19 janvier 2009

Alex Harvey gives his all crossing the finish line for third place
Sunday for Canada in the men's 1.6K team sprint.
photo : Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun

This son also rises

Alex Harvey helps Canada to World Cup bronze as father Pierre calls race.

Mike Beamish

Canada's greatest male cross-country skier couldn't contain himself as his strong-willed son flung himself across the finish line to give Canada a bronze medal in the World Cup Sunday.

"I knew he was good, but not that good," exclaimed Pierre Harvey, in English, over the public address system, as Alex Harvey made gargantuan strides around the final turn, taking Canada from fifth to third in the jockeying for the medals. His enormous effort allowed the Canada A team of Harvey and George Grey of Rossland to finish 0.6 seconds behind the winning Swedish team of Robin Bryntesson and Emil Jonesson and 0.3 in arrears of Italian silver medalists Fabio and Renato Pasini in the men's 1.6K team sprint.

Pierre Harvey was there to see it all. He was supposed to be doing French language commentary over the loudspeakers, auditioning, like his son, for an invitation to the 2010 Winter Olympics -- on the operations side.

"It was nice to be able to share the moment with my dad, but I wasn't motivated by the fact he was here," Alex said. "I was motivated enough coming here. I'm ahead of what I thought I could do."

Pierre Harvey's genuine achievements are a handful. He was the first Canadian male to win a World Cup cross-country ski event in a sport dominated by Scandinavians and central Europeans. He went on to beat the best of Europe two more times on their home hills before retiring in 1988, the year Alex was born.

Still, Pierre Harvey wasn't this good this early. Alex is only 20. The three-day pre-Olympic competition at Whistler Olympic Park represented only the third time he had competed in a World Cup senior event.

Last spring, Alex had to shut down his season early to undergo vascular surgery to correct a problem that hampered blood flow. "When I pushed myself to the limit, my left leg would be really painful," he said. "I'd lose power. Now I can really push and train hard."

Indeed. On Saturday, Alex finished 12th in the men's 30K pursuit, achieving the Canadian standard for the Olympics. His previous best World Cup result had been 46th.

"It's just the start for Alex," Grey said. "He's one of the most talented -- and, more importantly -- level-headed young guys I've ever trained with. I ran about 50 metres at the stretch cheering this guy on. I could taste that medal. Alex just punched it through at the finish."

It was definitely an electric, Olympian atmosphere as Harvey screamed down the stretch and the crowd of 3,000 screamed along with him. His come-from-behind sprint was made easier when three-time Olympic medalist Pietro Piller Cottrer of Italy fell after "a Swedish guy closed me the door, jumped on my skis and I fell down." Killer Piller had criticized the course for being "too easy", turny and technical after winning the 30K pursuit gold medal on Saturday.

The men's team sprint consists of pairs of skiers completing six laps (three each) around a 1.6K circuit on an alternating basis, relay-style. Beckie Scott and Sara Renner won a silver at the 2006 Olympics in Turin for Canada. But Harvey and Grey made it a World Cup first for Canadian men in the team sprint.

"It had to be a happy surprise for the crowd," said Grey, 29, a nine-year national team veteran. "They were hoping. But I don't think they were expecting it. They don't know intimately where we've come from. The [Canadian] men are coming on strong. We push each other hard in all disciplines. And we're showing that this year."

After abandoning alpine skiing for nordic at the age of 12, Alex Harvey became the first Canadian to win three medals at the world junior cross-country championships.

Like his father, he's also an accomplished cyclist, twice representing Canada at the junior worlds in mountain biking. Pierre Harvey is a four-time Olympian (two Winter Games, two Summer) and the first Canadian to compete in a pair of Olympics in the same year in 1984. Pierre was part of the Canadian road racing team that pulled Steve Bauer along to a silver medal in cycling at the '84 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Alex was introduced to skiing before he could walk, trailing along in a toboggan pulled by his dad. Fittingly, he trains in his hometown of Mont Sainte-Anne, Que., at the Pierre Harvey National Training Centre named after his father.

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