3 mars 2011

Cross-country skiers thrilled after taking gold at Nordic world championships

Alex Harvey, of St. Ferréol des Neiges, and Devon Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., celebrate
after winning gold in the crosscountry team sprint race at the Nordic world championships in Norway.
photo :Christof Koepsel

Canadians can't believe they won

They used words like "magical" and "amazing."

Gary Kingston

It was almost as if they couldn't believe it themselves.

As they were preparing to be honoured by upwards of 100,000 Norwegians in an evening medal ceremony in downtown Oslo, crosscountry skiers Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw were still flying high after skiing into the records books as the first Canadians to win gold at the Nordic world championships.

A few hours earlier, in a thrilling race in the modern birthplace of the sport, the pair had stunned a raucous stadium crowd of 50,000 by winning the classic sprint relay, edging out a Norwegian duo that included multiple Olympic and world champion Petter Northug.

"It was exactly like if an American had scored the overtime winner in that gold medal hockey game (at the 2010 Olympics)," Kershaw said in a telephone interview from Oslo. "It went dead quiet. We shocked the world.

"The Norwegians have over 100 world championship gold medals and we just got our first one."

With Northug's partner, Ola Vigen Hattestad leading narrowly into the final sprint, Harvey, who recently won a world under-23 championship gold, unleashed a devastating final kick and edged him out by half a ski length.

"I had good power in my arms for the final 100 metres and I was slowly, slowly reeling him in," said Harvey, who is from St. Ferréol les Neiges, about 50 kilometres northeast of Quebec City. "As soon as I was head-to-head with him, I knew I was going to get him because he was starting to die a little bit.

"It was a pretty amazing feeling."

Kershaw, a native of Sudbury, Ont., who had made a huge breakthrough this season by winning a stage of the gruelling Tour de Ski and finishing second in two other stages, said it was a crazy day with a heavy fog that lingered over the famed Holmenkollen course.

"You couldn't see more than 30 metres in front of you," Kershaw said.

"When I saw Alex coming out of the fog a little bit ahead, I just thought, 'Oh my god, we're going to win this.' "

After celebrating wildly at the finish, including fashioning a bit of air guitar work while holding their skis, the duo were whisked over to the King of Norway's private box.

"That's when you realize how big a deal it is," said Harvey, whose father, Pierre, received the same royal treatment when he won a World Cup at the same site in 1988.

"Cross-country is so big in Norway and to defeat the Olympic champions in their country and knowing the Norwegians have the classic (style) so dialed in, it was magical."

The victory came a day after Harvey and Kershaw had made the difficult decision to sit out Tuesday's 15-kilometre classic-ski race to preserve their energy. The 15K is Kershaw's favourite event and he would have been a podium contender.

"That was really hard for me personally," Kershaw said. "I'd trained hard all year for that. But when we saw the calendar for the worlds, with the 15K the day before the sprint relay, we knew we might have to do it."

Head coach Justin Wadsworth, who was a key figure in the decision, said he's just glad it turned out.

"It looks pretty good right now, doesn't it? It would have looked pretty stupid if we hadn't got the medal. We made a decision to go for it today, to put all our eggs in one basket, and we're lucky it paid off in a big way."

It also avenges a fourthplace finish in the same event at the Olympics for Harvey and Kershaw.

"This is as close as you can get to an Olympic gold," Wadsworth said, "especially here with the crowd, the media attention."

Earlier in the day, the Canadian duo of Daria Gaiazova of Banff, Alta., and Perianne Jones of Almonte, Ont., finished sixth in the women's race.

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