LAHTI, Fin.—Len Valjas and Alex Harvey dug deep for a sixth-place finish in the men’s team sprint race at the World Championships for cross-country skiing on Sunday in Lahti, Finland.
Battling through a back injury suffered two weeks ago that affected his breathing, Toronto’s Valjas put down a gutsy effort to fight with the best while teaming up with Harvey, of Saint Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que. where they clocked a sixth place time of 18:07.71 in the finals.
“I wasn’t even sure I would be able to start today. We concluded that I hurt my vertebrae so it affects my breathing,” said the 28-year-old Valjas. “The race starts well and then I feel like I am not able to breathe and I just die.”
One of the best sprinters in the world, Valjas and Harvey handily advanced to final of the team sprint with the top-10 nations where he stuck with the world’s best until the midway point of his second of three laps before being dropped from the lead group. Each athlete skis three laps, tagging off to his partner following each loop.
“We were in the second semi so we only had a short rest before the final. I still think we had good punch when we needed too, but they were going hard every lap. The repeat death blows up that hill started to get to me,” added Valjas.
It was the first team sprint race for Valjas and Harvey since joining up to win the event at a World Cup stop in Toblach just over one month ago.
“I still had a lot of confidence in Len today. We saw it in the semifinals,” said the 28-year-old Harvey. “I knew if I put him in the right situation, we had a legitimate shot. We still were looking for the podium, but we can’t have it every time.”
The Russians won the gold medal with a time of 17:40.69. Italy was second at 17:42.83, while the Finns were awarded the bronze medal after stopping the clock at 17:49.33.
Meanwhile, Cendrine Browne of Saint-Jérôme, Que. and Dahria Beatty of Whitehorse, skied to seventh place in their semifinal heat, putting them 13th overall.
“The first two laps were really fun and there was still some connection to the front group,” said Beatty. “I was just trying to stay in contact. It was awesome to race mass start race at this level.”
Beatty, along with Browne, are part of Canada’s next generation of young women gaining valuable experience on the elite circuit this year.
“I felt pretty good out there. I gave everything I had,” said Browne. “I skied pretty well. It was a quick pace, but I just tried to relax. We were pretty close on the first couple of laps. We will get faster and eventually we will start to qualify again.”
Norway won the women’s final with a time of 20:20.56. Russia was second at 20:26.12, while the Americans grabbed the bronze medal at 20:38.94.
The World Championships resume on Tuesday with the women’s 10 kilometre classic-ski race.