Two years ago, cross-country skier Devon Kershaw was in Vancouver, competing in his second Olympic Winter Games. He didn’t realize his ultimate dream of winning an Olympic medal on home soil, but the event served notice to the Nordic skiing world, Kershaw’s time was about to arrive.
Kershaw came close. Agonizingly close — a whisker away (1.6 seconds) from an Olympic gold in the 50-km mass start race (he ended in fifth). He also earned two other Top-10 finishes — seventh in the 4X10-km relay and fourth in the team sprint race.
Although he didn’t manage his goal of claiming an Olympic medal for Canada on the trails, Kershaw earned something else. Something just as good as a medal — personal vindication.
What Kershaw gave himself was the determination to drive himself to heights a Canadian cross-country skier has never seen in a sport that has a history dating back more than 100 years and is intensely contested around the world. He has been on a tear on the World Cup and Tour de Ski scenes since the 2010 Olympics and seems to be gaining more steam as his victories and high finishes pile up at a record rate.
It’s clear Kershaw’s time has arrived.
He wrapped up the 2011-12 season last weekend by taking the silver medal in the 15-km skate-skiing pursuit race at the FIS World Cup Finals in Sweden. The silver added to an impressive and historic haul — six medals overall, including two gold medals. He also became the first Canadian to finish second overall on the World Cup circuit.
It was being close enough to taste Olympic glory in 2010, and channeling it in the right way, that has pushed Kershaw to the top of the heap of the cross-country skiing world and has him knocking loudly on the door of the man who holds down the No. 1 spot — Switzerland’s Dario Cologna.
“The Vancouver Olympic experience meant so much to me as an athlete,” the 29-year-old said. “To be so close to something I’ve dreamt about for so long (taking a medal at the Olympic Games), it was both crushing and motivating at the same time.”
He said the disappointment he felt was “the best fuel” he could have asked for.
“I finally knew I belonged among the world’s best cross-country skiers. That attitude, coupled with the confidence of realizing I am actually pretty good seems to have been a great combination.”
Kershaw is still the same modest, good-natured person he has always been. But helping build a new tradition and era in Canadian cross-country skiing is the icing on the proverbial cake.
“The results are great to achieve for sure, but as corny as this sounds, it has been the journey that has been the most rewarding,” the skier said.
In 2003, as a first-year senior, Kershaw said just cracking the Top 30 on the World Cup would have been “a massive achievement.”
“Not many people believed Canadians would be back winning on the men’s side. Only Pierre Harvey had ever won in a rich history of over 100 years of international racing by Canadians.”
Being a part of that roused utter pride in Kershaw.
“To do things not many people thought possible is a pretty special feeling.”
Kershaw’s performance this season has elevated him to a revered status among the global cross-country skiing hierarchy. National senior team head coach Justin Wadsworth has watched the Sudbury native gain more and more momentum since the Olympics.
“There are not many skiers in the world who can ski distance and sprint races, and even fewer who can win medals in both,” Wadsworth said. “Devon is in an elite group of athletes. He’s recognized in a group of about five guys in the world.”
And Kershaw is only getting better.
“He will not be held back,” the coach said. “The confidence is coming and coming. We’re going to see more out him. He came out of the Vancouver Olympics more hungry and motivated.”
Kershaw sees the results leading to bigger and better things for Canadian skiing. He said he hopes it will lead to a moment when all Canadians will be united in euphoria in sharing another historic milestone, sooner than later.
“Myself and (teammates) Alex Harvey and Lenny Valjas have all hit the podium on the World Cup this season. We are some of the best skiers in the world, and we’re from Canada.”
He said the ultimate goal is to have a Canadian man on the Olympic podium.
“It’s never been done, and I believe that we can do it. I don’t care who it is - I just want to see that happen in my career.
“It’s not about the personal victories. It’s about what we’ve been able to accomplish, and continue to accomplish, as Canadians. That’s what motivates me.”
And of course, the 2014 Olympics are already on his mind.
Posted by Laurel Myers