Talk about a great start to the New Year.
Cross-country skier Devon Kershaw strung together three of the best races of his career, capturing back to back silver medals and a seventh-place finish on the world cup Tour de Ski during the first week of January.
The Canmore resident started the week with his first medal of the season, narrowly missed gold the next day and grabbed a seventh place in a time of 49:28.3 – eight seconds behind the top placed Matti Heinkinen of Finland.
“I’m having a really, really strong season. Before Christmas has been my strongest start to the world cup. We hit the training really well and have had a lot of trust in our coaches,” Kershaw said, who is quick to defer credit to his teammates and coaches.
Kershaw won his first silver medal on New Year’s Day in the 15-kilometre classic with a time of 39:56.3. in Oberhof, Germany.
“I am absolutely happy. That was one of the better races I have done, if not the best of my career,” he said. “It means so much to me be to get back on the world cup podium. I know I’m there and I believe I am one of the best skiers in the world when things come together. I had some really good fourth- and fifth-place results last year, but this is pretty cool. It is a relief really.”
Kershaw has won three world cup medals in his entire career, so two in the same week is an incredible feat.
The second silver was nearly a gold, however the Canadian was edged at the line by Emil Joensson of Sweden in the skate sprint in Oberstdorf, Germany.
“I was so focused on that finish line with 50-metres to go that I couldn’t hear anything. I thought I was away, but I got beat by an inch at the line,” said an elated Kershaw while recovering from the race. “That was so close today, but to win silver back-to-back, I’m really happy.”
The seventh-place finish came during a wild race in Oberstdorf in the 20-km pursuit. Athletes raced half the course in the classic style, half skate skiing.
“It was straight up madness out there with the course being so narrow and guys crashing everywhere. I was just lucky to keep the black side (of the ski) down,” said Kershaw. “It is great to be seventh. That is a solid result. I’ve had my three best races of the year back-to-back-to-back so I’m feeling really good.”
The Tour de Ski is a series of eight races that challenges all-around skiers - a skill Kershaw prides himself upon.
“I love how FIS came up with this idea. I used to watch the Tour de France with my dad ever since I was a kid. To have it as a ski race is pretty awesome,” Kershaw said.
Kershaw wasn’t the only Canadian to post strong results. Alex Harvey, 22, finished 15th, 18th, ninth and seventh in the first four races of the tour. He and Kershaw are currently ranked in the top 10.
Harvey is the Canadian ski program’s best skier to date, Kershaw said.
Kershaw said he’s been feeling pretty good all week, and wants to finish the next four races strongly.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good this week. I hope I can have at least one more good race,” Kershaw said.
The medals, partnered with strong results by Alex Harvey, signal to the world Canadian skiers are a force on the this year’s circuit. The team hopes the success will continue to the world championships in Oslo.
“We’re building off our success from the Olympics. Our level has improved every year,” Kershaw said. “The world cup is what the whole team is focused on. If we come out flat there, the whole season is a bust.”
Head coach Justin Wadsworth is enjoying the team’s success.
“It’s been fun to see Devon ski up to his potential not just once, but a couple times in a row. Alex is also skiing amazing, especially for a 22-year-old, so having both he and Devon in the top four overall is great.
“We have some tough stages ahead in the Tour, so by no means are their spots safe, but it’s still great to have the team functioning well, and getting the results to see all the hard work realized,” he said.