WHISTLER, B.C. — Pain was the only thing in Ivan Babikov’s mind in the last minutes of the men’s 30-kilometre cross-country pursuit and the pain of being so close, yet so far was all he thought about afterward.
The 29-year-old from Canmore was let down and finished out of the medals despite leading the Canadian team to a strong showing Saturday.
Babikov placed fifth in a time of one hour 15 minutes 20.5 seconds — four seconds behind the winner Marcus Hellner of Sweden.
“Every second and every step counted,” he said. “I saw those guys ahead of me and I did the best I could.”
The Canadian men’s team came into the race as the underdogs with only modest expectations to reach the podium. Yet all of them finished in the top 16.
In the race, it was Babikov’s last-minute sprint to catch Johan Olsson, who finished with a bronze, that electrified the crowd at the Whistler Olympic Park.
If only there were another 500 metres in the race, he wondered.
“It’s weird, you know, I’m here thinking, ‘Hey Top 5, I’m fifth in the world; it’s a great result, ”’ said Babikov, a recent immigrant to Canada who skied for Russia during the 2006 Turin Games. “But when you realize it could be one of your chances in life to get a medal, it gets you upset.”
Yet his teammates bordered on ecstatic following the grinding one hour 25 minute competition. Each of them believe it sets Canada into a strong position for the cross-country relay races Wednesday.
“The next two races are team events and the spirits will be way high,” said Harvey, 21, son of former Winter and Summer Olympian Pierre Harvey.
George Grey, a 30-year old from Rossland, B.C. who raced with a broken thumb, finished eighth, with a time of one hour 15 minutes and 32 seconds, just ahead of Alex Harvey. The 21-year-old resident of St-Ferriol, Que. finished ninth at one hour 15 minutes and 43 seconds.
Devon Kershaw, a 27-year-old from Sudbury, Ont., was 16th in a time of one hour 16 minutes and 23.6 seconds
Babikov conceded that the overall result “is one step up and the relay is going to be the next step up.”
Czech skier Lukas Bauer, who came into the event as a heavy favourite, grumbled afterwards that the Swedish team deliberately tried to keep the pace down, thereby limiting chances to catch Olsson, who led for the majority of the race.
Hellner admitted afterward that was their game plan, but said that near the end he was skiing for himself.
“In the finish we (caught) him and then I tried to do my own race and for the gold myself,” he said.
Hellner pulled away from his three remaining rivals after entering the ski stadium, building enough of a lead to sprint alone down the final straight. He had time to look back at his chasers before slowing down to raise his arms in celebration as he crossed the finish line.