Canada's Alex Harvey made history on Thursday on the opening day of the 2013 Nordic World Ski Championships at Val Di Fiemme, Italy, winning the first medal for a Canadian male at a World Championship individual event.
Harvey was competing in the classic sprint event, starting on the far left side. He was sitting in sixth out of six skiers after the first few hundred metres, then moved into fifth after the first climb. He hung out with the chase pack, then picked his own lane to move into fourth on the second climb, and in the final sprint he double-poled his way into third place behind Russia's Nikita Kriukov and Petter Northug Jr. of Norway.
Harvey started his day slow, ranking 26th in the qualifier and getting faster with every heat to make it into the finals.
"It was such a quick turn-around from the semis so I was a little tired in the final, but I just tried to stay connected to the pack," said Harvey. "Things weren't looking so good, but everything just worked out in the end, and I am so happy."
Snow started falling during the races, sending the skiers back to their wax techs for help. In the end, fast skis were very noticeable on the hills and flats, and there's no question that Kriukov had the fastest planks on the course.
"There was a lot of action in the wax room and communication on the course today, for sure," said men's head coach Justin Wadsworth. "These guys we have are the best in the business and should take a lot of pride in that medal today. It was a great team effort, and Alex showed all you need is one in the heats and anything can happen."
The other Canadians weren't a factor on the day, with Len Valjas placing 40th, Devon Kershaw 46th and Phil Widmer 49th. Dara Gaiazova led the women's team in 42nd, followed by Perianne Jones in 48th, Andrea Dupont in 49th and Emily Nishikawa in 57th.
In the women's event, the win went to Norway's Marit Bjoergen, followed by Ida Ingemarsdotter of Sweden and Maiken Caspersen Falla of Norway.
Harvey's medal was Canada's third ever in a World Championship. Beckie Scott won a bronze in the women's sprint in 2005, while Harvey and Kershaw worked together to capture the gold medal in the team sprint in 2011.
Harvey's result was the only podium for Canada so far at the World Championships, although Harvey and Kershaw finished fourth in the team sprint, missing the podium by the length of a boot.
"We were fourth at the Olympics and now fourth here at World Championships and that is hard to take," said Kershaw.
The team had a shot at defending their gold medal, but Kershaw broke a pole in the transition area that dropped the team back into ninth place. They battled back but it was too deep a hole to climb out of.
"I had to ski quite a while with one pole, but I was still calm and didn't panic," said Kershaw. "Our strategy was to stay our front today, but that obviously didn't happen. We were calm where we were. I knew we had lots of time and everything was fine."
The Russian team of Nikita Kriukov and Alexey Petukhov took the gold, followed by Sweden (Marcus Hellner and Emil Joensson) and Kazakhstan (Nikolay Chebotko and Alexey Poltoranin).
In the women's race, Perianne Jones and Daria Gaiazova placed 13th overall. The U.S. team of Jessica Diggins and Kikkan Randall was first, followed by Charlotte Kalla and Ida Ingemarsdotter of Sweden and Riikka Sarasoja-Lilja and Krista Lahteenmaki of Finland.
The skiathlon event also took place, with athletes switching from classic to skate skis at the halfway point of the race. Alex Harvey was the top Canadian in 13th out of 72 racers. Dario Cologna of Switzerland took the win, followed by Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Sjur Roethe of Norway.
Racing continues through the end of the weekend.