3 mars 2011

Canadians upset hosts to grab historic gold

Vicky Hall

The alarm clock went off at 10: 45 a.m. Wednesday in a Norwegian hotel rented by Canadians.

Alex Harvey looked over at his slumbering teammate in the bed across the room.

"How does it feel to know that tonight you'll be a world champion?" Harvey asked, innocently.

"Shut up," Devon Kershaw replied from under the covers.

As it turns out, Harvey is a clairvoyant of sorts. And a world champion.

Together, Harvey and Kershaw combined Wednesday to win gold in the classic-ski sprint relay at the nordic world ski championships in Oslo, Norway.

Together, Kershaw and Harvey enter the history books as the first Canadian men to hit the podium at the crosscountry world championships. Together, they go down as the first Canadians, of any gender, to win gold at the marquee event.

Together, they seized the title in front of some 40,000 screaming fans who lapsed into stunned silence upon witnessing Canada upstage the host country in a photo finish.

Judging by comments on the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation website, this loss is as crushing as an Olympic hockey defeat for Canada -in Canada.

"The Norwegians have, like, 100 world championship medals, and we won our first today for Canada," Harvey said. "To do it at the birthplace of the sport is incredible."

The retired Sara Renner, of Canmore, is the only other Canadian with a medal at the world championships. She captured bronze in the classic-ski sprint race in 2005.

In the classic sprint relay, two athletes race three times around a 1.5-kilometre track. They alternate and hand the baton off to one another.

On his third lap, Kershaw pulled toward the front of the pack and handed off to Harvey. At that moment, the Canadians lagged 3.2 seconds back of leading Finland.

The Norwegian powerhouse team of Ola Vigen Hattestad and Petter Northug sat in second place, ready to make a move.

In magical fashion, Harvey powered through the fog and crossed the finish line first in the victory in 19: 10.0. The Norwegians finished second in 19: 10.2. Russia captured bronze in 19: 10.5.

With their competitors strewn around on the ground trying to catch their breath, the Canadians embraced. Kershaw screamed primally. Harvey playfully put his index finger to his lips to tell his teammate to keep it down.

Moments later, the Canadians turned their skis sideways and played air guitar in the finish area.

Redemption was at hand.

Remember: Harvey and Kershaw placed an agonizing fourth in the sprint relay at the Vancouver Olympics. One year later, they seized gold on Norwegian soil.

"I actually lost my ski in the semifinal," said Kershaw, 28. "The binding popped off on the first leg. I thought, 'Oh my gosh. This day is over.'

"I really had to bury myself to get back into the pack. And then we made it through our semifinal no problem. And then in the final, things happened so fast.

"The next thing you know, we won. We met the king."

He's serious. True to tradition in Norway, Kershaw and Harvey had an audience with the king, queen and crown prince.

The king told Harvey and Kershaw he loves Canada. Always quick with a comeback, Kershaw said that made sense considering Norway cleaned up in the cross-country medals at the Vancouver Games.

But not Wednesday, in what is seen as a national travesty for Norway.

"It's a dream come true to do something that no Canadian has ever done before," said Kershaw, of Canmore. "The bar has been set now. The first one is over.

"It's surreal to know that we were the ones who did it."

Harvey, of St-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., also won gold this year at the world junior championships. He is the son of Canadian crosscountry ski legend Pierre Harvey.

The victory comes after Kershaw sat out the 15-kilometre classic-ski race -his signature event -earlier this week to preserve his strength for the sprint.

"That decision was tough, but it paid off," Kershaw said. "We did it. We're world champions.

"I can't believe Alex was right."

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