find the rhythm after that.”
And it showed on the results sheet, as Babikov had the 16th second-leg time, and tagged off to Graham Nishikawa in 17th, or last place.
It was a little surprising to even see Babikov out on the classic leg. A skate specialist, in recent history he has been the go-to man skiing the third leg.
However, Babikov said that the Canadians didn’t feel like they had a full team, and that they “wanted to try a few different things.”
He also mentioned that getting in a practice classic race before the World Cup next weekend in Kuusamo, Finland, was important, calling his leg of the relay on Sunday a “test.”
“I need some racing for sure, I need as many races as I can to get back into shape,” Babikov said, in reference to his traditional slow start to the season.
Nishikawa Has “Tough Go”
After the equipment malfunctions of his first two team mates Nishikawa wasn’t left with a lot of optimism for his leg.
“I kind of thought that skiing with Devon and Ivan, I would get the tag right into the mix,” said Nishikawa, something that he was looking forward to.
Instead, he received the tag in last place, over two minutes behind, changing his race plan.
“It was tough to go out at the end of the relay, but it was good training for me,” he said.
While conditions played a factor in both Kershaw and Babikov’s racing, Nishikawa described the skiing as “great,” saying that it was “just perfect for skating.”
Nishikawa, who also had a tough day yesterday finishing 71st, has already switched his focus to the World Cup in Kuusamo next weekend.
“I thought I would be a lot better this weekend,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to having a good result in Kuusamo.”
At the end of Nishikawa’s leg, the Canadians opted to sit their fourth skier, sprinter Len Valjas, instead of sending him out almost four minutes behind the leader.
As for the relay, the Canadians are likely done for the year in the event. There is just one more on the schedule, in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, and according to Kershaw it’s unlikely that Canada will field a team, as just he and Alex Harvey are slated to travel to that weekend at the moment.
“That was the end of it [their relay for the year],” Kershaw said. “It’s not a focus whatsoever for this year.”
All the Canadians now look forward to mini-tour in Kuusamo, Finland. FasterSkier caught up with the team in the airport in Oslo, where they were flying out to Helsinki, Finland, for a quick overnight stop before heading up to Kuusamo.
There they will be joined by the CNST women Perianne Jones and Chandra Crawford, as well as Senior Team member Dasha Gaiazova, and convergence trip Development Team athletes Drew Goldsack, Kevin Sandau and Alysson Marshall.