Valjas joins podium club 

Three men and two women win x-c medals for Canada this season

click to enlarge PHOTO BY NORDIC FOCUS - So Close Canada's Len Valjas (number 6) gets edged at the finish line in Norway on Friday, but came away with his first World Cup medal.
  • photo by nordic focus
  • So Close Canada's Len Valjas (number 6) gets edged at the finish line in Norway on Friday, but came away with his first World Cup medal.

Seeing Devon Kershaw on the podium is nothing new these days, and Alex Harvey is no stranger to the bright lights himself. But the Canadian Cross-Country Team showed something else this week in Drammen, Norway and that's depth. Len Valjas, who is in his third year with the national team, sprinted to second place and the first World Cup medal of his career.

The six-foot-six, 23-year-old sprinter from Toronto accomplished the podium in one of the spiritual homes of Nordic skiing, up against a home team that has been more or less dominating the sport.

"I never would have thought I'd win a medal this early in my career, but to have the first medal come in Norway is really special," said Valjas. "This country has been really good to me over the last couple of years. I just wanted to get to the front and attack on the hills. I had great skis and was able to do that. I felt good all day."

Valjas had the lead until the final stretch, where Norway's Erik Brandsdal pulled up even and then edged Valjas at the finish line. Paal Goldberg of Norway was third.

Valjas shared the March 7 win with his teammates.

"Training with Alex and Devon has had a huge influence on me and me getting to the podium. Just watching how these guys train with such intensity is huge for me," he said.

Valjas's silver medal was the highlight so far, but it wasn't the only big moment for the team. Chandra Crawford, an Olympic gold medallist in freestyle sprint, posted her career-best in the women's classic sprint, fifth place. Her teammate and sometimes racing partner Daria Gaiazova — who earned her first World Cup podium with Crawford in January — placed a career-best eighth.

"I was not expecting it to go that well," said Crawford. "I have been relentless on improving my classic skiing. My stride has opened up and is much longer. I am very happy, but more excited to see Lenny get on the podium today. It couldn't happen to a better guy and I'm so happy for our program."

After Drammen, the tour headed to Oslo for the men's and women's 50km and 30km marathon races.

There were no podiums, but Devon Kershaw battled hard to place 10th on the men's side. While it's not the result he wanted, the result — and bonus points he picked up on course — put him in second place in the overall World Cup standings, something no Canadian has achieved before.

"It was a really hard day," said Kershaw. "This is the toughest course on the World Cup and to be out there for over two hours in warm and slow conditions makes it even more difficult."

Kershaw was with the lead group until the end, but missed three feeds and started to cramp up in the final lap. He was sitting sixth with 100 metres to go and was passed by skiers with more in the tank.

Now just four races remain, and Kershaw's goal is to remain in the top three.

"I was all over the bonus points today because I wanted to stay in that top three," he said. "This is the big goal of the year for me."

Alex Harvey was 29th while Kevin Sandau placed 47th.

No Canadians raced the women's 30km event.

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