Canadian men’s cross-country ski team back on the World Cup podium

Men's cross-country ski team back on podium

There are a few reasons for a spike in cross-country ski medals from Canada’s men, according to the team’s star.

Alex Harvey says peaking at the right time, ski management, a commitment to the relay and the suspension of some Russians from competition combined to produce two World Cup gold medals and a bronze over an eight-day span.

The 28-year-old from Saint-Ferreol-Les-Neiges, Que., and Toronto’s Lenny Valjas won team pursuit gold Jan. 15 in Italy followed by Harvey’s 15-kilometre victory and the 4-x-7.5k relay bronze a week later in Sweden.

Harvey, Valjas, veteran Devon Kershaw of Sudbury, Ont., and rookie Knute Johnsgaard of Whitehorse earned the first World Cup relay medal ever by Canadian men.

While coach Louis Bouchard downplayed the absence of four Russian men from the field in Canada’s recent medal burst, Harvey feels it made a difference, particularly in the relay medal.

“I think so,” Harvey told The Canadian Press from the Italian Alps. “I think it’s part of it for sure.”

The International Olympic Committee said Dec. 22 that disciplinary proceedings were under way on 28 Russian athletes whose urine samples were suspected of being tampered with at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

Six were cross-country skiers who have been provisionally suspended by FIS, skiing’s world governing body. Two men had appeals denied by FIS on Jan. 25 and the four others are still appealing.

Russia’s men won a World Cup relay silver medal prior to the suspensions, but two of them were not on the relay team that finished seventh in Sweden.

“The Russians didn’t do so well because some of their top, top skiers were just not racing,” Harvey said. “Had they been on the team, we would have most likely been fourth. That would have been a big difference.”

The Canadian men committed prior to this season to making the relay a priority. Adopting a team mentality in an individual sport meant being accountable to each other and not just themselves.

“We’ve been trying to keep each other motivated,” Harvey said. “That’s the biggest gift for us in the sport, being on the podium at the end of a race.”

“Now that we did, it confirms we do have a legitimate shot at it for the world championships or the Olympics next year.”

It takes time for an athlete to build the powerful internal engine an endurance sport like cross-country requires. Currently ranked fourth overall in the men’s World Cup standings, Harvey is hitting that sweet spot.

“I think I’m just arriving at a point in my career where I’m in my late 20s and that’s prime time for a cross-country skier, kind of like a marathon runner or a cyclist,” Harvey explained.

“My body is just able to handle bigger training loads year after year.”

Canada has six technicians managing their skis this season. If that seems like a lot, Harvey says the Norwegians have over 15.

“The skis are a crucial part of the equation,” Harvey said. “It’s a mix of a good body and really good equipment. That allows for fairly stable results.

“When you are stable in the top 10 you have a bigger chances of getting a few podiums.”

The Russian doping scandal has impacted the Canadians in another dramatic way. The World Cup final March 17-19 originally slated for Tyumen, Russia, had been moved to Quebec City’s Plains of Abraham.

“Being from there and having raced there last year, I had the chance to have a really good day with a second place in the skate sprint,” Harvey said. “That actually is the most emotion I’ve ever had in a ski race.

“I’m really excited to have the opportunity to maybe re-live such a moment again.”

Valjas is the only skier from Canada’s World Cup team competing in an Olympic test event in Pyeongchang, South Korea, starting Friday. Kershaw is in Norway with his wife who is expecting their first child.

Harvey and the rest of the team remained in Europe preparing for the world championships Feb. 22 to March 5 in Lahti, Finland.

“We cannot sacrifice the training camp,” Bouchard said. “The world championship is more important.

“We have an opportunity from the Canadian Olympic Committee to go to Pyeongchang at the end of the season and see the area and the venue.”

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Accused in Kelowna triple murder in court today

Jacob Forman has been in custody since he was arrested and charged with second degree murder

JoeAnna’s House fundraising campaign reaches $4.5 million

Offering ‘home away from home’ for families of KGH patients

2014 murder case finally goes to trial

Steven Randy Pirko was charged with second-degree murder in 2016

Flood recovery work set to begin in Kelowna

The first phase of $5 million dollar flood recovery plan for Upper Vernon Creek will begin on Monday

Kelowna exhibition showcases nature of Haida Gwaii

The Kelowna Art Gallery is holding a reception for Gwaii Haanas – Islands and Sacred Sites Friday

Canadian junior captain returns to Rockets lineup

Dillon Dube will be back in Kelowna’s lineup Wednesday night after world juniors and bout of flu

Dube, Foote pace Rockets to O.T. win

World junior gold medalists key in 4-3 victory Wednesday over Lethbridge

Winter storm coming to B.C. this weekend

The bets are on as to how much snow the province will actually get in the coming days

Public asked to report bat sightings

White nose syndrome leads to bats flying in winter or death.

B.C. civil rights group files complaint about RCMP arrest of man who later died

Dale Culver, a 35-year-old Indigenous man was arrested in Prince George last July

Lawyer says former B.C. government aide ‘barely guilty’ in ethnic vote scandal

Brian Bonney pleaded guilty to a breach of trust charge

Song penned for Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton

Curling Time released to celebrate Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton

Quite a few tears as homemade quilts distributed to residents of Ashcroft Reserve, Boston Flats affected by last summer’s fire

Quilters in B.C. and Alberta worked through the summer and fall to create more than 100 quilts.

Island Health: No need for alarm in wake of Victoria needle-prick incidents

Three incidents in a week prompts meeting between health authority, city service providers

Most Read