Canada names 11 cross-country skiers to Olympic team
Devon Kershaw, Chandra Crawford in 3rd Games for Canada
The 11-member Olympic cross-country ski team was announced in Calgary on Tuesday, a mix of veterans and new faces to the Olympic scene:
Men: Ivan Babikov (Canmore, Alta.), Jesse Cockney (Yellowknife), Alex Harvey (St-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que.), Devon Kershaw (Sudbury, Ont.), Graeme Killick, (Fort McMurray, Alta.), Len Valjas (Toronto).
Women: Chandra Crawford (Canmore, Alta.), Daria Gaiazova (Banff, Alta.), Perianne Jones (Almonte, Ont.), Emily Nishikawa (Whitehorse), Heidi Widmer (Banff, Alta.).
Until 2002, Canada had never won an Olympic medal in the sport. But consistent top results in recent years have changed the outlook for those involved with the sport, as well as the Canadian Olympic Committee.
"Depth is critical towards mounting an attack on the podium in any sport, and we have seen through the development of our elite program, that our women are hungry to win another medal at the Games, while us guys are now racing to win the country’s first-ever Olympic medal," Kershaw said in a statement.
Most recently, Harvey was an impressive fourth through six stages of the Tour de Ski earlier this month before opting not to compete in the final stage. He posted a victory in the first stage.
Harvey and Kershaw made history for Canada in 2011, the first to ever win world championship gold. They finished just off the podium in fourth at the 2013 worlds, with Harvey earning bronze in the sprint event at the championships.
Kershaw, now a three-time Olympian, finished second overall in the 2011-12 season standings, with a fourth overall at that season's Tour de Ski. While he had some struggles to begin this season, he was second behind Harvey in the first stage of the Tour de Ski.
Valjas took silver at a World Cup sprint race last season en route to finishing eighth in the season standings in the discipline. The six-foot-six skier, born to Estonian parents, has been hampered a bit this season due to a knee injury.
Babikov, at five-foot-seven one of the smallest skiers on the World Cup level, competes in his second Olympics for Canada after suiting up for Russia in 2006. He finished in the top 10 in all three events he skied in at the Vancouver Olympics.
Cockney of Yellowknife has gained his most extensive World Cup exposure this season, with Killick winning the skiathlon on Sunday on the last day of the domestic trials.
Cockney, a 24-year-old Inuvialuit who now resides in Canmore, spoke at the event held at Altadore Elementary School in Calgary, telling the kids to follow their passion, in and out of sport.
Crawford recharged after taking hiatus
On the women's team, Crawford has worked her way back to the national team. She posted strong results at races in December, recharging after taking a hiatus from competing for part of last season.
Gaiazova and Jones have each won sprint races while teamed with Crawford in the past, and they combined together to win bronze last February in a classic style World Cup race on the Sochi course.
Gaiazova is especially looking forward to the Winter Games, having spent the first several years of her life in Russia before emigrating to Canada.
Nishikawa and Widmer each won races at last week's Nor-Am trials in Canmore, Alta., which double as the Olympic trials for some competitors.
Canada has won three Olympic medals in cross-country skiing, all of them coming in 2002 and 2006.
The men's team has never won an Olympic medal, but hopes are high given the exploits in recent years from Harvey and Kershaw.