Cross-Country Talk: Devon Kershaw (CAN)
It's probably a safe bet to say that Devon Kershaw's World Cup season and Sochi Olympics last winter didn't go as he had hoped. He did, however, record a podium in the prologue in Oberhof, Germany to start the Tour de Ski - a podium he shared with teammate Alex Harvey - and he ended the season inside the Red Group in 29th place in the Distance Cup standings.
FIS Cross-Country News talked to Devon about the last season, plans for the future and getting engaged in Nepal.
As a veteran member of the Canadian team you can recall a time when simply getting one podium and being ranked in the top 30 would have been career achievements. How does this past season sit with you?
Haha, I guess I do still remember a time when one podium on the World Cup and sneaking into the top 30 in the distance rankings would have been a great achievement - I’m old, but not that old yet! Still, as you mentioned the season that just finished did not live up to expectations and I was very disappointed with how it unfolded. Of course the Olympic Games was the focus for our team - as it was for many others - and we had high hopes after coming so painfully close in some competitions 4 years earlier in Vancouver, so to fall so far below expectations in Sochi was tough on everyone. As disappointed as I was with the season though, I was happy to finish 12th in the mini-tour in Falun to end the season and I love the courses there, have many great memories from those courses, so the motivation and excitement moving forward is very high. I’ve put the disappointments behind me, looked over what went wrong, what went right and what was just “ok” and now it’s already September in a new training season. So far everyone on the Canadian men’s team is hungry and eager to get back up to a better level (of course Alex was a beast last season finishing 3rd overall - so he’s psyched to keep kicking ass), and with our new coach I feel like things are going well. The mood and stoke level on our team is high, so we hope to keep that going into the season and get back to playing a bit more (with the big boys at the top) week in, week out this winter.
Looking ahead to the upcoming season a trimmed down Canadian team will be traveling to Europe, but the core men's team is still intact and it appears that Lenny Valjas has recovered from knee surgery. You have also added a new coach to the mix with the addition of Norwegian great Tor Arne Hetland. What's the feeling within the team heading into these final months of dry-land training and can you share any of the team goals?
Lenny is back feeling great and training well which is a great sign and great for our program. He’s such a humble, positive, great guy and obviously a huge part of our team - so to have him back in the fold is great. The feelings are great in the team as the dry land season starts to get into it’s “heavy time” period with September and October being tough months of training. We will be heading down to Park City (Utah, USA) for an altitude camp on September 24th for three weeks up there and the goal is to keep progressing through the program that Tor Arne laid out for the year. It’s been a bit of a change in philosophy for Len, Babs, and I with Tor Arne taking the reins (Alex’s coach continues to be Louis Bouchard and while Alex joins us for training camps, he is on his program that he comes up with, with Louis) and we have been feeling good with the changes and enjoying the process. As far as team goals or objectives for the season they are pretty straight forward. We’d all like to be on an international podium at some point or points throughout the season, have a podium somewhere with the distance relay (which has been a goal for some years now) and compete well and be ready to fight for the medals in Falun at the World Championships. The goals may seem lofty, but we’ve all been up there in the past so there’s no reason to not believe we can clamber back up near the top again.
The 2014/15 season will see the World Nordic Ski Championships take place in Falun, Sweden in February. This will be your 6th World Championships. Have you targeted certain competitions during the Championships as medal opportunities?
My 6th World’s eh. Jeez… Ok, ignore my earlier comments, I am old! I am so excited for these World Championships. Like I said, the courses are some of my favourite around and there are plenty of races that I am excited for. I would say the major ones being the 50km classic, the team sprint and relay competitions but all the races are great and I’m fired up for them. Ok, except the 15km individual skate… I’ll probably sit that sucker out.
You have over 200 World Cup starts in your career which began in 2004. Is there another Olympic cycle in the plans for you or is that too far to look right now?
Haha, ooohhhhh boy. That’s a hard question to answer. The story line was supposed to go a little like this: the men’s team finally winning at least one medal in Sochi - putting to bed those close calls in Vancouver - then I would race this year (2015), ski well, have fun and go out “on top” or at least feeling good about how I was racing. But after the Olympics I was so disappointed with how it all turned out. Disappointed and upset really. Since the Winter Olympics began, no Canadian man has ever stood on a cross country skiing podium. If you’ve ever been to Canada and seen how much snow, and how big a winter country it is - you’d see how ridiculous that is. We have the best team Canada’s ever had in cross country skiing. Ever. It’s our time, and we’ve had so many “firsts” these last years, but that Olympic medal eludes us. I’ve been a part of many of those said firsts in Canadian men’s xc skiing (Alex’s 3rd place last year in the overall, my 2nd place in 2012, Alex and I’s gold in 2011 World Championships, seeing Alex come 3rd in the classic sprint in 2013, having four men with podiums on the World Cup/Stage World Cup racing together at the same time, etc…), but I would like to finish what my teammates and I set out to do - and that’s have a man stand on the podium at the Games. If it’s me, if it’s Alex, Lenny, Babs, some new up-and-comer, if it’s the relay - it doesn’t matter. I just want to be a part of that, so as long as I can regain the level or at least the feelings I’ve had many times in my career, keep enjoying the process, the training, travel and excitement of racing at the highest level - I won’t rule it out (racing in 2018). But no guarantees.
