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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hunting for medals in Sochi

Canada's men poised for cross-country success

Posted: 01/15/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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CALGARY -- Canada's cross-country ski team is poised to make Olympic history next month.

While Canadian women have stood on the Olympic podium in the sport, a Canadian man never has.

Led by Alex Harvey of St-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., and Devon Kershaw of Sudbury, Ont., that drought could end on the Psekhako Ridge in Sochi, Russia.

The hard goal of Canada's cross-country team is to claim at least two medals in Sochi. It's the men who have the best chance at winning them this time.

"I really feel if this team doesn't get two medals I'll feel a bit of disappointment or maybe we did something wrong," Canadian head coach Justin Wadsworth said. "That doesn't mean we're incapable of four or five medals.

"This is an amazing team. We could do better than two medals. We could blow other teams out of the water if everything comes together."

The 11 skiers who'll represent Canada in Sochi were introduced Tuesday at an elementary school with six being present for the announcement. Harvey, Kershaw, Ivan Babikov of Canmore, Alta., Daria Gaiazova of Banff, Alta., and Perianne Jones of Almonte, Ont., were in Europe and en route to a World Cup event in Poland.

Chandra Crawford and Jesse Cockney of Canmore, Toronto's Lenny Valjas, Graeme Killick of Fort McMurray, Alta., Heidi Widmer of Banff and Emily Nishikawa of Whitehorse will join their teammates in Italy next week for pre-Games training.

Cockney, Killick, Widmer and Nishikawa claimed their Olympic berths at last week's trials in Canmore. They, along with Valjas, will make their Olympic debuts while the rest of the team has previous Games experience.

Harvey won two races and finished in the medals four times in this season's Tour de Ski, which is a gruelling series of 10 races spread over 16 days and three countries. Harvey and Kershaw finished first and second, respectively, in the series opening race.

"I feel like our team is in a really good place," Wadsworth said. "We started out slowly this year. The results weren't good early and we've built and built. I feel like we're in a place where we're building still in confidence. We haven't peaked out in any way shape or form.

"I feel like the whole team is starting to rise and it's how we wanted to time it."

Wadsworth is married to Canada's Beckie Scott, whose bronze at the 2002 Winter Games was eventually upgraded to gold when two Russians ahead of her were disqualified for doping.

Scott was the first North American woman to win an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing. Scott and Sara Renner combined for team sprint silver in 2006 before Scott retired.

Canada's cross-country skiers were shut out of the medals at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., although the men posted seven top-10 finishes.

Harvey and Kershaw were fourth in the team sprint and Babikov fifth in the 30-kilometre event. Kershaw was fifth and an agonizing half a second from the podium in the 50-kilometre event.

Harvey and Kershaw won world championship gold in 2011 in the team sprint. The men's sprints are fertile ground for Canada, but Babikov is also a contender in distance events.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 15, 2014 D4

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