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Canadian skiers seek redemption

No one does modesty better than Devon Kershaw.
The Canmore Civic Centre comes to life as the Alberta World Cup kicks off with a colourful opening ceremony and festivities Wednesday night (Dec. 12).
The Canmore Civic Centre comes to life as the Alberta World Cup kicks off with a colourful opening ceremony and festivities Wednesday night (Dec. 12).

No one does modesty better than Devon Kershaw.

While Canmore reveals its best side for the world at the Nordic Centre for this weekend’s cross-country World Cup, Kershaw, the prototypical Canadian who finished last season as the second-fastest cross-country skier in the world, has chosen the conservative approach.

“To win in Canmore would be a dream come true. But don’t go bet on me to win. While I’m feeling better, I know my body and I’m not in top form right now.

“(The Vegas odds) on me would be 100-1. But you never know. It sounds so dorky; you have to bring what you have to the table.”

Coming off a rough week at the Dec. 7-9 Quebec World Cup where the team failed to live up to gold medal expectations, the Canadians are playing coy going into this weekend’s races in Canmore.

Despite a fifth-place finish in the team sprint by Kershaw and Alex Harvey, the team will seek redemption this weekend (Dec. 13-16) in Saturday’s sprints and Sunday’s skiathlon.

Kershaw, Harvey, Ivan Babikov, Len Valjas and Kevin Sandau will lead the men’s contingent, while Chandra Crawford, Dasha Gaiazova, Perianne Jones and Alysson Marshall should be the top Canadian women over the weekend. In all, 30 Canadians will be among the 221 competitors in Canmore.

Kershaw has three world cup podiums to his credit and made history as the highest finishing Canadian on the World Cup tour de ski, but the modest man from Sudbury, Ont. isn’t predicting anything earth-shattering for himself. His training this year focuses on world championships, and he believes his teammates will be the ones to watch this weekend.

“I have very little expectations, to be honest. My focus this year is the world championships in February. I expect our team to have a better performance than in Quebec. My own expectations are non-existent,” Kershaw said.

Slow starts are nothing new for Kershaw, who didn’t hit his podium stride until January last year. Instead, he’s enjoying a rare week in hometown Canmore, skiing in Kananaskis Country with the rest of the team and warming up in the familiar climes of the Nordic Centre.

“It seems to take me a bit to get into things,” he said. “Last year at this time, I wasn’t in the top 30 overall. But every race I do feels like the end of the world because I get so amped for it.

“I do a lot of training in fall to make sure I can last through the season and not be what’s called in cross-county a Christmas star.”

That being said, it will be his first race on good snow of the season. On a familiar track, it’s hard to count him out.

“I’ve been training on these trails for 10 years and I know every corner, every turn,” Kershaw said.

Canadian head coach Justin Wadsworth is also playing it cool these days, partially to remove pressure on the ski team after a pressure-packed weekend in Quebec.

“At this point, with what we’ve done to this point in the season, I want the guys to execute the race well, pace well and try to enjoy being at home. The rest will hopefully take care of itself. I’m not having any expectations for results right now,” Wadsworth said.

“In Quebec, we were slow starting. With the travel back, for us and our whole system, it wasn’t the right timing. The bodies weren’t there for anyone.”

Kerhaw is coming off a torn ligament in his ankle and Valjas is on the mend from a broken hand, but the rest of the team is healthy.

“I still think we’re doing the right things. This will be a nice boost to be at home,” Wadsworth said.

The hometown favourite, of course, is Chandra Crawford, who is also in the midst of a slow start. She’s yet to break into the top 30 this year and would love to on her home course as a tribute to the community.

“To ski in Canmore, it means a lot to me. Everyone works so hard so we can have World Cups,” Crawford said. “It’s a cool thing for the community. In tribute, I’ll do my best skiing out there.”

Crawford won Canmore’s most memorable gold medal in 2008, when she sprinted to World Cup glory in front of a boisterous home crowd. This year, the sprint course has changed with much more climbing and Crawford has spent the week adapting to the new digs.

“I’m getting the hang of it, for sure,” Crawford said. “The downhill part is so fun. It’s like racing the Sunshine ski out with my family.”

To find success, sheíll draw strength from family and friends who will be cheering her on.

“I just need to focus on all the positives in being at home and how much it means to me to have a fast and female race,” she said.

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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