On your FIS biography it has your marital status set as "single". Perhaps there needs to be an "engaged" option for certain athletes? You and your then girlfriend Kristen Stoermer Steira of the Norwegian team got engaged to be married this past spring during a getaway high up in the mountains of Nepal. Care to share any of the details?
Haha, yeah they should change that. Or I should email someone about my martial status. I am not single and you are right, I am recently (last April) engaged to my partner Kristin Stoermer Steira. It was on a cold mountain high in the Himalayas that I asked her to marry me, and I think I used her oxygen debt state to my favour - as she said yes. Or at least I think she did (say yes) through the howling wind. It was a great trip down there in Nepal and while Kristin got pretty sick there at the end, prior to that seeing and being in the world’s biggest peaks was an experience we’ll never forget. The fact that I carried the ring with me for the first 12 days without losing it is in itself a small achievement as well.
Speaking of the trip to Nepal, athletes at the end of the season often talk of warm sunny beaches far away from their day job as professional skiers in cold northern climates. Where did the idea come from to head deep into the Himalayan mountains?
Yeah, a couple years ago Kristin joined me in Kaua’i (a Hawaiian island) and apparently loved it as we were back to the Hawaiian islands the following year (Maui that time). It’s no secret that some beach time is something I love to do after the season and while my surfing skills are pitiful, I do enjoy getting destroyed in the swell. But - Kristin and I both really, really love the mountains and it’s that environment where we are most at home. We had talked about Nepal and the Himalaya since the first time we talked together actually, so when a supporter of Kristin (Bjorn Arne of the Norwegian company “Outdoor” that distributes The North Face, Scarpa and SmartWool in Norway) asked if we’d like to join their expedition - we both jumped at the opportunity. I am used to spending a ton of time in the mountains in the spring too - mostly backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering here in Canada - and Kristin does the same in Norway - so we kind of knew what we were getting ourselves in for (ie. no beach - being cold and in the snow, camping etc...). It was a great trip, but I think Kristin has put a request in already for another journey to the Hawaiian islands next year - which is totally fair, so I can’t see another snow-bound 3.5 week camping adventure in high altitude in the cards for spring of 2015…
Over the past couple of years since dating Kristin you have both spent time in each others countries training. How has it been for both of you to see how another team trains and functions together?
It has been interesting to train in Norway for me for sure. But, I guess as a Canadian and a Canadian that has been racing for over a decade internationally, I’m kind of used to training in new places. Also, I’ve had a whole slough of Norwegian coaches over the years, so from a training philosophy stand-point, I’ve been exposed to the Norwegian philosophy for many years - so it’s nothing new. I do really like training in new places though, and this summer in Oslo I had a ton of fun. I loved the training in the city and the city in general. Oslo is just so beautiful in the winter and summer! We got out to the west coast this summer too and into the fjords and mountains out there which really blew my mind with how beautiful it all was. Also, the coaches on the men’s side have coached in North America (Steinar Mundal coached me in 2008 and Trond Nystad coached the US team for many years and we were around each other a lot) so I know them pretty well too. I do really appreciate how open and helpful everyone is when I’m in Norway though - it makes it feel more like “home” even though I’m thousands of kilometres and an ocean away from Canada.
Kristin finally won a well deserved individual Olympic medal with her third place finish in the ladies' 30 km F mass start. How was that Olympic experience for you getting to share in her success?
It was such an incredible race to watch. I was at the stadium watching live and I almost had to pinch myself when her, Marit and Therese broke away. The time to the next group kept climbing as they hammered around those tough Sochi tracks and I don’t think I really let myself relax until like 2-3km to go when I knew there was no way, not even if Kristin broke a ski or something that anyone was coming back to her or the other NOR ladies. Watching the three girls that are such good friends battle up that last hill and to see just how happy Kristin was coming into the finishing stretch after so many years of near misses in the Olympics (She was 4th in all 3 individual distance races in 2006, and 4th again in the pursuit in 2010) - it was just such a beautiful moment. Also, seeing how happy the whole Norwegian team was for her (Kristin) as well was so great to see and just shows how much cross country skiing can be a team sport. Yes, it’s an individual sport, but without a great team behind you, you’ll never get anywhere. Watching Kristin achieve that really touched me and I can admit it, I was crying at the finish line when I gave her a hug and kiss - it was just so beautiful. A truly special day for sure. And to see her get her medal at the closing ceremonies as well… Super cool.