VUOKATTI, Fin.—Paralympic legend, Brian McKeever, helped Canada open the World Para-Nordic World Cup season with a triple medal day at a cross-country ski sprint event in Vuokatti, Finland on Friday.
The 37-year-old resident of Canmore, Alta., stormed to the top of the podium by winning the men’s visually impaired classic-ski sprint race. Two-time Paralympic medallist, Mark Arendz, snuck in to grab the bronze medal in the men’s standing sprint, while Emily Young, of Kelowna, B.C., captured her first career World Cup medal by winning the bronze in the women’s standing classification.
Preparing to race the domestic able-bodied race series, Brian McKeever successfully tested his off-season training with a gold in the season-opener. The four-time Paralympian and most successful Canadian Para-Nordic skier ever, McKeever dug deep to win the classic-ski sprint in the men’s visually impaired category.
“It was a good effort for Brian today. The team gave him good skis and he skied strong in a close final where he was pushed to go all out to overcome Sweden’s Modin,” said Robin McKeever, coach of Canada’s Para-Nordic Team, who advised his brother quickly departed the race venue to catch a flight back to Canada.
Zebastian Modin held on for second spot, while Lurii Utkin, of the Ukraine squeaked out the bronze medal.
Mark Arendz, of Hartsville, P.E.I., began his 10th World Cup season with a bronze medal of his own. After a sluggish qualifying round where he finished fifth, the 26-year-old regrouped for a charge to the podium in the head-to-head heats.
“I knew I had to reset mentally and technically for the semifinal which turned out great for me,” said Arendz. “I had solid skis, led from start to finish and felt in control knowing I was skiing the way I should be.”
Being hunted off the top in the final heat, Arendz dropped to third place after the first major climb. Taking advantage of his fast skis, he double poled his way back into the lead heading into the final climb for the fight to the finish.
“It was a tight finish, but I stayed calm and knew my skis would keep me in the fight. I came back onto the leaders. Lunging for the line I passed fourth place but couldn’t quite reach second. It was a fantastic way to start the new season, and confirms the work I’ve done over the summer is working. The fitness is there and I’m excited for the rest of the week.”
Ukraine’s Grygorii Vovchynskyi finished on top of the men’s standing class. Finland’s IIkka Tuomisto edged out Arendz at the line for second place.
Meanwhile, Emily Young who is competing in just her second full year with the national squad, had a thrilling start to the season with her first career World Cup medal. The 25-year-old validated her summer training, and got stronger as the heats went on, with an all-around solid effort.
“What a day and great way to start the World Cup season,” said Young. “My goal was to ski the fastest and smartest race I could, and be happy with any result. The coaches and wax techs deserve credit today. They were on top of their game and we had some of the best skis out on the course.
“It’s nice to know the fitness is there to back the training up. The sky is the limit for me. Each race I gain knowledge, and get stronger.”
Japan’s Yurika Abe won the women’s standing division. Ukraine’s Luliia Batenkova was second. Canada’s Brittany Hudak, of Prince Albert, Sask., placed fifth in the division.
Collin Cameron was the only other Canadian to ski in the heats, and finished sixth in the men’s sitting classification.