Rookie Olivier Léveillé Caps Off World Cup Season with Top-10 Finish in Falun
FALUN, Swe.—Canada’s Olivier Léveillé earned himself an early birthday present with a ninth-place finish in the final individual cross-country ski race of his rookie season on the World Cup.
Three days in advance of his 21st birthday, Léveillé introduced himself to the world’s elite by clocking a time of 32:46.5 in the 15-kilometre free technique race.
“I still can’t totally believe this happened. I finished in the top-10 on the World Cup. It is crazy,” laughed Léveillé. “A nice birthday gift. It is a perfect way to end the World Cup season.”
Wearing bib number one in the individual start race, the young Canuck had nothing but himself and two, 7.5-killometre loops of fresh trail that snaked up and down hills while twisting and turning around the Falun stadium.
“Being the first athlete of the day to start the race is way different. Nobody before me. I had the course for just me against myself,” said Léveillé.
“I had a really good start in the first lap. I paced it well but started to come back to reality a bit, so I just focused on keeping good technique and skiing big and powerful, skiing tactically and as smart as possible.”
Shrewd and poised, the Sherbrooke, Que. resident powered through the hard efforts needed for the long climbs and found his recovery on the downhills.
“I had no idea I was doing a top-10 race, but I knew it was decent,” he said. “I’m usually batting for a top-30 but crossing the line and then seeing that I was still in the mix while watching the splits behind me, I was really happy.”
The youngest member of Team Canada was introduced to a whole new world as he took the leaders chair for the next 16 minutes while watching the greatest names in the sport battle to better his time.
“That was just insane,” added Léveillé, who thrived off the boisterous crowd lining the trails of the World Cup Finals.
In the end Norway’s Didrik Toenseth posted the top time on the day at 31:57.6. Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson finished nine seconds back at 32:06.6. Norway’s Harald Amundsen crossed the line in a time of 32:18.0 for the bronze medal.
Léveillé is one of a strong group of young Canadian skiers bursting onto the elite cross-country ski circuit loaded with potential. Antoine Cyr is another. The Gatineau, Que. skier clocked-in at 33:39.9 for 25th spot on Saturday. Philippe Boucher, of Levis, Que., skied into the elite group of 30 for the first time, placing 29th at 33:42.6. Calgary’s Tom Stephen was 61st at 35:29.8. Xavier McKeever, of Canmore, Alta., was 62nd with a time of 35:24.5.
It has been quite a ride for Léveillé. One year ago, he became just the third Canadian ever to win an individual medal at the Junior World Championships when he won the bronze in the 10-kilometre skate-ski race. Last month, he was Canada’s most consistent male skier at the Olympic Games where he chalked up two, top-30 finishes.
“This means a lot to me. I’ve been improving a lot over the last three years but that World Junior medal and my results this season tell me that I’m in the right place. I’m a World Cup guy now and I deserve a place on this circuit,” said Léveillé, who also does online science courses while pursuing excellence in the world’s hardest winter sport.
“With this top-10 today, my confidence took a big step. I suddenly feel very confident about my future, but I also feel I can really battle with the best guys.”
A trio of Canadians hit the start line for the women’s 10-kilometre free technique race. Katherine Stewart-Jones (Chelsea, Que.) was 33rd at 24:32.1. Dahria Beatty (Whitehorse) finished 43rd at 25:11.1. Jasmine Drolet (Rossland, B.C.) skied too 52nd in a time of 25:42.6.
Norway’s Therese Johaug posted a golden time of 22:34.4. Sweden’s Jonna Sundling was on the podium for the second-straight day, claiming the silver medal with a time of 23:10.3 topping Jessie Diggins, of the United States, who claimed the bronze at 23:10.7.