Kershaw-Harvey victory 'close to Olympic gold'

The best way to describe Wednesday's victory by Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey, who teamed up to become the first Canadian men ever to win a cross-country world championship medal, and did so in the birthplace of their sport? "Close to Olympic gold," as Harvey told CBC Sports.

It’s as close to Olympic gold as you can get without it being the Olympics.

That’s the best way to describe the accomplishment of a couple of Canadian cross-country skiers on Wednesday in Oslo. Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey teamed up to become the first Canadian men ever to win a medal in a cross-country world championship race.

"Obviously, Olympic gold is the summit — the top you can get for an amateur athlete," Harvey told CBC Sports en route to the award ceremony. "But after that [is the] world championship in Norway. Winning here is close to Olympic gold."

And it’s how the Canadians did it that is so impressive. They beat the powerhouse team from Norway in the birthplace of the sport.

Fans have been camping out for days to take in the world championships in the country where the passion for cross-country skiing is just like ice hockey for Canadians.

In his father's footsteps

When the Canadians crossed the finish line, they just nipped the favoured team from Norway and the Canucks couldn’t wipe huge smiles from their faces as they silenced the crowd in the process.

"It was surreal to do that with a crowd of 40 to 50 thousand out there," said Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth. "And the place went silent. So it was pretty cool."

After the race, Kershaw and Harvey were escorted to meet King Harold V, the reigning monarch in Norway.

"That’s a tradition of winning the Holmenkollen [race]. Same as Alex’s dad did in 1988," Wadsworth said.

Harvey’s father, Pierre, was quite a cross-country skier in his day and in 1988 won a World Cup race in the same location.

Pierre Harvey is a member of the Order of Canada in large part because of the success he had on the ski trails. His 22-year-old son and Kershaw have been behind the recent resurgence in men’s cross-country skiing for Canada.

Harvey says its extra special to follow his father’s path to victory and to meet the Norwegian royal family, including the king, queen and crown prince.

"We got to shake their hands and talk with them a bit. They said they really liked Canada. They were at the Olympics last year and really liked it."

Harvey added that Kershaw had a quick response for the royals: "Obviously you liked it — the Norwegians won all the medals [at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in cross-country skiing]."

Perfect finish

Not on Wednesday, when in the classic sprint relay the two athletes both raced three times around the 1.5-kilometre track alternating and handing off to each other.

On the second to last lap, Kershaw had to play catch-up and closed the gap with the leaders to move Canada into third spot with one lap to go.

Wadsworth said they were in a perfect spot as Harvey stayed just behind Norway until the last seconds of the race.

"At the finish Alex just kind of drafted, changed lanes and had a drag race with the world champion Ola Vigen Hattestad and Alex took him at the line."

This caps off quite a year for the Canadians.

Kershaw became the third Canadian male ever to win a World Cup race last January in a grueling series of races known as the Tour de Ski. He also won two silvers and a bronze in that competition.

Earlier this month, Harvey became the first Canadian to ever win the under-23 world championship after capturing gold in the pursuit race. He's also won a couple of other World Cup medals in his budding career.

"Both Alex and Devon really deserve it," Wadsworth said. "They’ve trained super-hard been great teammates and team players."

He added that Wednesday's gold medal is huge for the sport and for Havey and Kershaw as individuals.

"Again, to do it here in Norway just amplifies everything."