Yukon’s Johnsgaard qualifies for Olympics with historic relay medal win at World Cup

This story has been updated. Canada won its first ever medal in a men’s World Cup relay race with a bronze on Jan. 22. The medal also has historical significance in the Yukon. Whitehorse’s Knute Johnsgaard skied the third leg to become the first skier from the territory to win hardware in a World Cup race.

This story has been updated.

There was a party in Canada’s wax room in Sweden on Sunday.

Tunes were cranked and the bubbly flowing as the Canadian team celebrated a historic first on the FIS World Cup circuit.

Canada won its first ever medal in a men’s World Cup relay race with a bronze on Jan. 22 in Ulricehamn.

The medal also has historical significance in the Yukon. Whitehorse’s Knute Johnsgaard skied the third leg to become the first skier from the territory to win hardware in a World Cup race.

With the medal Johnsgaard has qualified for the 2018 Winter Olympics and the 2017 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships.

“It’s still hard to believe what happened. It’s absolutely crazy,” said Johnsgaard in an email to the News. “Canada has been trying to do this since the beginning of skiing. We are all overwhelmed with joy. Wax techs and coaching staff who were past athletes themselves were crying it was so special. It was a long time coming for Canada and over a decade of work paying off in a single race for me. I earned my first World Cup medal and in doing so qualified for the Olympics; something I could only of dreamed would happen this year.”

The Canadian team captured bronze in the men’s 4×7.5-kilometre relay with a time of 1:06:48.0. They were just a whisker behind silver-winning Sweden, who clocked the same time. Norway won the gold (1:06:47.5) and Switzerland took fourth (1:06:49.3).

Johnsgaard teamed up with Olympians Devon Kershaw of Sudbury, Ont., Alex Harvey of Saint Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., and anchor skier Len Valjas of Toronto.

It was Johnsgaard’s first World Cup race of 2017. He hopped a plane from Canada on Jan. 19 and was a last-minute addition to the team. The 24-year-old sat out Saturday’s 15-kilometre skate-ski race, which was won by Harvey, to be fresh for Sunday’s relay.

“Following Olympic and World Champions in my leg, I was just trying to ski like they did and follow their every move. As we put the kilometres behind us, before I knew it I was still right in the mix with only a few hundred meters before the exchange zone. I was relieved to have done my part and give our anchor man a chance at the podium. Seeing our teammate round the corner into a sprint finish and cross half a second behind the winner, claiming bronze was insane. We didn’t care what colour the medal was, we knew we had just done something amazing. There were 50,000 fans screaming. Everyone was happy for us, even our competitors.

“The best moment was storming the finish line to celebrate with our teammate Len, who skied the anchor leg for us.”

The Ulricehamn World Cup was already a red-letter one for the Canadian team before the relay. Harvey became the first Canadian to win gold medals in consecutive World Cup weekends with his win on Saturday and the previous weekend in Italy.

To further put Sunday’s bronze in context, the previous relay medal won by Canada in a World Cup was in a women’s race 30 years ago.

Johnsgaard won a bronze in a men’s 1.5-kilometre sprint at the U.S. nationals two weeks ago in Soldier Hollow, Utah. His best World Cup finish in an individual race so far this season is 60th in a sprint last month in Davos, Switzerland.

“Lately I’ve been absolutely flooded with emails and messages. I’m so lucky to have such a supportive community who recognize what I’ve had to put in to finally achieve this Olympic dream,” added Johnsgaard.

Contact Tom Patrick at tomp@yukon-news.com

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