Devon Kershaw knows just how significant a couple of ticks of the clock can be.
The cross-country skier from Sudbury was fifth in the men’s 50-kilometre event on the final day of the 2010 Winter Olympics, missing the podium by less than two seconds.
He and teammate Alex Harvey of St-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., also combined for a fourth-place finish in the men’s team sprint at the Olympic ski races.
“I was pretty close and we were fourth in the team sprint. There’s never been a man in the history of cross-country skiing in this country medal in cross-country skiing so we have our work cut out for us,” Kershaw said.
A new Own the Podium initiative is hoping to give Kershaw and Canada’s other Nordic athletes those extra seconds they need to make it to the podium at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“While we did celebrate record performances by many of our Nordic athletes in 2010, Canada did not step onto the Olympic podium in these sports,” Ken Read, director of winter sport for Own the Podium, said at a news conference at the Canmore Nordic Centre on Wednesday.
Read said 30 per cent of the 228 Olympic medals and more than 50 per cent of the 186 Paralympic medals are awarded at the cross-country skiing and biathlon venues.
The first of two major projects aimed at improving Canadian chances in 2014 were unveiled at the news conference – an indoor sport-specific treadmill and a rifle lab.
“I know we’re launching today the same day as the iPhone 5 but for us this is our iPhone 5,” chuckled Tom Holland, high performance director for Cross Country Canada.
“Athletes at this time of year in particular do not like getting on treadmills, they have an aversion to testing and this was holding us back a little. If you want to win you have to be on the edge of innovating, coming up with new ideas. This is an anchor for us.”
The $200,000 giant treadmill can be used by two skiers at a time and reach speeds of up to 35 kilometres an hour. It has the ability to upload data collected on race courses to simulate competition venues around the world.
“It replicates very closely the roller skiing we do out on the roads. Of course, to have technique it helps to work with the coaches, to have them right beside you the whole time,” Kershaw said.
“You can make some really good gains using a tool like this.”
The $50,000 rifle lab has previously only existed in Europe. It has an infrared light, sound system, camera technology and a shooting distance of up to 15 metres.
“The laser can track the movement of your rifle before, during and after the shot and also pinpoint exactly where the shot hit. That’s something you can’t do with a live round,” explained biathlete Nathan Smith.
“In biathlon one missed shot out of 20 can drop you from first to 20th. One more shot during a race can make a huge difference.”
Kershaw points out however that as important at the treadmill is to Canada’s athletes this is just levelling the playing field a bit.
“This isn’t something new … Germany has a few of these, Sweden has a few of these, Norway has a few of these, Russia has a few of these. This isn’t something that we’re on the cutting edge with. I mean all the major skiing powers of the world have them,” Kershaw said.
“There’s a little bit of catch up, no question, but in other ways we’re trying to push it forward again,” added Read.
“The bar’s being raised all the time and when you see a medal slip away by two hundredths of a second then it’s a redoubled effort so say we can.”