2 mars 2011

Kershaw, Harvey take World ski gold in Norway

It isn't every day you get to meet a king. Shake his hand. Exchange a few words.

Terry Bell

Of course it isn't an everyday occurance that a couple of Canadian cross country skiers like Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey win a world championship gold medal and ski their way into the record books.

Harvey and Kershaw won the gold medal in the classic-ski sprint relay at the 2011 nordic world ski championships Wednesday in Oslo, Norway, the mecca of the sport.

In front of some 50,000 or so fans who've lined the Holmenkollen trails all week, Kershaw had moved all the way into third place when he handed off to Harvey for the sprint. Harvey caught them both, making him and Kershaw the first Canadian men to ever win a world championship medal in this sport.

"It was a crazy, crazy day," Kershaw, 28, of Sudbury, Ont., in a telephone interview.

"To beat the Norwegians at home in Norway is just such a ridiculous feeling. The fans were silent there for a while after we won but they were good sports and cheered us on."

Kershaw and Harvey, 22 of Ste-Ferreol-des-Nieges, Que., and the son of Canadian legend Pierre Harvey were then taken to meet King Harald V.

"We got to meet the King in his box and shake his hand. It was a pretty magical feeling," continued Kershaw.

"I kind of bowed. I don't know, I'd never met any monarchy before. But I took my toque off, took off my gloves and shook his hand.

"I said thank you very much for having us here in Norway. He said he loved Canada so I made a little joke and said of course you love Canada because when you came last year Norway won all the medals in cross country skiing.

"He thought that was hilarious. He said, yes, that's true. But this time the Canadians got the gold. They finished in 19 minutes, 10.00 seconds. Norway was second in 19:10.20 and Russia third in 19:10.50.

In this event, two skiers each do three laps of a 1.5 kilometre course. Kershaw handed off to Harvey, who out-sprinted the best in the world to get the gold.

"This feels absolutely amazing to win the real world championship and not just world juniors," said Harvey, who won gold at the 2011 junior worlds in the 30 km pursuit. "The Norwegians have like 100 world championship medals and we won our first today for Canada. To do it at the birthplace of the sport is incredible."

Alex's father Pierre also got to shake the hand of a King after he won a World Cup medal in Oslo in 1988.

Sara Renner of Canmore, Alta., has the only other Canadian world championship medal, a bronze in classic sprint in 2005.

Kershaw said he and Harvey had a perfect strategy. He stayed near the back of the lead pack through half the race and was third when he made the final tag with Harvey.

"It was the perfect position," said Kershaw. "The Finns were up ahead (in first) and Northug (Norway's Petter Northug) , the best skier in the world was coming. I had to make a snap decision. Do I kill myself to stay in front of him? No way.

"With the Finn up ahead it was better to draft after him and when we tagged it meant it was the Norwegian's job to chase the Finnish guy while Alex just sits on him and drafts. "It worked out perfectly. The Norwegian went after the Finn, burned a lot of energy and at the end Alex had all the energy."

"Devon handed off to me in a perfect position," said Harvey. "I just skied my stride and picked my lines.

"With 300 metres to go I knew where I wanted to be on the last downhill. I have been practising it all week and then I just went as hard as I could to the finish. It was just incredible with all those people going crazy."

Standing in the finish, Kershaw was one of the crazy people.

"I was at the finish line waiting," said Kershaw. "It was foggy. I saw him out front and he came across the line with his finger in the air and I thought 'oh my God, oh my God!' there it is the first ever Canadian medal at worlds.

"I was jumping up and down ... all my teammates were there, and the staff. We're such a tight knit team and this means the world to everybody."

Just how tight-knit they are was shown in their decision to skip Tuesday's 15 km classic. That's a strong event for Kershaw but the team decided to give it a miss so they'd be at their best on Wednesday.

"The 15 km classic was something that I'd been training towards all year but Alex and I knew we had a chance to reach the podium in the sprint relay today and we kind of just looked at each other," said Kershaw. "He said 'no, I'm not doing it I want to be 100 per cent ready.'

"I was still battling, thinking that I could do both. But I talked to Justin (head coach Justin Wadsworth) and thought about it and said 'hey, we're at the world championships, our best chance is the sprint relay and we were fourth in the Olympics last year in this event.' I said, 'I'm going to park my chance in the 15 km and go for everything in the relay.

"For it to work out not only for a medal but a gold medal in Norway ... it's unbeliveable. It's the first ever world championship gold medal for Canada and we won it."

Canada came close to the podium at the 2010 Olympics in the Callaghan Valley. Kershaw was fifth in the 50 km classic, edged off the podium by inches in a sprint finish.

This doesn't make up for that disappointment. But it's a heck of a step in the right direction.

"The Olympics really hurt me, for sure," Kershaw said. "But at the same time it's dead. That was 2010 and this is 2011. We have to turn the page and start going for it here. To come here and win in Norway and win in their house ... of course, it doesn't make up for the Olympic medal but it's great motivation for Sochi and to do something that's never been done before is an extraordinary feeling.

"It's done now. It's something that can never be taken away. For the whole staff, for the coaches, for the technicians, it' done. We can win more but to be first is just crazy.

"It's why we work so hard."


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