Media Release

Canadian Men’s Cross-Country Skiers Stoked with Career-Best Fifth Place Result in World Championship Relay

March 03, 2023

PLANICA, Slo.—Four Canadians representing a new generation of elite cross-country skiers matched the nation’s best ever men’s relay finish at the Nordic World Championships when they finished fifth on Friday in Planica, Slovenia.

Xavier McKeever (Canmore, Alta.), Antoine Cyr (Gatineau, Que.), Graham Ritchie (Parry Sound, Ont.) and Olivier Léveillé (Sherbrooke, Que.) combined to form the youngest team in the field.

“This is pure joy. I think this result says a lot. We work really well as a team. We had a lot of fun in our pre training camp, and to be with those guys today, and get that result, I think says a lot about our future,” said Léveillé.

The new fab four of Canadian cross-country skiing rocked the four, 10-kilometre legs of the men’s relay in a time of 1:34:17.2

“Overall, we are super happy with the effort today. For me personally, coming into this relay I was a bit nervous. I have only started three World Cup races. When you have three other teammates, you want to make them proud and do your part,” said Xavier McKeever. “It is fun to have four on a team that can all race together and contribute to a result like this.”

The relay consists of each athlete skiing one 10-kilometre leg. The first two athletes ski classic-ski format followed by the final two members of the team taking on the skate-skiing legs.

The 19-year-old McKeever set the tone for the Canucks where he skied with a group of athletes jostling between second and 10th position.

“I just wanted to stick with the main pack and as close to the lead as possible,” added McKeever, who is the first Canadian male to compete at both the Junior and Senior World Championships in the same year. “I was honoured to be a part of that relay team and be able to fight with those boys.  I learned from Whistler (World Juniors) to bring the fun and joy into everything rather than being robotic. I don’t have much experience at this level and was standing there with the big names in the sport. It can be stressful, but I reminded myself we are all just skiers in a race and anything can happen when you give it everything you have.” 

The fresh and youthful approach to the race kept the Canucks skiing loose while glued into the large pack.

Two 24-year-old Canadians, who finished fourth in the team sprint race earlier in the week, took on the middle legs. Starting in eighth position, Cyr pushed the pace skiing to the front of the chase group.

His 2022 Olympic teammate, Graham Ritchie, bolstered the Canucks podium position, handing off to Olivier Léveillé in third place.

Two weeks removed from his 22nd birthday, Léveillé was mixing it up with the world’s elite in the sport while battling for a medal on the ultimate stage.

“It was crazy to see them all do so well. I was hyped but at the same time I was stressed, and I could feel the pressure because I was anchoring,” said Léveillé. “I got tagged in third and was in the group fighting for the medals. It was so inspiring to see them all have great races.”

Léveillé exercised his tactics to perfection, countering attacks and finding his opportunities to recover while working his way in the fast-paced final leg.

“After the first attack I recovered on the downhill and hung onto the train. I was hurting pretty bad at the top. I knew they were going to attack on the last lap,” added Léveillé. “I was in the pack for third. Not getting (third), I was a bit bummed, but we were all proud of our races and results.

We had crazy skis and were in the game today. We have the techs to thank. It was because of them that we were able to battle to our best result today.”

The Norwegians pulled away from the field, winning the 4x10km relay with a time of 1:32:54.7.

Finland was second at 1:33:41.6, while the Germans won the race for the bronze medal with a time of 1:33:54.5.

“We were the youngest team by far and came into this race with a goal to learn today,” said Léveillé. “We knew if we want to learn, we have to get the experience of playing at the front with the big guys and we did that today.”

The 2023 Nordic World Ski Championships wrap up on the weekend with women’s 30-kilometre race on Saturday, followed by the men’s 50-kilometre event on Sunday.

Complete Results: