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Harvey, Kershaw and Valjas back on podium in Sweden

Team makes history as medal count climbs to 12 for the season



The Canadian Cross Country team is finishing its season on the high note of all high notes, with three different athletes winning medals in the final weekend of competition in Sweden.

The first of three medals went to Toronto's Len Valjas, who stunned competitors to place second in the World Cup sprint in Norway last week. It was the first medal ever won by the six-foot-six racer, and he accomplished it before tens of thousands of fans lining the streets of Drammen, against the top-ranked Norwegian team in their own backyard - the spiritual heart of nordic skiing in Europe and the world.

Although Valjas said that medal was a nice surprise, it was clearly no fluke - one week later he was back in the hunt and finishing third in the sprint at Stockholm, Sweden.

"I'm still a little shocked because I didn't expect this finish, but I am really happy," said Valjas, who squeaked into medal contention by taking the 30th and final spot in the qualifier. "I made a little mistake double poling in qualifying, but I was lucky to squeak into 30th," he said. "I had to dig deep, but it made it pretty fund to be able to move from 30th to the podium today."

Like Norway, it was another urban-style sprint with tens of thousands of fans gathered around the course outside of Sweden's Royal Palace.

In every heat Valjas' worked to stick with the group until the final climb and then attack with everything he had. With his height, he had an advantage.

"I think y size definitely helps with having a fast stride up the hills," said Valjas. "This course was similar to Drammen which I really like. In each heat I was able to make my move up that final climb and it worked out. I had confidence from last week and this definitely reassures me that I can do it."

Erik Brandsdal of Norway placed first in the race, followed by Teodor Peterson of Sweden.

Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw were 14th and 19th on the day, with Kershaw holding onto second position on the overall FIS points list.

In the women's race, Chandra Crawford placed 12th for Canada, while Daria Gaiazova was 23rd and Alysson Marshall - posting her best result to date - was 28th.

On Friday, the team was back in action in Falun, Sweden for a prologue skate race.

It was an historical day for the national team, with a double podium for the athletes. Alex Harvey took the gold medal on the same course that his father, Pierre Harvey, captured the first of his three World Cup wins back in 1997. Pierre was there to watch Alex continue his legacy.

"It is such a special day for me to get my first individual victory on the same course where my dad's first win was in 1987," said Alex. "When I found out I won, I was so pumped. I ran over and hugged my dad and Devon (Kershaw) who was also right there. The wax techs were all there and the whole team was so excited. It is so special."

The medal was Harvey's third this season and the sixth of his career.

"I have had some great races this year, but also some real challenging ones too," he said. "I always believed in myself and believed I could win."

Kershaw himself had a pretty good day, finishing third. That was good enough to secure second overall on the World Cup rankings, the highest finish ever posted by a Canadian male athlete. Beckie Scott also managed a second place in the women's standings in 2006.

Kershaw will finish the season with at least two gold medals and three bronze.

"To be second in the overall is crazy awesome and very hard for me to process right now with two races still to go," said Harvey, referring to this weekends' races.

"I won't believe it until I see it officially in writing, but to finish second - this is big time."

The team now has 12 medals this season, making it the best season ever for the team. Overall, the team is in contention to place fifth overall in the Nations Cup rankings for combined points, which would be the highest team finish in history.

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