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Harvey, Kershaw and Valjas back on podiums in Sweden

Medal count climbs to 15 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 multiple medals over the final weekend of competition in Sweden.

The first of six medals went to Toronto's Len Valjas, who stunned competitors to place second for the first time 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.

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 fun 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.

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. The women were not a factor the rest of the weekend.

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 to finish 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.

"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 Kershaw, 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 racing continued through the weekend, as did Canada's medal haul.

In the men's 15km classic mass start race, Valjas picked up his third medal of the season with a bronze behind Dario Cologna of Switzerland, who placed first in the overall rankings this year, and Eldar Roenning of Norway.

Kershaw was fifth, Harvey in 18th and Kevin Sandau 34th.

"This one definitely confuses me," said Valjas. "My goal was to stay close in the overall. I skied with a good pace and was in control all day."

In the men's 35km marathon, Canada picked up yet another medal with Devon Kershaw in second. Harvey was sixth in that race and Valjas a strong 14th out of 44 starters.

"I crossed the line and thought, 'Thank God it's done,'" said Kershaw, "but I was also so proud right away of our entire team. This last month I had a lot of nervous energy, but finishing second at the World Cup finals was another huge goal this year. That is about as good as it gets."

That brought the weekend's total to five medals in the last four races, and Kershaw's personal tally to six for the season and 15 for his career. But the team was not done yet.

The last event was the pursuit. In the men's 15km freestyle pursuit race, Harvey took the silver medal between Petr Sedov of Russia and Roland Clara of Italy. Kershaw was 10th, Valjas 33rd and Kevin Sandau 34th.

The team finished with a record 15 medals this season. Kershaw said he was looking forward to some time off but would be extremely motivated returning to training in a month's time.

"My dream is to have one of (the) Canadian men skiers on the Olympic podium. I don't care who it is. I just want it to happen."

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