By Andrew Mitchell
Until Becky Scott won gold at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in
Salt Lake City (upgrading from bronze after the two Russians ahead of her
tested positive for banned substances), Canada was considered something of a
lightweight in cross-country skiing. That’s no longer the case.
It seems that Scott’s win set a snowball in motion that’s
steadily picking up speed and size. Almost five years after her win, Canada is
now a legitimate contender. On the women’s side, Canada picked up three Olympic
medals in 2006 in Torino — Scott picked up her second, a bronze with
teammate Sara Renner, while Chandra Crawford earned a gold.
While the men’s team is slower to see results, athletes have
been steadily climbing the ranks and are finding their way into the top-30 with
increasing regularity. Scott is now retired, and Renner is taking a season off
to have a baby, but the team remains strong.
Although the World Cup season got off to a rocky start due to
the lack of snow in Europe, the Canadians made history this past weekend on the
opening day of the Tour de Ski, held in Munich, Germany.
With 40,000 fans lining the course, Sudbury’s Devon Kershaw
picked up a silver medal in the men’s 1.1 km sprint, while Crawford picked up a
“This is absolutely incredible and it means the world to us,”
said Kershaw. “This is the goal, to have more than one Canadian on the podium
each time we prepare for a race, and to see it come through today is awesome.
The team is so jacked right now.
“These sprint races are so chaotic that you really have to see
the course the way a hockey player sees the ice. I was able to do that today,
but more importantly I think I’ve learned how to race against these guys. The
sprints rough you up a bit, and the top athletes don’t respect you if they
don’t know who you are, and it is better knowing that going in.”
Kershaw and Crawford were the only Canadians who opted to train
in Europe through December, despite the lack of snow. As a result the athletes
were rested, adapted to the time change, and — most importantly
— had all of their gear. The rest of the team had their gear misplaced by
British Airways as they flew out of Calgary.
“It was such a challenge scrambling to get ready for this
event, and it was like we had one bag delivered every day for 12 days,” said
Crawford. “It was a challenge to find equipment to train and compete with, and
we were getting nervous as to if we were going to see our stuff again.
“I was a little nervous after I saw how fast I qualified, but
this feels good for sure to be back on the podium after a difficult start to
Switzerland’s Christoph Eigenmann won the gold in the men’s
event, with Roddy Darragon of France picking up the bronze. Marit Bjoergen of
Norway and Arianna Follis of Italy were first and second in the women’s sprint.
The Tour de Ski is a new event modeled after the Tour de France bike race and takes place over 10 days, with a total prize pool of 750,000 Swiss Francs for all of the events. Canadians are competing in every race against the top skiers in the world.