Canada's Devon Kershaw hits full stride during men's sprint event Wednesday at the FIS World Cup Tour De Ski in Toblach-Dobbiaco, Italy. Kershaw captured gold, his third medal of the Tour. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)
Cross-country skier Devon Kershaw of Sudbury, Ont., is used to racing in the shadows.
As the Canadian juniors were settling for silver in Buffalo, Kershaw was winning his first World Cup gold medal in Italy - his third podium result at the Tour de Ski. It's a gruelling event featuring the best Nordic skiers in the world from 17 countries who compete in sprints and marathons over the course of 10 days in Germany and Italy.
There are eight races comprising every discipline and with two to go Kershaw is contending for a place at the head of the pack when all is said and done but the win was sweet.
"This is huge," enthused Kershaw's coach Justin Wadsworth over the phone from Toblach, Italy. "Winning a race is something every skier dreams of but most never achieve."
Cross-country ski racing is ultra competitive.
Canadian men have rarely been a factor. Only Pierre Harvey in the late 1980s and Russian transplant Ivan Babikov have won World Cup races in a sport dominated by Europeans. Kershaw's results to start this post-Olympic season signal a new wave of Canadian Nordic stars including Harvey's son Alex, who is also poised for a top 10 finish overall at the Tour de Ski.
"I'm really proud of what we've accomplished here," Kershaw said, just out of a recuperative, ice water bath in Italy. "No matter what happens the rest of the way, I'm absolutely thrilled. Every year my goal is to win internationally and now I've done it."
On the day Canada won hockey gold at the Olympics in Vancouver, Kershaw was finishing fifth in the 50-kilometre event, a mere 0.6 seconds from a medal and 1.6 seconds from gold. It barely got mentioned. All this in the toughest of marathons burdened with the knowledge that along with Alex Harvey he'd finished a close fourth in the team sprint and narrowly missed a breakthrough.
"It hurt and that opportunity is gone forever," Kershaw reflected on defeat even as he celebrated his current victory. "Still, that close call in the 50K was the most motivating thing that could ever happen to me."
There are two more races and literally two mountains to climb for Devon Kershaw at the Tour de Ski.
Canada's Nordic knight has come out of the shadows and into the light.
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