SAPPORO, JPN.—Canada’s Chris Klebl capped off an incredible year that saw him fight back from being hospitalized less than three months ago to finishing his shortened season with a silver medal at the Para-Nordic World Cup Finals in Sapporo, Japan on Sunday.
The 45-year-old Paralympic champion snagged his second podium of the season after winning the silver in the men’s rare five-kilometre sit-ski competition. Klebl, of Canmore, Alta., posted a time of 14:24.9.
“In the last two weeks, each day has been a guess in terms of how my body might respond to racing. Missing some crucial training in the middle of winter removed stability and predictability from my fitness and added some frustration to the mix,” said Klebl.
“So I just lined up each day, and hammered, and some days ended up better than others. Racing well today was a bit of a surprise as we don’t ski this distance often, and it is usually not my best. But I liked the course here. We made some adjustments to the skis from yesterday and things came together well.”
The three-time Paralympian took advantage of great skis prepared by the wax crew to put in a solid effort where he finished 13.2 seconds behind the race winner Maksym Yarovyi, of the Ukraine. Yarovyi punched the clock at 14:12.4. Germany’s Martin Fleig won the bronze medal with a time of 14:30.7.
It has been quite a ride for Canada’s Klebl, who was on hospital bed rest at the end of January where he had surgery for a skin and bone infection. Determined to get back on skis before the end of the season, Klebl defied all odds to win a bronze medal last week at the Paralympic Test Event in PyeongChang which led to Sunday’s triumph,
“Thoughts of racing in Korea and Japan got me through some melancholic times this winter when I was trapped in a hospital bed wishing I was anywhere but indoors in bed,” added Klebl. “There were times when actually being here in Asia felt like a dream, so persisting through those moments, and slogging through the challenging training during February, and achieving some respectable results in mid-March feels pretty good.”
Klebl is no stranger to overcoming adversity since breaking his back just over 20 years ago while jumping off a cliff on his snowboard in Colorado. Working as a massage therapist in Hawaii, Klebl then moved to California where he began racing hand-cycles. After moving to Colorado shortly after, he was introduced to sit-skiing, and just three months later was racing on the Para-Nordic World Cup.
He has since gone on to make his mark while racing against the world’s best Para-Nordic athletes. A winner of multiple Para-Nordic World Cup medals, Klebl won the distance race at the 2014 Paralympics. He also won a silver medal at last year’s World Cup Finals, and was also crowned World Champion in 2011.”
“I look forward to more consistency next year, and building upon the momentum that started in the last few months,” added Klebl.
Speaking of momentum, Canada’s Mark Arendz has been on quite a roll this winter. On Sunday, Arendz posted his second-straight fourth-place finish in Sapporo this weekend. The 26-year-old biathlon specialist struggled in the short distance race where he clocked a fourth-place time of 13:25.0 in the men’s five-kilometre standing division.
“The distance has always been a tough one for me to pace,” said Arendz, of Hartsville, P.E.I. “At times I relied too much on my power, and the soft snow conditions absorbed my energy, but I didn’t go anywhere. The body wasn’t in it quite as much as I needed to reach the podium. I will refocus for the last two biathlon races coming up.”
Benjamin Daviet, of France, won the division with a time of 12:19.7. Japan’s Yoshihiro Nitta clocked-in at 12:54.3 for the silver. Grygorii Vovchynskyi, of the Ukraine, topped Arendz for the final spot on the podium, stopping the clock at 13:04.3.
Vancouver’s Emily Young was the lone Canadian woman to suit up in Sapporo. The 26-year-old Young put in a hard effort but her podium hopes were dashed after getting tangled up with a sit-skier near the finish line.
Young posted a fifth-place time of 8:28.5 in the women’s 2.5-kilometre short distance standing event.
“The race was going very well until an unfortunate encounter with a sit-skier 200 metres from the finish line, which dropped my position, but that is racing,” said Young. “I am very happy with the rest of the race and it’s nice to see the results so close together time wise! I once again had great skis by the wax techs.”
Oleksandra Kononova, of the Ukraine, won the classification with a time of 7:52.4. Sweden’s Helene Ripa was second at 8:18.2, while Iuliia Batenkova, of the Ukraine, bested Young by six seconds to claim the bronze at 8:18.5.
The World Cup Finals continue on Tuesday with the first of back-to-back biathlon events.