Blog

CBC's Karin Larsen in Korea: On Alex Harvey, OARs and the crying shame of finishing fourth

Canadian cross-country skier Alex Harvey didn't make it to the podium in PyeongChang and is skeptical that the two Olympic Athletes from Russia who did raced clean.

Canadian cross-country skier Alex Harvey may not have won a medal but he deserves to be treated like he did

Canadian cross-country skier Alex Harvey takes a break after placing fourth in the 50-kilometre mass start classic on Saturday in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Harvey finished one spot shy of the medal podium. (The Canadian Press)

I was going to write about PyeongChang highlights in this final blog — moments like covering the big air gold medal by Seb Toots or riding the crazy karaoke buses that are part of the media transport fleet.

But I can't get the image of a devastated Alex Harvey out of my mind.

If you missed it, in the men's 50-kilometre ski marathon, the Quebecer finished fourth, behind a Finnish skier and two OARs — Olympic Athletes from Russia.

Coming through the mix zone, Harvey had to stop and gather himself for a good number of minutes before doing interviews. I've covered a lot of big events but I've never seen an athlete so utterly ravaged.

It's understandable. The 50-kilometre race is not only the most punishing event of the Games, it was the final Olympic race of Harvey's long and remarkable career, his last and best chance to win a medal.

For 49.5 kilometres he was in contention too. But with 500 metres remaining, Russian Andrey Larkov found a new gear, put on an unbelievable sprint, and beat Harvey to the finish line to capture bronze.

Russian Alexander Bolshunov took the silver.

When asked about the Russians, Harvey replied, "It's one of the reasons it's so hard to be fourth, with two Russians ahead of me. I'm not going to lie."

Believe me Alex, it's not just hard for you. It's hard for everyone who believes in clean sport and who has paid attention to the Russian doping story over the years.

Fact check

Let's review a few of the facts, limited here to the sport of cross-country skiing.

  • Members of the very young Russian cross-country ski team in PyeongChang are all coached by Yuri Borodavko who was suspended from coaching for two years in 2010 for involvement in doping. He also worked with a 2006 gold medallist who was banned for a positive EPO test.
  • Alexander Spitsov, an unheralded 21-year-old OAR competed in his first-ever world cup race two months ago. He won two silvers and a bronze in PyeongChang.
  • In Sochi in 2014, Russians swept the 50-km podium on the last day of competition and received a heroes welcome during the medal presentation at the closing ceremony. Last year, gold medallist Alexander Legkov and silver medallist Maxim Vulegzhanin were stripped of those medals and banned from the Olympics for life for doping.
  • In total, 11 Russian cross-country skiers have been sanctioned for doping offences since Sochi.

That Russia was allowed to send any cross-country athletes to PyeongChang, especially after the revelations of institutionalized doping as shown in the documentary Icarus, is incomprehensible.

Harvey has every reason to feel skeptical that he was skiing on an even playing field in Korea.

Jack Sasseville, former Canadian cross country coach, is even more to the point.  

"Every person who raced in this, and any other [cross-country] ski race should feel cheated by those in power who allowed these Russian athletes to be there. Shame on the IOC, the [International Ski Federation] and [Court of Arbitration for Sport]."

Life goes on

Harvey's life will go on. He'll finish law school, get married and race for one more season.

And maybe one day, years down the road, he might even get that Olympic medal. Retroactively of course, if and when the IOC and the doping police from the World Anti-Doping Agency and the Court of Arbitration for Sport do their jobs.

But what glory is there in that?

Alex Harvey may not be coming home with a medal from PyeongChang, but he deserves to be treated exactly the same as the athletes who did.

Canada's Alex Harvey applauds 'Draconian measure' of non-invites for Russians