Alex Harvey raised his arms in triumph as he crossed the finish line at the Nordic world championships. Moments later he raised one leg and began strumming his skis as if they were a guitar.
Harvey’s exuberant air guitar celebration â€” a tradition for the Canadian team â€” followed a gold-medal performance on Sunday in the men’s 50-kilometre freestyle cross-country ski race in Lahti, Finland.
It was his first world championship gold since 2011, when he and teammate Devon Kershaw first used the air guitar routine.
“Cross-country skiing is a bit of a conservative world, it’s not the most exciting sport you can watch on TV, so we try to bring some colour to it,” Harvey said with a laugh in a phone interview with The Canadian Press.
Harvey, of St. Ferreol, Que., and Kershaw of Sudbury, Ont., came up with the celebration in the spur of the moment after winning the team sprint event at the 2011 world championships.
Harvey said that Kershaw, who actually knows how to play the guitar, started it and he followed suit. The Canadian team hasn’t been able to shake it since.
“We were just so ecstatic,” Harvey said. “He kind of improvised the celebration move and it stuck. Ever since then when one of us has a podium it’s our celebration move to do the air guitar. It’s something different.”
The 28-year-old Harvey was in second place with five kilometres remaining in Sunday’s race. He timed his final attack perfectly, taking the lead on the last corner and holding off Russian Sergei Ustyugov in the final sprint to win by 0.6 seconds.
Matti Heikkinen of Finland was 0.8 seconds further back for bronze, with a surprise fourth place for British skier Andrew Musgrave.
Harvey’s final time was one hour, 46 minutes, 28.9 seconds.
“The strategy was to use the last downhill as kind of a slingshot to the finish,” he said. “The goal was to hit that last downhill in second place to be able to draft behind whoever was in first and hit the last 100 metres with more speed than anybody else.
“That was the plan but that’s a really similar plan that you have in most races. Most races finish with a bit of a downhill like that so you set that plan often but it doesn’t work every day. Today it did and it was the best race of my career. It was really, really awesome.”
Harvey won two gold medals at cross-country World Cups in January â€” one in a 15-km freestyle race in Sweden and the other in the team sprint relay with Toronto’s Len Valjas in Italy.
But he hadn’t won a world championship title â€” nor had any other Canadian skier â€” since his team sprint gold with Kershaw.
Harvey, who competed in five of the six races at the Nordic world championships, said he’s felt stronger this season than in years past.
“Our sport is an endurance sport like cycling or long-distance running, so every year of training adds up and it builds your aerobic capacity and I’m really heading into the prime years of cross-country skiers,” Harvey said. “This year my top performances are not necessarily better than my top performances when I was 20 or 21, but there are just more of them. My level is just more stable at the top and there’s less fluxuation in fitness and that allows me to have more opportunities to race for the podium.
“I really felt like all five (races) were great chances at a podium. It went down to the wire, I had to use my fifth and last opportunity to really nail it, but I’m really happy that it happened on the last day.”
Three other Canadians were also on the start line in the men’s 50-km race. Kershaw finished 38th at 1:52:14.4, Graeme Killick of Fort McMurray, Alta., was 43rd (1:53:32.9), and Knute Johnsgaard of Whitehorse placed 55th (1:58:32.2).
The Canadian team will travel to Oslo, Norway for the final two World Cup races before coming home for the World Cup Finals in Quebec City from March 17-19.
â€” With files from The Associated Press
Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press