Harvey Tripped Up in 50 k Finale, Canadians Pivot to Hockey

Nathaniel HerzFebruary 23, 20146
Alex Harvey was in the mix in the Olympic 50 k, but was hit with bad luck yet again and finished 19th.
Alex Harvey was in the mix in the Olympic 50 k, but was hit with bad luck yet again and finished 19th.

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – In an alternate universe, Canadian cross-country ski star Alex Harvey would have been spending his Sunday evening in a CBC studio somewhere in Sochi, conducting interviews about his medal-winning effort in the 50-kilometer freestyle race earlier in the day.

But Harvey finished 19th after getting tripped up on another athlete’s ski pole, so instead, he and his teammates are heading to the gold-medal hockey game between Canada and Sweden, where Harvey hopes he’ll be able to put a lackluster Olympics out of his mind.

“It hasn’t been a good championships for us, in terms of luck,” he said after Sunday’s race. “So, we’re just going to forget this and move on.”

Harvey, 25, was the top Canadian in the 50 k, 46 seconds behind the Russian winner, Alexander Legkov, after losing the lead pack in the closing kilometers.

Harvey was one second and one place ahead of his teammate Ivan Babikov—significantly back from where the two men had aimed to finish.

Ivan Babikov pushed through a tough race despite cramping legs.
Ivan Babikov pushed through a tough race despite cramping legs.

Their results closed an Olympics for the Canadians that came far from fulfilling their goals.

Their pairing of Harvey and Devon Kershaw failed to advance out of the semifinal heats of the classic team sprint—an event the two had won the last time it was held at a major championships, in Norway in 2011.

And the men had other races derailed by skis that weren’t as fast as their competitors’, or didn’t provide enough grip.

“For the whole team, it has been a pretty tough two weeks,” said Babikov, 33. “We couldn’t bounce back from the misfortunes with the skis. We had amazing skis today, but it just didn’t go the way we wanted it to.”

There were a couple of bright spots in the race, however. Graeme Killick, 24, who was skiing in his first-ever Olympics here, placed a solid 28th, just a minute-and-a-half off the leaders.

And Jesse Cockney, 24, said he relished a last-second start in the 50 k that he only learned of on Saturday afternoon—while he was in the middle of a board game, The Settlers of Catan.

Cockney, whose specialty is shorter sprint events, finished 56th in the 50 k, 12 minutes off the winner; he beat just four other athletes.

Graeme Killick takes a feed en route to 28th place.
Graeme Killick takes a feed en route to 28th place.

His preparation hadn’t been exactly ideal—he’d done a hard workout Saturday, confident he wouldn’t have a start spot the next day. But then, he was subbed in at for Kershaw, who has been struggling with a cough and wanted to focus on World Cup racing in Finland next weekend, according to Canadian Head Coach Justin Wadsworth.

“I’m just thrilled to have the start,” Cockney said afterwards. “I had a chance to feel the crowd, give a couple waves to the camera when I finished—I just had a great time.”

Add in the tickets to the gold-medal hockey game, and Cockney said: “It’s going to be the best day ever.”

Canada’s two top men were less enthusiastic.

Harvey had stayed in contact with the pack for the whole race up until the very end, when he tripped on a ski pole that had been broken by American Noah Hoffman.

He said he had saved energy by starting the uphills towards the front of the pack, drifting backwards as they climbed, then moving up again on the descents.
Harvey said he doubted he had the energy Sunday for a top-five placing.

Jesse Cockney, a sprinter tackling a 50k.
Jesse Cockney, a sprinter tackling a 50k.

“But I think a top-10 was pretty realistic—it would have been a good way to finish,” he said. “We had really good skis, and I felt really good.”

Babikov also stayed in the group for nearly the whole race, but said he struggled with cramping starting halfway through.

“You start climbing, and your legs just feel like blocks. Like cement, you know?” he said. “I just tried to keep my mind off the pain, and just keep skiing, but it’s really hard. It’s painful.”

Cramping can be debilitating for endurance athletes, and is often worse in warm weather. (Temperatures during Sunday’s sunny race were close to 50 degrees.)

Eating and drinking during a race can help stave off the cramps, but Babikov said he got them even though he’d consumed some sports gels during the race.

“You can’t do much,” he said.

Chelsea Little and Alex Matthews contributed reporting.

