MONT SAINTE ANNE, Québec – Standing on the hill above the stadium at the Canadian Ski Nationals in March, Pierre Harvey smiled as he soaked up the sights and sounds buzzing around him.
Earlier that morning on the last day of competition, his only son, Alex, purposely tied his best friend and teammate Devon Kershaw for the 50-kilometer classic victory. Several hours later, Pierre Harvey, a three-time Olympian whose name belongs to the Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre, stuck around his home venue.
This was where Alex, a 2010 Olympian who finished sixth overall on the World Cup last season, started the sport nearly 20 years ago. Back then, he used to ski for about 15 minutes before hopping into a baby glider behind his parents. By the time he hit double digits, Alex was well on his way into becoming a Canadian superstar in both skiing and cycling.
After claiming Canada’s first gold medal at U23 World Ski Championships, Alex notched another national first with Kershaw at the 2011 World Championships, where they won the team sprint. Last season, the national team member clinched his first World Cup victory at the age of 23 – almost exactly 25 years after his father did the same thing in Falun, Sweden.
At the 2012 World Cup Finals, Alex won the 3.3 k skate prologue and Kershaw placed third to once again make Canadian history. Pierre dominated the 30 k freestyle in Falun in 1987 and again in 1988, about six months before Alex was born.
After going to the 1976 and 1984 Olympics in cycling, Pierre became the first Canadian to compete in another Olympics the same year in the winter of ’84. He went to the 1988 Olympics as a cross-country skier and retired from the sport following that season.
Reflecting on what his son had accomplished already, Pierre, 55, said it was hard to believe. He hadn’t anticipated Alex, who also made the Québec National Cycling Team, would necessarily stick with skiing.
FasterSkier: What’s it like being at nationals as a father?
Pierre Harvey: I live here, it’s my hometown, but to see my son … it’s quite unbelievable what he’s doing in the last two, three years. Every year, he’s improving. Like three years ago, he was 40th in the World Cup and now this year, he finished sixth and he won a World Cup. It’s a progression, a really fast progression. Usually it takes maybe 10 years to do what he did in the last three years. Sometimes I think it’s almost too fast, but it’s the way it is and it’s good.
FS: What kind of advice have you given him?
PH: I don’t give so much advice. He has a good coach [Louis Bouchard at the Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre in Québec] and we just try to make a good environment for the athlete. I’m a member of the Pierre-Harvey Training Centre, it’s my name, but I’m just one of the guys on the board. We just try to have the best environment for the athlete, best coach and a good support team, wax men and all of that and a good training opportunity and make a group where they really have fun together. I think the most important thing is to have fun. The day you don’t have fun, you will never improve anymore.
But advice, no, I talk with Alex, but not even every day. When he’s away from home for 10 months, a year, I talk with him maybe two, three times on the phone and just send an email after a tough race and say, ‘You know, take it easy, it’s a long season and all those guys are really strong around you. You’re not alone.
‘If you would win everything it would not be fun anymore. Those guys train as hard as you do and they’re top athletes. Just try to learn from them and try to see how you can improve, but don’t think that you can win all the time. It’s not possible.’
A guy like [Switzerland’s Dario] Cologna is doing that and Cologna, even five years ago, he was not winning all the time. Alex is 23 years old so he still has to be patient.
FS: What about coaching tips?
PH: I never want to be a coach for [Alex]. It’s too much. We have to keep a distance and let him do his own thing and do what he likes.
I’m surprised that he keeps skiing because he started so young. I thought that around 16 years old he would decide to do something different because here we have ski school so you can go to school and train so two days in school, two days in training so skiing in winter so these programs are really good.
That’s why in Québec we have lots of good athletes in any sport because of these school programs, but on the other hand, I thought that you do so much that when you get to 16, 18 years old, it’s too much and you want to do something different, especially you don’t want to do what your father did. Usually a kid would try to do something different than his father or mother, they want to do their own thing. That’s why I’m surprised that he kept enjoying that and doing that.
FS: Why did Alex keep skiing?
PH: I guess it’s because when he was 16 years old, he could go to a World Junior Championship in biking in the fall and then World Junior Championship in the winter in skiing so it was those nice trips. It was like the carrot that makes you go, ‘OK, one step more, one step more. Next year maybe I’d like to do that.’
It’s like you always want to do more, and I don’t know the real reason why he kept doing it, but anyway, he did it.
FS: What did you think of Alex’s homecoming at Mont Sainte Anne with all of the fans and media and even one of his sponsors in a helicopter?
PH: Every year, it’s getting bigger and bigger because we’ve got so much coverage, media coverage, it’s unbelievable. We’re used to seeing a professional hockey player have coverage, but for another athlete in Québec at his age, there is no other athlete that gets so much coverage.
I don’t know how he does it, maybe he’s nice with the media, but he has so much coverage. That’s why people come and see it. For sure, I’m quite impressed by him because of all that he does. He keeps going to school, he’s skiing and sometimes I think it’s almost too much.
FS: We heard your two daughters helped welcome Alex home at the airport in Québec. What are they up to these days?
PH: They all do skiing and biking. Laurence was [training] to go to the Canadian championships in biking. She did the World Cup here as a junior last summer and she broke her elbow. Her goal was to go to the world championship in biking. Laurence is training all year round.
Sophie doesn’t race anymore, but she used to race in Canada Games and Canadian championships biking and skiing. She quit racing because for her she didn’t enjoy the pressure. She put so much pressure on herself. We go skiing and biking together really often and she enjoys the sport.
FS: And Alex is going to law school?
PH: He’s been [studying at Laval University in Québec City] for two years, and he has six to eight years left. … He’s in no rush because he said, ‘Even if I finish tomorrow, I will never work until I stop racing.’ His plan is to go to the next Olympics and if he still enjoys it, maybe another one.