Sochi Olympics a bitter disappointment for Canada’s cross-country team
Sweden, Norway stoke rivalry sport
At the official announcement of the 11-member cross-country team in January, cross-country team coach Justin Wadsworth said he’d be disappointed if Canada didn’t win two medals in Russia, and that the total could be as high as four.
It didn't work out that way, and Wadsworth would surely have loved Canada to come away with more than the "Fair Play Award" he received from the IOC for running to lend a Russian competitor a ski.
Instead, questions will be asked about training and preparation going forward in the worst performance in the sport for Canada, from a perspective of cold, hard results, since the 1998 Olympics.
Alex Harvey of St.-Ferreol, Que., the top men's skier on the team with four World Cup podium results this season, couldn't crack the top 15 in any race in Sochi.
Harvey's 18th in the 30-kilometre skiathlon was the best result in an individual event, and Canada had three men in the top 30 on the final day's 50 kilometre classic on to salvage some pride.
Harvey failed to advance to the semifinals in the sprint, an event he excels at on the World Cup scene. He also pulled out of the 15-kilometre classic. Harvey later said the wax and skis weren't ideally matched for the warm weather that hit Laura Biathlon & Ski Complex.
The competition was a stunning comedown since Canada had six top 10 results for individual team members at the Vancouver Olympics, as well as a fourth in men's team sprint.
Harvey and Devon Kershaw of Sudbury, Ont., raised then expectations with a gold medal performance in the team sprint at the 2011 world championships, just missing the podium on a tiebreaker two years later at the worlds.
But the pair never made it out of the semifinals in the team sprint in Sochi, finishing 12th.
Kershaw told the Rocky Mountain Outlook in Alberta that he never would have raced due to illness had it not been the Olympics. Canada considered starting Len Valjas in his stead, but the six-foot-six Toronto native has been battling knee issues most of this season.
Kershaw wasn't the only sick team member and Canada struggled to field a group for the 4 x 10 kilometre relay days earlier.
Emily Nishikawa of Whitehorse (15K skiathlon) and Brittany Webster of Toronto (10K classical) each finished 42nd, which were the best individual showings.
There were five team members who gained Olympic experience for the first time, and Daria Gaiazova of Banff, Alta., and Ivan Babikov of Canmore, Alta. got to compete in their country of birth.
The U.S. team was also left disappointed and without a medal. Hopes were high for the first Olympic medal in the sport for an American since 1976, given the exploits of Kikkan Randall on the World Cup circuit in the past couple of seasons.
At the 1998 and 2002 Olympics, Norway won a total of 20 cross-country medals. Sweden won one medal at each Games.
The Swedes have risen since then, to the point where they matched Norway's 11 medals, feeding a Scandinavian rivalry. The Norwegians were still champs when it came to the top spot, taking five of the 12 gold medals awarded. Sweden had two gold medals.
That said, the Norwegians were still champs when it came to the top spot, taking four of 10 gold medals awarded.
There were a number of notable athlete performances.
Marit Bjoergen won gold in sprint, skiathlon and 30K freestyle. The Norwegian now has six gold, three silver and a bronze dating back to 2002, a total of 10 medals which is tied for the most ever by a female athlete in Winter Olympics.
Charlotte Kalla of Sweden won two silver medals individually and led her team to a comeback win the relay.
Despite an injured foot, Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland captured gold in the 10k classic race to win a fifth career Olympic medal.
Dario Cologna showed his versatility by repeating as 15 kilometre Olympic champion, despite the switch from freestyle to classical skiing. The Swiss athlete had by that point already captured gold in skiathlon.