10 février 2010

Former Olympian Pierre Harvey (left) and his son Alex stand in Pierre's waxing room,
which is decorated with a poster of both from 20 years ago in St-Fereol-les-Neiges Que.
Alex, a 21-year-old rising star of the national cross-country ski team, will be joined at the Olympics
by his father, Pierre, who will be in Vancouver as a television commentator.
photo : Jacques Boissinot, Presse Canadienne

Alex Harvey crossing over into the limelight

Young gun has good bloodlines, a go get 'em attitude and possesses plenty of natural talent

Cross country skier Alex Harvey was a real menace as a kid.

Just ask the teacher who got locked out of her own classroom. Or the parents who tried to keep their hyperactive son out of trouble.

"After a half an hour, we had to find another activity," said his mom Mireille Belzile. "If he had nothing to do, he would do bad things."

All that running, swimming and biking didn't exactly slow down the troublemaking tendencies of the son of Canadian cross country ski legend Pierre Harvey.

"Because he had to spend his energy, he did lots of exercise," said Belzile. "And because he got lots of exercise, he got even more energy."

Well, Harvey's putting it to good use these days as the young gun on Canada's cross country ski team, a 21-year-old who many – including the guys who train with him and his competitors – believe will be a superstar in the sport.

"He's a heavy favourite for the future," said teammate Devon Kershaw. "I'm talking like overall World Cup champion and world champion and Olympic champion stuff. He has the capacity to do that. And people in our sport believe that, too."

An Olympic medal is a lot to ask at this early stage of his career, but Harvey is the type who'll be striving for one nevertheless.

He's not one who believes in waiting his turn. He demonstrated that at the end of last season in a World Cup 50-kilometre classic race in Trondheim, Norway.

Harvey had no business being at the front of the pack in the race, but there he was. He had no business being the racer who decided to push the pace, but that's what he did. Not only that, he made his move with 35 kilometres to go – and wound up with a bronze medal. It was a remarkable feat for a 20-year-old in such a tough endurance race.

"I was able to stay calm and do my race and not worry about the possiblity of winning a medal," he said. "I was just skiing for the best result possible."

The thing about Harvey is he's a cool customer on and off the snow, comfortable in his own skin. But it's not his physical and technical talents that teammates like Kershaw so admire, but what he has between the ears.

"The thing I'm most blown away by with Alex is his mental game, his racing head," said Kershaw. "He's calm under pressure. When I was his age, I wanted to get a signature from a guy I was racing against. He's 20 and he's winning medals. That's something ... it takes years to learn that."

The natural inclination is to think he picked that up from his father Pierre, whose three World Cup victories make him Canada's most successful male cross country skier ever. No other Canadian man has won a race.

But his dad was never that type of aggressive racer and didn't possess that kind of self-belief. Pierre Harvey has said in the past his son has got an edge on him in that regard.

"There's the physical talent," said Alex Harvey. "But there's also the ability to train and to manage pressure and to manage your personal life, school and everything. You can work on it, but at some point it has to come almost naturally. So I guess I'm lucky that I'm gifted for that."

It's actually his mother who's been more influential in his career. His parents split up five years ago and he lives with his mom and two sisters. Belzile is a sports physician who worked with the national team for 16 years during Harvey's career and works at the national training centre in Quebec City.

Asked what his security blanket was, Harvey said it was probably his mom.

"She followed my dad's career," he said. "She's a sport doctor and she knows a lot about what I'm doing. She's even good for psychology, nutrition, everything that's around an athlete's life. In my case, it's not only good for the family side but the sport side, too."

She also keeps him grounded. There are a number of rules in their household: Everybody chips in with the chores. No talking about sports and winning all the time. You must pursue other interests, including school.

"When he's at home, he's not the king," said Belzile. "He has to participate in everything and get back to real life."

That's usually not too much of an adjustment for him. He's a serious and strong student with aspirations of becoming a lawyer.

Not a bad transformation for someone who as a teenager nearly got kicked out of the sports school he was attending because of his behaviour. He had good grades. The problem was he'd finish his work before everyone else and then cause all kinds of mayhem.

"All the teachers remember him," said Belzile.

Especially the one he locked out of her room.

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