Nathaniel Herz

Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.

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  • jrusu

    February 23, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    This was no doubt a disappointing Olympics for our Canadian Cross Country Ski Team. I hope Cross Country Canada can learn from our experience not only in Sochi but from the past four years prep leading up to the games. It is clear from past performances that our core Canadian mens team of Kershaw, Babikov and Harvey have the experience and ability to be in the top 10 at the Olympic level but struggled at every opportunity to demonstrate their potential in Sochi. In the era of “Own the Podium” who will take responsibility for our athletes not reaching their potential? Is it just the athletes? The wax techs? Coaching? Was it lack of teeth/support with respect to Executive decisions on mandatory attendance at key training camps/competitions?

    Canadians SHOULD BE disappointed (outraged is a better word) with how things unfolded for our X-country team in Sochi and not feel ashamed or hesitant to express that disappointment. We’ve got some talented athletes in the likes of a young guy like Lenny Valijas but one has to wonder when reading that coaching staff don’t like to push Lenny too hard because it’s just not ‘his style’. Last time I checked not wating to work hard is not an option if one wants to be a contender at the Olympics.The comment is laughable and I’m sure the Norweigans and Swedes would be looking at us with utter contempt with such an attitude. With world class venues and resources that our athletes and coaches have at their disposal I ask what else do we need? WTF is going on that our kids can’t be in the mix at the Winter Games??

    C’mon Canada…..Toughen Up! Let’s lose the prima donna kid glove treatment of our athletes and get to work. They can handle it.

    As a huge Canadian X-country ski fan I would like to know what the CCC is going to do to address our poor Olympic showing as we head into the next Olympic cycle. We can do much better and I think we have come to expect better from the Canadian Cross Country Ski Team.

  • T.Eastman

    February 23, 2014 at 11:54 pm

    How’s the depth looking for the future?

  • davord

    February 24, 2014 at 2:01 am

    Babikov is almost 34, Kershaw is 31-32. I’ll be surprised if either of them stick around for 2018. Valjas has been injury prone, and Harvey can be hit or miss. As far as depth is concerned, I am not sure there is any depth right now, particularly in the women’s field. Just take a look at the Haywood NorAm/Nationals results…

  • cphilrun

    February 26, 2014 at 10:32 am

    I agree with jrusu. We, as Canadians should be upset with the performance of our team. Devon and Alex are consistently among the worlds best skiers (or at least the have been in the recent past). Ivan and Lenny are also capable of being near or at the front of a full international field, each have won World Cups. To say that this Olympics was a disappointment for the XC team is an understatement. There needs to be some serious introspection by the coaching, technical and executive staff.

    Also to echo jrusu, we needn’t be so sensitive about the poor results and the inevitable criticism either. Greater expectations and harsher criticisms are as a result of the good work that CCC and the National Team have been doing over the last 10 to 15, maybe even 20 years. My two-cents – we need to stop tinkering annually with a system that works. Sure make adjustments based on the situation and athletes that we have, but let’s make more incremental adjustments rather than wholesale changes.

    As far as future depth I also agree that we have some work to do in particular on the women’s side. There does seem to be some talent for the men in the not so distant future that can be lead by Alex. I don’t believe that we are lost on talent and we have to keep in mind that our depth will always be less than many traditional xc ‘power houses’, due to smaller competitive fields (at least as long as we love our hockey so much) as a result our results a little more up and down than we would like.

  • rickeliot

    February 26, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    The problem of crashes, falls, and broken equipment is hurting the sport. I suggest the, TV ready, winding trail design is increasing the risk of falling and spoiling races for many athletes. It is time for the FIS to examine this problem and come up with measures to lessen it.
    In track running racers there is a specified lead distance before a runner can cut to the inside line. Something like that is needed in skiing. For example downhill corners could have colored lanes or small markers to keep racers in their own lane and prevent them from cutting in front of another racer. And a specified distance, like one ski length, should be required before a lead skier cuts to the inside. In cases of protests video replay can help determine interference infractions. Besides disqualification, time penalties could be used to enforce new rules.
    Hope this suggestion will be taken seriously.
    Rick Eliot

  • campirecord

    February 26, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    They bought a waxing truck, its gonna fix everything. Just throw more cash at it, isn’t that how the americans work ?

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