Alex Harvey is standing exactly where he wants to be with the 2018 Olympic Winter Games less than two weeks away – on the silver medal step of the World Cup podium.
The 29-year-old battled to his third medal of the season in the last World Cup race prior to the Opening Ceremonies of the Games, finishing second with a time of 31:39.3 in the men’s 15-kilometre mass start cross country skate-ski race on Sunday.
“When you haven’t raced in two weeks it is always exciting to see where you are at. I was ready to take a beating today,” said Harvey. “The races started our really fast so that first lap was hard. I was feeling really tired after the last few weeks of training and thought ‘oh boy, this could be a long day.’
“After the first lap, things started slowing down and I was able to pace myself. It turned out to be a really good day.”
Starting in fourth spot on the line, Harvey wasn’t able to respond to the quick pace in the first of four laps and dropped to about 20th spot. When things settled down after the opening 3.75 kilometres, the two-time Olympian was able to climb his way back to the front of the pack at the midway point of the race where he skied in the top-five until the finish.
“It wasn’t the hardest course so I kind of just mentally got myself ready for the big push at the end,” added Harvey. I was able to pace myself for the last uphill. I knew it would come down to a sprint down the last hill. Dario just had a little more than me at the finish. It is a great feeling to know you can find something inside to finish second on a day when you aren’t feeling good or don’t have the legs.”
Harvey finished just over one second back of the gold-medal mark set by Switzerland’s Dario Colgona who topped the Canuck with a time of 31:37.9.
“The plan was to use the weekend for good training, get tired and then recover and get a boost heading into the Olympics,” added Harvey. “I really wasn’t too worried whether I was good or bad today. I was ready to handle the beating today, but it is definitely better heading to the Olympics coming off a silver medal than a 40th place.”
Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby finished on Harvey’s heels in third with a time of 31:40.8.
It was the just the second race for the Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., since becoming the first non-European cross-country skier ever to finish on the overall podium at the prestigious Tour de Ski – a seven-race journey through Europe held over nine days. Harvey locked up third spot in the overall with back-to-back bronze medals on the final weekend.
Regularly in the top-10 all season with countless top-five finishes, Sunday’s triumph was his best finish of the year and 27th World Cup podium of his unprecedented 10-year career. He also has five World Championship medals and is now hungry to become the first Canadian male to stand on the Olympic podium.
“I’ll take a lot of positive from this weekend with me to the Olympics,” added Harvey. “The goal for me was to finish this camp being really tired, recover and bounce back from that and not worry about the results. Today was a bonus, but I can tell you, I am really tired! We are bringing a lot of confidence and momentum with us into the Games and are all very excited.”
A man who blazed the trail to the international podium for Canadian men’s cross-country skiers, Devon Kershaw of Sudbury, Ont., had a strong race on Sunday against a deep international field. Heading to his fourth Olympics, Kershaw grabbed the final spot in the top-30 with a time of 32:04.4. Graeme Killick, of Fort McMurray, Alta., also had his top result of the season finishing 31st (32:05.3). Toronto’s Len Valjas was 58th at 33:31.0, while Knute Johnsgaard, of Whitehorse, skied to 82nd (35:01.0); Bob Thompson, of Thunder Bay, Ont., was 87th (36:05.4); and Julien Locke, of Nelson, B.C., finished 92nd (36:34.8).
It was a solid effort for the Canadian women who continue to pick their way closer to the elite group of 30. Emily Nishikawa, of Whitehorse, had her best result of the season, finishing 35th with a time of 24:45.0 in the 10-kilometre skate-ski mass start race. Cendrine Browne, of St-Jérôme, Que., skied to 37th spot at 24:45.1. Fresh off the second-best result of her career in 20th, sprint specialist Dahria Beatty enjoyed a good distance race finishing in the middle of the pack. The Whitehorse resident placed 45th at 25:07.4.
Jessica Diggins, of the United States, held off four charging Norwegians to claim the top spot on the podium in the women’s race. Diggins won the sprint finish with a time of 23:08.5. Heidi Weng settled for second at 23:09.2, while Ragnhild Haga rounded out the women’s podium with a time of 23:09.5.
Cross Country Ski de Fond Canada will nominate 11 athletes to the Canadian Olympic Team on Monday. The team will remain in Seefeld, Austria to complete their final preparations for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang.