The scoop on our Olympic contenders
The skinny on Canada's Olympic hopefulsIn February 2011, Canada’s Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw stunned the cross-country-ski world—and probably the entire country of Norway—when they narrowly defeated the heavily favoured Norwegians in their own backyard in the team- sprint event at the 2011 World Championships in Oslo. With their victory, Harvey and Kershaw confirmed that for the first time in almost two decades, Canada’s XC-ski team no longer has to rely solely on the women athletes to get to the podium. Here’s a look at Canada’s cross-country prospects for the upcoming season.
Hometown: St.-Ferreol, Quebec
Podium odds: 1:1
Harvey boasts an excellent cross-country-skiing pedigree—his father Pierre Harvey was the first Canuck male to win a World Cup medal back in 1987. As a junior, Harvey racked up very impressive results, leading to predictions that he could be the best skier Canada has ever produced. His World Championship gold in Norway last season and his gold in the pursuit event at the 2011 Under-23 World Championships are promising signs that Harvey can live up to his earlier success. Expect to see him on the podium once again with Kershaw in the relays, but this season he seems ready to take an individual World Cup medal in one of the sprint distances.
Devon KershawHometown: Sudbury, Ontario
Podium odds: 2:1
Back in 2006, shortly after the Torino Olympics, Kershaw won a World Cup sprint bronze medal in Sweden, which became a rallying point for the Canadian men. A team leader, Kershaw has notched numerous podium and top-10 finishes in the years since, and barely missed the medals in Whistler by thousandths of a second. Last season, in addition to winning in Oslo with Harvey, he picked up an individual gold medal as well as a pair of silvers and a bronze en route to his most successful campaign yet. Known as an explosive sprinter, Kershaw shows a rare ability to rise to the challenge in multiple races including the longer distances.
Len ValjasHometown: Toronto, Ontario
Podium Odds: 6:1
At six feet six inches, sprint specialist Len Valjas possesses the same long-levered frame as track-and-field’s Usain Bolt, which explains why he towers over his more compact competitors. And like Bolt, Valjas has an ability to stride at a leg-blurring tempo, which enables him to cover short distances very quickly. The youngest member of Canada’s youthful men’s XC team, Veljas cracked the top 10 last season at a World Cup in Drammen, Norway, in addition to winning the sprint title at the Canadian nationals in Canmore, Alberta—both signs that point to his breaking through this year and giving the Canadian men a triple medal threat.
Perianne JonesHometown: Almonte, Ontario
Podium Odds: 4:1
Like her Olympic-gold-medal-winning teammate Chandra Crawford—who seemingly came from nowhere in 2006 to break out of the shadows cast by Beckie Scott and Sara Renner—Jones might be the next in a long line of Canadian women to shine on the World Cup circuit. She grabbed five gold medals during the 2011 Haywood NorAm tour, and then came up with a top-10 finish in the team sprint at the World Championships to ice her season. Jones’s solid performances might also spark a return to the podium for Canadian women in the relay, where injuries and retirements have slowed the program over the last two seasons.