Alex Harvey capping storied cross-country career on home soil
Quebec World Cup serves as swan song for Canadian Olympian
Alex Harvey isn't planning to manage his emotions on the Plains of Abraham.
The World Cup starting Friday in Quebec City is both a homecoming and a swan song for arguably the best cross-country skier Canada has ever produced.
Harvey, from the nearby municipality of Saint-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., wants to feel every sentiment over the final three days of his racing career.
"I'd rather just live it and really soak it in," Harvey told The Canadian Press. "I'm expecting to feel a bit of nostalgia for sure."
Beckie Scott won an Olympic gold medal and one silver, but no Canadian has claimed as many world championship and World Cup medals as Harvey.
The 30-year-old's five world championship medals, including two gold, and 30 World Cup podiums stand out in a sport historically dominated by Europeans.
Harvey became Canada's first world champion in an individual race in 2017 when he won the gruelling men's 50-kilometre marathon.
"That was epic," his Canadian teammate Devon Kershaw said. "He will go down a legend for that one.
"No question he is by far the best cross-country skier Canada has ever had."
Harvey had genetics and environment going for him from the outset.
His father Pierre was the first Canadian man to compete in both Winter and Summer Olympics, racing in cross-country and cycling respectively.
Alex's birth came a year after Pierre was the first Canadian to win an international cross-country race — a 30k in Falun, Sweden.
There was accessible skiing out the back door of the family home in Mont-Sainte-Anne. A young Alex skied two or three times a week at the nearby nordic centre.
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"I had really good coaches around me and every step of the way, I had optimal support," Harvey said. "I had good enough genetics to make the most out of it, of course with my dad and all."
After a pair of breakout bronze medals at the 2007 world junior championship, Harvey's arrival on the national team coincided with the ascension of Kershaw, who was pushing into the sport's elite.
"Seeing him in the top 10 quite often and having one or two podiums a year, it really made me believe it can be done at the higher level," Harvey said. "It wasn't too far out of my imagination. It was in reach."
Kershaw, who retired last year, and Harvey earned Canada's first world championship gold in 2011 in the team sprint.
Harvey twice finished second in the season's overall World Cup standings in 2013-14 and 2016-17.
Norwegian sports columnist Anders Skjerdingstad wrote for public broadcaster NRK that when Harvey retires "cross-country sports do not lose just one of their best performers, but also one of their very best and most important role models.
"Harvey has shown that practitioners from [in cross-country context] small nations can take up the fight against the superiority of Norway, Sweden and Russia."
Harvey and Kershaw came agonizingly close to winning Canada's first Olympic medal in men's cross-country skiing on home snow.
The duo was fourth in the 2010 team sprint in Whistler, B.C., behind bronze medallists Alexei Petukhov and Nikolay Morilov of Russia.
Petukhov was temporarily stripped of an eighth-place result in 2014 because of doping allegations.
The sanction was reversed under appeal, but the International Olympic Committee barred him from competing in 2018.
Within the last month, a total of seven cross-country skiers from Austria, Estonia, Kazakhstan and Russia have been either charged by police or slapped with four-year bans.
Harvey has been aware of cheating in his sport since he was 17.
One of his two world junior bronze medals was mailed to him after a Czech silver medallist was disqualified for doping.
"Still to this day I am competing against athletes that dope," Harvey said.
"The odds are kind of turned against you, but it's still possible to beat them. I see it as you're at bat with one strike already, but there's still two more strikes for you before you get eliminated right?
"I do believe it's possible to beat people that cheat. In our sport, fitness is huge, but it's not the only thing. There's still other factors like technique, strategy and equipment is a huge one."
Looking forward to 'normal life'
Harvey was fourth in the 50k in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, finishing six seconds out of a medal. He is at peace with that result.
"That was one of my best Alex Harvey races ever and that's all you can ask from yourself at the Olympic Games," he said.
"That's how I can be proud of myself. The medal is a piece of metal. It doesn't change the person that I am."
Harvey is four classes from completing his Laval University law degree. He'll marry Sophie Ringuet in June.
Harvey looks forward to a "normal life", which means a less-nomadic one. But he won't put the skis away.
"It still runs in my blood," he said. "I'm going to ski a lot, run a lot and bike a lot."