Brittany Hudak and Chris Klebl Celebrate Bronze Medals

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(ISN) – VUOKATTI, Fin.—Canada’s para-nordic squad continues to be a force to reckon with on the IPC World Cup after a rising star and cagey veteran charged to two bronze medals at the season-opening weekend in Vuokatti, Finland on Saturday.

Paralympic champion, Chris Klebl of Canmore, Alta., got his season off with a bang powering his way to a bronze in the 10-kilometre men’s sit-ski competition. The Canadian Para-Nordic Team also discovered another weapon in its arsenal as Brittany Hudak, of Prince Albert, Sask., skied to her first IPC World Cup podium with a bronze of her own in the women’s five-kilometre standing class.

“It was a stellar day and start to the season for our team,” said Robin McKeever, head coach, Canadian Para-Nordic Ski Team. “It was a great result for Brittany. She has worked hard and trained well with the goal of being a medal contender in 2018. She now needs to continue to develop her technical ability.”

Discovered recently while working in a Canadian Tire store by Canada’s Paralympic cross-country ski legend, Colette Bourgonje, the 21-year-old Hudak had the race of her life while posting a time of 17 minutes, 28.2 seconds.

“It’s a pretty exciting day being on the podium for the first time in a World Cup,” said Hudak, who was born missing part of her left arm. “The race felt great for me. I was pushing hard and able to keep my mental focus. It just felt great to see an awesome result at the end of the race! A big thanks goes to my coaches, Own the Podium and Cross Country Canada for the amazing support to get me here.”

Oleksandra Kononouva, of Ukraine, was first at 16:06.2. Liudmyla Liashenko, also of the Ukraine, placed second with a time of 16:46.9.

From the rookie to the veteran, the Canadian trail to the podium continued in the men’s sit-ski races.

Building from a thrilling gold-medal victory in the same race on the final day of the 2014 Paralympics, Klebl posted a third-place time of 28:24.2.

“The first race of the year is always an interesting one. My training indicators have been positive, and I’ve been healthy and motivated since Sochi,” said Klebl. “It is always good to get positive feedback via results in the first race. I am looking forward to continuing to develop my fitness, and fine-tuning my races.”

Russia’s Ivan Golubkov finished on top setting the time to beat at 27:22.6. Russia’s Aleksandr Davidovich, skied to the silver medal (28:14.1).

Para-biathlon specialist, Mark Arendz, also had a solid outing finishing fifth in the men’s 10-kilometre standing division. Arendz, of Springton, P.E.I., clocked a time of 28:52.2. Ukraine’s Ihor Reptyukh won the division with a time of 27:04.9.

Meanwhile, down in Davos, Switzerland, Canada’s top World Cup skiers were back in action thanks to organizers trucking in manmade snow from high altitude in order to stage a successful race.

Emily Nishikawa, of Whitehorse, was the bright spot on the day for the Canadians. The 25-year-old Olympian had the best race of her career, finishing 29th with a time of 31:02.7 in the women’s 10-kilometre classic-ski race. Nishikawa, who has been on a steady development over the last two years, was skiing in the middle of the pack for the first two kilometres of the race before cranking up the pace to crack the elite top-30 for the first time in her life.

“I’m really happy to score my first ever World Cup points today,” said Nishikawa. “I’ve had a really great start to my season, and I’m just looking to build off of this and keep improving throughout the year. I’ve been feeling really strong on classic lately and I’ve felt better and better with each race.”

The Norwegian women continued their dominant start to the season. Therese Johaug struck gold with a time of 29:30.8, while Marit Bjoergen skied to the silver posting a time of 29:13.3. Finland’s Kerttu Niskanen rounded out the podium in third at 29:29.3.

Alex Harvey, of Saint-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., finished as the top Canuck in the men’s race. Harvey placed 17th at 40:45.5. It was the first top-30 finish for Harvey in a distance race in Davos.

Devon Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., finished just outside the points in 32nd (41:25.2), Graeme Killick, of Fort McMurray, Alta., placed 41st (41:47.7), while Calgary’s Kevin Sandau was 70th (43:47.1).

Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby was the man to beat with a golden time of 39:39.7. Didrik Toenseth was second at 39:46.3. Switzerland’s Dario Cologna took advantage of his familiarity with the Davos course, clocking-in at 39:47.0 to win the bronze.

Both the IPC World Cup and World Cup circuits continue on Sunday in Vuokatti and Davos respectively.

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