Canada’s George Grey and Alex Harvey joined forces to win their first-ever World Cup medal, capturing the bronze in the team skate-sprint relay at Whistler Olympic Park on Sunday.
The 29-year-old Grey, who is the oldest member of the Canadian men’s squad, formed a dynamic duo with 20-year-old World Cup rookie, Alex Harvey, in the team sprint which consists of each athlete skiing the 1.6-kilometre loop three times. Athletes tag their partner following each leg.
“My dad told me last night that it was time for a podium, but this is absolutely incredible,” said Grey, whose father Rob is an orthopedic surgeon who periodically works with the Canadian team. “Our strategy worked out absolutely perfect today and Alex was so great coming down the finish.”
Grey, of Rossland, B.C., and Harvey’s pre-race strategy was to hang back in the pack and draft on the frontrunners until the end of the final lap. With the veteran Grey leading the way on the team, the Canucks stuck with their tactics throughout the race. Harvey ventured out on his final loop in fifth spot, and closed the gap on the leaders coming down the final plunge into the stadium where he hammered down the final stretch with 3,000 fans joining Grey cheering him towards the photo finish where the top-four teams finished within a second of each other. It was the first time a Canadian men’s team has reached the podium in a World Cup relay.
“This means we can do it at a World Cup and we can do it at the Olympics,” said Harvey, of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que. “I was in my bubble coming into the stadium and couldn’t hear anything. I just told myself to go and I fought as hard as I could. This is so awesome.”
It has been a dream season for both Grey and Harvey. Recently married this summer, and now making a concerted effort to manage his body properly to ensure he is in top form for World Championships by implementing a new race schedule this year, Grey is posting the best results of his career. Last month, after finishing a career-best ninth in the prologue race at the Tour de Ski, the wily veteran predicted podium results were not far away for the Canadians.
“Once you start breaking into the top-10 anything is possible,” said Grey. “I have been at this a long time and it is just so great to finally break through.”
Harvey, who is the son of four-time World Cup cross-country skiing medallist Pierre Harvey, joined the World Cup team this year after winning three World Junior Championship medals. On Saturday, he posted his best individual World Cup performance when he was 12th in the pursuit race.
“I came here and everybody knows me because of my father, but I motivate myself and it is nice they will start to know me by my own performances now,” said Harvey, whose dad ran down to the finish line from calling the race in the broadcast booth to hug his son.
While the Canadians stepped onto third spot on the podium, it was Sweden’s Robin Bryntesson and Emil Joensson who climbed to the gold-medal position. Italy’s Fabio Pasini and Renato Pasini were second.
Two other young Canadians also qualified for the men’s final. Calgary’s Brent McMurtry and Phil Widmer, of Banff, Alta. had a strong day finishing in ninth spot.
No Canadians qualified for the finals in the women’s race which was won by Italy’s Magda Genuin and Arianna Follis.
The Canadian athletes and officials past its first test at Whistler Olympic Park with flying colours this week in preparation for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. With nearly 10,000 spectators catching a peak of the exciting Nordic sport, Canadian athletes had six top-10 finishes in three men’s and women’s races.
“I am so happy for the guys. It is days like these when they get on the podium that are so special and you never forget them,” said Dave Wood, team leader, National Ski Team. “In 2002 we had one medal, in 2006 we had two and now we have a number of athletes that have potential to win and that is really exciting. It is also very important so the pressure isn’t all on one person.”
The Canadian team will continue their journey to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Rybinsk, Russia on January 30, 2009.
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