Canada’s Emily Young was on a hunting exploration at the Canmore Nordic Centre on Sunday afternoon.
After venturing 7.5-kilometres skate-skiing through the tall pines at one of the world’s most challenging Nordic venues, the Vancouver native captured her prize – a bronze medal for the second-straight day in the women’s standing division at the season-opening Para-Nordic World Cup.
“This is my first year starting at the back, hunting people down,” said Young, who started second last based on her number-two ranking in the field. “It was really cool being out there, reeling people in. It was just like fishing out there.”
Young, 24, picked off 11 athletes to be exact on a glorious day in the Rocky Mountains, pushing her threshold to clock a third-place time of 21:01.7.
“I went out a little hot in the first lap, but the whole plan was to ‘just go’ from the gun. I knew I had put myself in the top-three after the first lap so I just kept fighting,” added Young. “I know I have the ability to go full out and hold on for 8 kilometres if I stop thinking, and ski, so that’s what I did today.”
The only two athletes Young couldn’t knock off were Neutral Para Athletes, Ekaterina Rumyantseva and Anna Milenina. Rumyantseva posted the time of the day at 19:44.1. Milenina skied to the silver medal at 20:07.5.
Young did manage to chase down two of her Canadian teammates, Natalie Wilkie and Brittany Hudak.
Competing in her first Para-Nordic World Cup races, the 16-year-old Wilkie, of Salmon Arm, B.C., finished just off the podium in fourth spot for the second straight day at 21:32.6.
Paralympian Hudak, of Prince Albert, Sask., was fifth with a time of 22:18.5.
“It was a lot of fun to race on home trails and have everyone cheering for Canada,” said Hudak. “The first races of the year are always kind of a mystery. You don’t know where you’re going to end up so it is nice to get everyone together again and get a better picture of where you are at. I felt good and hope to build on this.”
But the opening weekend of the first Para-Nordic World Cup for the Canadians belonged to Young. Growing up with a childhood goal to win a wrestling medal for Canada at the Olympic Games, Young’s focus switched to the Paralympic skiing following a training injury that caused nerve damage to her right arm.
Now building towards her Paralympic debut on the Nordic trails, Young is now comfortable mixing it up with the top skiers on the circuit.
“It wasn’t until last year that I finally felt like a competitor on the snow, and not just present being the caboose on the trails,” said Young. “I feel like the light bulb went on in Germany (World Championships last February), and my skill level now matches my drive. I feel I can actually compete and push now, and that is a lot of fun.”
Another Canadian pushing the pace in the men’s standing division is Mark Arendz, of Hartsville, P.E.I.
The 27-year-old put himself through a world of hurt in the first of four laps in the 10-kilometre skate-ski event, to boost him to a fourth-place time of 23:24.5.
“I started hard and tried to see if I could hold it. I maybe went a bit too hard in the first lap, but the last three were consistent so I’m happy with the results,” said Arendz, who is a biathlon specialist.
“Right now, is all about working out the bugs, making sure we mimic how I want to approach the race in March (Paralympics). At the end, I’ll look and see where I stack up, but I know my shape will be much different come March.”
Benjamin Daviet, of France, won the men’s standing race with a time of 22:14.1. Neutral Para Athletes, Rushan Minnegulov (22:40.9) and Aleksandr Pronkov (22:44.5) were second and third respectively.
The Para-Nordic World Cup continues on Tuesday in Canmore, Alta. with the cross-country skiing distance races before the biathlon competitions get underway on Thursday.