QUEBEC CITY – For the morning qualification races in Friday’s World Cup sprint, the Canadian fans lining the sides of the track had plenty of athletes to root for—28 men and women, in total.
If they want to keep cheering throughout the afternoon heats, they’re going to have to switch allegiances: of those 28 athletes, all but one, Alex Harvey, were too slow to advance to the knockout rounds.
“Something’s not working right now—I don’t know,” said Justin Wadsworth, the Canadian head coach. “In front of our home fans, we can’t do it, and that’s tough—that’s the toughest part.”
Of those 28 Canadians, not all could fairly be counted on to advance out of the morning time trial—many were younger or less-experienced athletes competing in their first World Cup races.
But Wadsworth also has a stable of veterans who for one reason or another couldn’t master Quebec City’s course, which in Saturday morning’s above-freezing temperatures had been transformed into a slow, sloppy mess, with snow the texture of mashed potatoes.
“I did not ski those conditions well today, and I almost bailed twice,” said Devon Kershaw, who finished 34th. “You can’t make mistakes like that.”
Kershaw’s teammates Len Valjas and Chandra Crawford said that they both felt they had skied well, but didn’t end up with results that matched their sensations.
“It’s kind of how it’s been going this season,” Crawford said. “I feel pretty good, I’m doing my thing, I’m loving it, I’m really laying down my best—and then the times are showing that other people are laying down better bests.”
Thus far, the Canadians have failed to make any progress towards the goal of 20 podiums that Wadsworth set for the squad before the season’s start.
He attributed the team’s troubles to a slew of small setbacks, from injuries to Valjas’s hand and Kershaw’s ankle, to an illness that has been plaguing sprinter Perianne Jones.
But Wadsworth said that these early-season disappointments would all be forgotten if the squad skis well later this year at the World Ski Championships in Italy.
“You just can’t panic too much,” he said. “We know what we’ve done in the past works. We’ve had a lot of good results…It’s all, for me, about World Championships this year.”
If there’s one bright side to the Canadians’ travails, it’s that the team now has a whole lot of resources to throw at supporting Harvey’s performance in the afternoon.
The 24-year-old grew up in a Quebec City suburb, and the fans and media here have been anxiously awaiting a podium performance by the local boy.
“If there’s a guy that can perform when the pressure’s on, it’s that guy,” Wadsworth said. “He’s a pro, and he thrives when it’s like this.”
–Alex Matthews contributed reporting
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.