Black Jack skier Remi Drolet anchored Team Canada to its first ever silver medal in the 4×5 kilometre team relay at the Nordic Junior World Ski Championships in Oberwiesenthal, Germany on Friday.
Four Canadian teenagers – Xavier McKeever (Canmore, Alta.); Olivier Léveillé (Sherbrooke, Que.), 18; Tom Stephen, 17 (Calgary); and 19-year-old Drolet of Rossland combined to rock the four five-kilometre legs of the relay in a time of 55:30.4.
“People don’t really understand what went down today, but it is insane,” said Devon Kershaw, a four-time Canadian Olympic cross-country skier who has won multiple World Cups medals and was crowned a World Champion.
Kershaw has helped provide coaching support to head coach, Erik Braten, over the last two years at the Junior World Championships.
“This sport has such a rich history. We have had some incredible skiers in our program, but we have never been on the podium in the relay – ever. The World Cup, World Championships and Olympics is the next step for these kids, but this is the best of their age group. To see the belief these guys had today was incredibly inspiring for me.”
While the youngest members of the squad set the tone for the Canadians, it was the oldest member of the team – Drolet – who inked the squad into the history books. Drolet was dominant in the anchor leg where he crossed the finish line in the silver-medal position.
“This is absolutely incredible. We were so stoked to start this race, and we told ourselves last night we are going to go for the medal today,” said Drolet, who finished just 10 seconds off the podium in the 30-kilometre skate-ski race when he was fourth. “This is one of the best, if not the best, World Juniors for a Canadian team in terms of results. Knowing everyone on the relay team had a top-30 at the Championships we knew this was doable.”
Competing in his third World Junior Championships, Drolet was inspired by his teammates performance while warming up for his leg.
“When I finished my warmup and headed to the start, I saw we were really fighting well in the pack so I felt the pressure boil up,” said Drolet. “I was ready to go when Tom tagged off to me.”
With the Americans breaking off the front, Drolet quickly caught two skiers ahead of him in the battle for the silver medal.
“We can’t emphasize enough how great the skis were today, and what a great job the wax team did today. Those were the best skis I have ever been on,” added Drolet. “When I started the second lap, I started to go harder and pull away. I was able to break from the group on the final corner and get second.”
The American team won the gold with a time of 54:54.9. The Italians finished behind the Canadians in third at 55:50.3.
Sixteen-year-old Xavier McKeever hammered the opening five-kilometre classic-ski leg for the Canucks which took the next generation of Nordic stars on a track up and down steep hills, twists and turns around the Sparkassen Skiarena. McKeever skied steady in the middle of the pack before handing off to Léveillé in fifth spot.
Taking advantage of lightening quick skis, Léveillé led the chase pack while bolting around the five-kilometre classic-ski course.
Tom Stephen took the hand off and continued to ski confident and in control in the middle of the pack of the first skate-ski leg, setting up Drolet in fourth spot to make a charge for the podium.
Team Canada has only ever won two medals at the Junior World Ski Championships. Canada’s most accomplished cross-country skier, Alex Harvey, was the last to stand on the podium at the most prestigious junior cross-country ski event in the world. Harvey won two bronze medals in 2007 along with a silver at the 2008 World Championships.
The three-time Olympian also won a gold at the Under-23 World Champs in 2011 before going on to win two gold, one silver and two bronze medals at the senior World Championships. Marie Josee-Pepin is the only other Canadian to win a World Junior cross-country ski medal when she claimed the silver at the 1989 Championships.
In addition to winning World Championship gold with Harvey in the team sprint in 2011, Kershaw was part of Canada’s only men’s World Cup medal-winning relay squad in 2017 when he teamed up with Harvey, Lenny Valjas and Knute Johnsgaard to win the bronze in Ulricehamn, Sweden.
“This was such a huge goal of our team when I was on the National Team,” added Kershaw. “We had many, many great races on the World Cup, winning medals in team sprints and individual races, but we just never could get it done until 2017 in Ulricehamn. I’ll never forget that day. To win a relay medal is so hard. You need all four guys to be skiing great.
“Today is equally special. It was like dominoes today. To see those guys feed off each other was so cool. Just absolutely amazing.”