While Canada’s premier female cross-country skiers have been winning World Cup events and Olympic medals, the men’s team has quietly been progressing up the ranks in international competition, from back of the pack in 2006 to the top half of the pack — and sometimes the top-20 — last year.
Now, in his second World Cup start this year, Ontario’s Devon Kershaw surged to fifth place in the 15-km individual start classic race at Kuusamo, Finland last weekend.
The races consisted of a five kilometre loop, with competitors making three laps. He finished with a time of 38 minutes, 12.8 seconds, averaging less than 13 minutes per lap.
“I felt like I had something to prove today after yesterday’s debacle,” said Kershaw, who was disqualified in the opening heat of the sprint race for skate skiing in a classic format. “I felt like my shape was really strong this weekend, and tested my body today. I am ridiculously excited about today, but need to keep things in perspective.”
Kershaw also took pains to pace himself, recognizing a flaw in the way he attacked past races.
“The ‘Kershaw way’ in the past has been to go hard in the beginning and then I just hold on at the end,” he said. “I have been working hard at skiing on an even pace, which is the key to any endurance event. I didn’t have a spring in me for the final kilometre today, but I stayed relaxed, used my technique… this is a huge step forward for me.”
Kershaw was just 20 seconds off the pace set by gold medal winner Martin Johnsrud of Norway. Lukas Bauer of Czech Republic was second in 37:56, and Sami Jauhojaervi of Finland was third in 38:06. That means Kershaw was just two seconds per lap back of a bronze medal.
Other Canadians finished well back, with Stefan Kuhn 68 th and Perianne Jones 60 th in the women’s 10 km individual start classic.
Most Canadians opted to miss the event in Finland, and the World Cup season-opener the previous week in Sweden to get in some more early season training at home. Kershaw was 28 th in the men’s 15 km freestyle, 58 seconds back of the leader, while Kuhn was 83 rd out of 87 starters.
Canada’s top female racers, including Chandra Crawford, have not joined the World Cup tour yet. Crawford, who specializes in sprint events, is training with the national team in Canada while rehabilitating her ankle. Sara Renner is expecting her second child with Canadian Alpine Ski Team veteran Thomas Grandi on Feb. 5.