Olympian Distances

The nordic events at the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games were colossally exciting to watch. The best single moment for me was Billy Demong’s gold-winning attack in the last nordic combined race, last Thursday. Demong’s medal – part of huge American haul in nordic combined which also included two silvers from Johnny Spillane and a silver in the team competition – was just one great moment, though. Many of the biathlon events and virtually all of the cross-county events were exciting, down-to-the-wire affairs.

The last cross-country race, the men’s 50-kilometer, lived up to its precursors at the Games, with a mad final sprint culminating two hours of hard racing. Petter Northug, the world’s best male XC skier right now, took the gold by finishing three-tenths of a second ahead of Axel Teichmann, a German who is himself a phenomenal racer but who also has a knack for losing to Northug. The bronze went to Johan Olsson, a hardworking Swede whose efforts animated three of the XC races at Vancouver and who crossed the finish line another seven-tenths after Teichmann. A half second behind Olsson came Tobias Angerer, another German and now the possessor of the dubious “wooden medal” that goes to fourth-placed finishers.

Then – just a tenth of a second later – came one of my favorite racers, the Canadian Devon Kershaw. His fifth place matched the best-ever finish by a male Canadian XC skier (a record set last Saturday), but it also capped a herculean effort in the race from Kershaw, who had raced well but not up to his standard at the Games. A prolific blogger and Twitter-user, Kershaw seems to be a great guy – someone who works hard, who doesn’t take himself too seriously, and who has overcome no small amount of tragedy in his life to become one of the world’s best cross-country racers. If he’d somehow just been a half-meter further up the straightaway, he’d be wearing a medal right now. But the near misses are as much a part of the Olympics as the medals. I hope he gets another chance in four years. I doubt he’ll miss it then.

Kersh in Fifth (Bernard Wieil/Toronto Star)
Kersh in Fifth (Bernard Wieil/Toronto Star)

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