Canada’s Para-Nordic athletes won a complete set of medals against a deep international field at the IPC World Cup cross-country skiing middle distance race in Obberied, Germay on Saturday.
Led by Brian McKeever’s gold medal in his first Para Nordic World Cup start of the season, Canada’s Mark Arendz put down his career-best classic cross-country ski race where he won the silver medal, while Emily Young continued her solid start to the Paralympic season with a bronze of her own on a challenging day in Germany.
A winner of 13 Paralympic medals, the 38-year-old McKeever and his guide Graham Nishikawa (Whitehorse) battled through jet lag, brutal conditions and a world of hurt to win the men’s 10-kilometre classic-ski visually impaired race with a time of 26:40.6.
“That one was miserable,” said McKeever, of Canmore, Alta. “The conditions were so tough. It was dumping snow and warm which is the trickiest conditions for getting the right kick wax. We decided to double pole it today. It was a pretty flat course with one hill, which made you push hard and it hurt.
“We pushed the pace really good the whole way, but it just didn’t feel comfortable at all today.”
The legendary Paralympian was 41.4 seconds ahead of the next best finisher – Oleg Ponomarev who was skiing as a Neutral athlete. Ponomarev clocked-in at 27:21.6. Nikolai Polukhin, also a Neutral athlete, was third at 27:39.9.
Mark Arendz, of Hartsville, P.E.I., made a statement of his own after putting together his career-best classic-ski 10-kilometre race in the men’s standing category.
The 27-year-old Arendz took advantage of good race day vibes to put up a fight for the top spot on the podium, winning his second silver of the season with a time of 27:21.1.
“I’m excited about that race. I woke up with the confidence I could be competitive,” said Arendz. “The conditions made for difficult waxing, but I had all the trust that our team would provide some of the best skis. Those skis played a huge role in today’s result, so I can’t thank our wax techs enough.
“A lot of components came together today for me. I know there are some areas still where I can have a better race, but to start the week with this kind of result is a truly amazing feeling.”
A two-time Paralympic medallist in biathlon, Arendz finished behind Vladi Lekomtsev who set the time to beat at 26:28.1. Finland’s IIkka Tuomisto skied to the bronze medal with a time of 27:58.4.
Emily Young, of Kelowna, B.C, captured the final medal in the set for the Canucks on Saturday after winning the bronze in an extremely tight women’s 7.5-kilometre classic-ski race.
The 27-year-old Young captured her fifth bronze medal of the season after posting a time of 25:19.1.
“Third seems to be my lucky place right now. It was a good race in some tough conditions, but our team had the best skis and motors out there,” said Young. “It has been a very encouraging start to the season, and this World Cup is very important to have both the powerhouse Neutral and Ukraine athletes here in the standing category. It is great to see I can hold up a strong fight against them and that helps the motivation.”
Young scrapped her way around each of the three 2.5-kilometre loops. Leading heading into the third lap, Young dropped two spots on the podium after a tumble. Despite the crash the podium was decided by less the five seconds.
“I felt really good during the race and the skis were spot on. Even with the tumble I was skiing strong and kept the podium positions in sight. I can’t be upset with too much today. Mistakes are for learning, and I learned today that skis that are crossed don’t work that great. I’m looking forward to the (distance) race tomorrow.”
The Ukraine’s Yuliia Batenkova-Bauman finished 4.9 seconds ahead of Young for the gold medal at 25:14.7. Neutral athlete, Anna Milenina, finished .9 seconds back in second at 25:15.6.
It was also a solid race for Canada’s Brittany Hudak. The Prince Albert, Sask. Paralympian finished fifth with a time of 25:41.8.
Chris Klebl, of Canmore, Alta., rounded out a rock solid day for the Canucks, finishing sixth in the men’s sit-skiing division.
“Our wax techs did an amazing job today. We all had great boards, but you still need the person to make them go fast so it was an awesome team effort and a great day for the entire team,” said Brian McKeever.