This was supposed to be Canada’s day on the cross-country ski runs. It was sunny, cool and there was a fresh blanket of unslushy snow on the tracks. Perfect.
But like so many days for the Canadian competitors on the cross-country, biathlon and speed skiing runs at Sochi, a whole bunch of nothing happened. No medals, not even close.
Last week, Canada’s cross-country ski coach Justin Wadsworth, the man who became an instant Sochi Games hero when he handed a spare ski to a Russian skier whose ski had broken, was telling everyone that he expected his boys to win a medal in the team sprint classic.
Alex Harvey of Quebec and Devon Kershaw of Alberta had placed fourth in the same event in Vancouver four years ago. In the 2011 World Championships, they took gold in the event, becoming the first Canadian men to stand on a world championship podium in cross-country skiing.
But they placed sixth in the semi-final with a dismal time that prevented them from qualifying for the final. There was no disaster; the competitive energy was simply lacking.
“This is the worst feeling that I have had since being with the team,” Wadsworth said. “But my disappointment stems from years of being ready for this day and then having nothing... As a coach, I take all responsibility for this.”
The six-lap race, with each man taking alternating laps, was won by Ivo Niskanen and Sami Jauhojaervi of Finland. In a thriller of a finish, the Russians were less than a second behind, taking silver. Bronze went to the Sweden.
Harvey, 24, and Kershaw, 31, were shattered.
“People always say you have to learn from this but I think I learned what I needed to at Vancouver 2010,” Harvey said. “I was expecting more from these Games, but there is nothing to learn here.”
Kershaw was battling a flu bug but felt prepared as could be.
“But I wasn’t even sure I was going to race until this morning when the doctor checked me out and said I wasn’t going to damage myself worse,” said Kershaw. “Starting to feel a little better, but obviously not better enough. I got trashed out there, it was really difficult, the guys are really giving it.”
In the women’s event, Daria Gaiazova of Banff, Alta., and Perianne Jones of Almonte, Ont., were fifth out of the nine teams in their semi-final group and failed to advance to the final.
As the alpine events winding down, the Canadians in the cross-country, biathlon and speed skiing events will almost certainly leave Sochi with no Olympic hardware, save the bronze won by Jan Hudec in the super G, a medal that ended Canada’s 20-year alpine medal drought. In many other races, the most promising male and female medal candidates, including downhiller Erik Guay, Canada’s most highly decorated speed skier, and Marie-Michele Gagnon finished mid-pack or failed to finish their races.
In Wednesday’s giant slalom, the top Canadian finish went to Trevor Philp, with a 25th. The race was won in convincing style by Ted Ligety of the United States, considered the best carver is all ski-dom. He was half a second ahead of his nearest rival, Steve Missillier of France.
Only a few alpine races remain before Sochi winds up, including the slalom and the men’s grueling 50-km mass cross-country start. Based on the Canadians’ performance so far, they will produce no medals. No one is talking about this yet, but Canada’s alpine coaches may see a changing of the guard pretty soon.
– Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report